Tag Archive | "Matt Malone"

District Offers Free Pre-K

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By Claire Walla

Last year, when the Sag Harbor School District instituted its first Pre-K program, it was celebrated by members of the school board for offering a service that has been much needed in the Sag Harbor community. Families were charged a monthly fee of $275 for the services, which were contracted out through SCOPE Education Services.

But, as far as Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone and Assistant Principal Donna Denon are concerned, the goal was always to make the program free-of-charge.

And this year it is.

“Over the years, based on the research that we’ve done, we’ve been aware that cost has been prohibitive to parents,” Malone explained.

Last year’s Pre-K class had 13 students, many of whom entered the program when new families moved into the district mid-year.  Denon referred to this as the “winter surge,” which she said tends to happen pretty regularly year to year.

But at the start of this school year — when it was announced the district would be offering Pre-K for all Sag Harbor four-year-olds for free — the program saw a massive surge.

This year’s Pre-K class has 39 students.  And, according to Denon, there’s still room to grow.  The district budgeted at the end of last year for a program that could hold up to 60 students — which equates to the average size of the school’s kindergarten classes.  Denon said she’s hoping the program will grow in the coming months, particularly for the afternoon session.

As it stands, the program has enough participants for two morning classes (from 8:45 to 11:15 a.m.) and one in the afternoon (from 12:30 to 3 p.m.).  Because of this, the school employs one full-time teacher, Mindy Reyer, who teaches both a.m. and p.m. classes; and one part-time teacher, Kate Montaldo, who taught at Stella Maris until it closed last year and who only teaches in the morning.  With an extra session, both teachers would be full-time, which Denon said SCOPE would be “open to.”  (Technically, SCOPE employs both teachers and the two assistant teachers.)

According to Denon, the main reason some parents have opted out of the Sag Harbor Pre-K program is because the time is too restrictive.  The program is currently set-up for half-day options only, which means parents are only able to take advantage of the program for two and a half hours each day.

“We are fully aware that some families are not able to participate in our program because it’s not full-day,” Malone explained.  “But the decision we made this year was to provide a half-day program for some families, and we hoped that they would come, and we’re hoping [the program] will evolve.  We will continue to consider a full-day option.”

Denon agreed, saying a full-day program would be ideal, but the district has to start somewhere.  “It’s kind of like taking baby steps to get to the next place,” she stated.

Malone reiterated that a universal Pre-K program has been a long time coming for this school district.

“It’s gotta be pushing 20 years,” he indicated.  “[Former elementary school principal] Ms. [Joan] Frisicano and a group of teachers and parents started the conversations, and really wanted to get a Pre-K program going in the district.”

But the idea never took flight “for a variety of reasons,” Malone continued.  “Cost is always a factor.”

The district is paying $180,000 to run the program, a cost that was approved by taxpayers last May along with this year’s operating budget.  Though it only affords the district to run a half-day program, Malone said the benefits are invaluable; it not only allows students to foster a love of learning before entering kindergarten, it allows them to grow familiar with their surroundings and the patterns that regulate school life.

“It allows the kids to have that consistency [of schedule], and an exposure to how we do things here in the district,” Malone stated.

Last year, the Pre-K program was held within two classrooms at the elementary school that had been refurbished with pint-sized utilities and a private play area for the four-year-olds; this year the program is being held in two newly refurbished classrooms within the middle school wing of the Pierson campus.  While Denon said the ideal is for the Pre-K program to be housed at the elementary school, issues of space forced the program to cross Jermain.  However, she added it’s thriving in its new location.

Just as Pre-K students did last year, “the students will use what’s available to them at the middle school,” Denon explained.  “They will listen to band practices, use the courtyard, and use the middle school gym when it’s free.  We’re also hoping some of the ‘big kids’ will come in and read to them [during free periods or after school].”

School Board Member Ed Drohan, who has been pushing for a Pre-K program in the district, has seen what he said are the benefits of the program first-hand.  Drohan is in the classroom nearly everyday to pick-up his four-year-old grandson.

“I think they’re off to a really great start,” he said.  “Character development is one of the things that’s great about this school district.  And the fact that they seem to be starting that with the kids at a younger age — to get along with each other, to understand one another — that’s great.”

Enrollment Is Up In Sag Harbor

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By Claire Walla

At its first meeting since the start of the new school year, Monday, September 12, the Sag Harbor School Board visited a topic that’s spurred debate across the nation: state testing.

“As a school, what’s important to us is, number one, looking at individual performance,” said Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone.

He explained that the elementary school uses these tests to see where kids’ individual strengths and weaknesses are. And for those kids who have scored either a one or a two — both being below the state standard — the school offers Academic Intervention Services (AIS), during which students receive an extra period of instruction in the subject they need help in.

“We look specifically at individual performance, but also — as administrators and teachers — we look for specific areas where we as a school can do better,” Malone added.

This year, Malone said “the bar has been raised” in mathematics owing to the fact that the state realized last year’s numbers had been inflated and took action to regulate scoring. Schools’ scores across the state consequently dropped by about 25 points.

Going into this year, 73 percent of third graders, 79 percent of fourth graders and 87 percent of fifth graders have passed state math exams. In English Language Arts (ELA), 68 percent of third graders, 84 percent of fourth graders and 68 percent of fifth graders scored a three or a four on their exam.

At the middle school, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the numbers don’t vary too much from where they sit at the elementary school level. In mathematics, 79 percent of sixth graders, 69 percent of seventh graders and 63 percent of eighth graders passed their exams. As for ELA, 80 percent of sixth graders, 68 percent of seventh graders and 66 percent of eighth graders scored a three or a four.

Picking up where Malone left off, Nichols said that middle school students scoring ones and twos on state tests will receive academic intervention services (AIS) as they do in the elementary school. He went on to say that AIS classes are also offered at Pierson, and they get more specific the older the student gets.

“The state says that you have to provide AIS for the minimum requirements for graduation,” he explained, which does not include higher-level math courses like Algebra II and Trigonometry, for instance. “But, we’ve decided to [offer those AIS courses] anyway here in Sag Harbor.”

In the end, Nichols said he doesn’t put too much weight on these test scores. He explained that the only statistical correlation between middle schoolers’ state test scores and high school Regents Exams is that students who score ones are more likely to also fail Regents Exams. The same has not proven true for students who score twos, he added.

According to Nichols, the greatest benefit of state tests is not about statewide rankings, it’s about assessing students within the school district from year to year.

For example, in terms of ESL scores, he continued, “I see a strong correlation between our ESL [English as a Second Language] population and some of our lower scores. I also see a strong correlation with Regents assessments as these students get older.”

Nichols explained that this population of the student body has been shown to struggle more, on average, on state tests.

“If you think about it, that population is faced with learning a subject and a language at the same time. That’s not easy.”

In other news…

School superintendent Dr. John Gratto informed the Sag Harbor School Board that enrollment numbers are up in all areas. Total enrollment at the elementary school has increased by 54 students (25 of them coming from pre-K), putting class sizes “just a touch over 19” at all grade levels, said elementary school principal Matt Malone. “It’s very manageable.”

Pierson Middle/High School has seen a less sizeable jump of 12 students.

Dr. Gratto also pointed out a significant increase over last year in the way of tuition-paying students. Since the end of last year, the school district has added nine more out-of-district students

Athletic director Montgomery “Monty” Granger gave the school board an update on athletic programs. While high school boys and girls cross-country, soccer and field hockey teams have “adequate participation,” there are a few teams — particularly at the middle school level — that may not have the numbers to compete this fall.

The girls JV tennis team at no time had more than six participants, Granger said, and the middle school girls cross country team only has four. Because cross-country requires a minimum of six players to complete, Granger said he’s giving the team a couple more days to come up with an adequate number.

Similarly, the girls middle school soccer team currently only has six participants, Granger said, “So, unfortunately, my recommendation is going to be that we not continue with that team.”

He went on to explain that, had it been prior to the start of the season, the girls would have been able to try out for the boys’ team. However, according to Section XI regulations, the girls are no longer eligible.

“My suggestion is that we offer a middle school girls intramural team,” Granger continued. “We can provide separate space for this potential intramural program.”

Schools: Gearing Up For Day One

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By Claire Walla

Taking Advantage of Tax Cap Exemptions

Starting a process board members hope to continue through the next budget season, the district heard a presentation from District Business Manager Janet Verneuille on the two-percent tax levy cap.

Verneuille noted three crucial exemptions to the cap. First: pension cost increases above a certain threshold, which in this case is two percent. In other words, Verneuille explained that this year the district’s increase in pension contribution costs is 2.49 percent, so .49 percent will be exempted from the cap.

Secondly, the tax cap will exempt the local share of capital expenditures. “That’s good news,” Verveuille exclaimed, “that’s huge.” Without this exemption, she continued, the district would have less incentive to pass capital improvement projects.

The third exemption refers to certain legal expenses. However, Verneuille explained, “this does not apply” to this district.

The board briefly discussed the notion of looking at its current budget with a little more scrutiny to get a better sense of where some cost-saving measures might lie. Referencing the school’s clubs and sports programs, board member Walter Wilcoxen wondered how much the district could save if certain programs were cut.

“What about trying to pare-down now” to avoid making more drastic cut-backs going into next year, he wondered.

Board Member Chris Tice said she agreed, in theory, with being proactive in taking steps to cut costs, but she cautioned the board against looking at certain aspects of the budget with a narrow lens.

“The beauty of the budget process is that we get to see what our program looks like, A through Z,” she said. “We’re looking at it from an informed, balanced perspective.”

With both perspectives, the board had little argument, and yet drew no conclusions. The discussion will be ongoing.

Summer School a Success

Before giving his “back to school” report at last Monday’s board of education meeting, August 14, Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone spoke for a few minutes about the success of this year’s summer school program.

“We invited the same number of students as last year,” he said. “But our participation rate was higher than in years past. Bussing [which was provided for all students] made it more possible for parents to get their kids to and from school.” Most importantly, he added, it made it so that students were in their classrooms on-time, which had been a problem in years past.

School Board Member Sandi Kruel complimented Malone on a job well done, explaining that field trips — like those to the South Fork Natural History Museum, Morton Wildlife Center and even a math-related journey to Conca D’Oro, measuring ingredients for pizza dough — reportedly made the experience worthwhile for one family she spoke with.

“However you did it this year, it was the first time I heard of a student actually enjoying summer school,” she noted.

Enrollment Increases

Though enrollment is slightly up at the elementary school with the closing of Stella Maris last year, Malone said, as of now, enrollment “is still fairly steady” in comparison to last year. In fact, the slight increase is even less than administrators had initially imagined because much of the Catholic school’s student population was from out of district.

“Many of those families that live in Sag Harbor and chose Stella Maris for the Catholic education chose to go to Our Lady of the Hamptons [in Southampton],” he explained.

However, while the main student body will remain steady, the district’s Pre-K program — which was offered last year for a fee, but is free for all families in the district this year — has an expected enrollment of 42. “It’s a big up-tic from last year,” Malone continued, when the program had 12 students. The Pre-K program is scheduled to have two morning sessions and one in the afternoon.

Playground to be Ready for Start of School

Though it may look like a giant sandbox now, Principal Matt Malone confirmed Monday night that the district just signed a contract with Lobo Construction Company to begin work on the school’s new playground. The work actually began last Tuesday, August 15 and is scheduled to be completed next Thursday, August 25.

“We’re right on track,” he continued, noting that the work will all be complete before the start of the school year.

New Courses for the New Year

At the upper school, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols announced four new classes that will be offered this year. In addition to a 3D sculpture course and advanced marine biology (which will be taught by Dr. Robert Shoemacher, himself a former marine bio major), the school will add a year-long personal finance class. This is a subject several board members and participants at last year’s educational forums highlighted for its importance. Lastly, the school will offer a course in social studies called Philosophy of Understanding. Nichols said it is partially modeled after courses in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which emphasize critical thinking and a depth of knowledge over wide-ranging survey courses.

Nichols also pointed out that the school will see a savings of about $75,000 this year. Instead of hiring a new faculty member in the wake of art teacher Tim Kraszewski’s retirement, “his classes have been farmed out to other departments,” as Nichols put it.

“The big challenge this year will be to finish portions two and three of the IB application,” Nichols continued. Should all go according to the current timeline, Nichols expects the school to be approved in the spring, which would allow Pierson to begin offering its first IB Diploma courses in the fall of 2012.

Matt Malone

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The new principal of Sag Harbor Elementary School on his vision for the school, thoughts on a pre-kindergarten program, and why he chose to switch from educator to administrator.

How did working with former Elementary School Principal Joan Frisicano prepare you for this job?

She prepared me wonderfully from the very beginning. When I was a teacher actually and I made the decision to pursue administration, I had a conversation with Joan about it. This was two years prior to becoming the Assistant Principal [AP]. From the day of that conversation, Joan did whatever she could do to help me. While I was pursuing my degree, she was my advisor. She would include me in on the administration tasks of her job, kind of to get my feet wet. The timing worked out and when I completed my degree the position of AP opened up.

It has been a joy working with Joan. She shared every facet of the job with me and I can’t thank her enough for that. We have been a team. Aside from the day-to-day operational things of managing the school, the most valuable thing I have gained from her in the last four years is the quality time we spent talking about what takes place at the school. Those conversations strengthened my educational philosophy and what I value. We have had a lot of meaningful discussions about what is important for children, what a school should provide them, and that has guided my decision making.
What is the philosophy of the school?

It starts with the belief that all children are special. All have valuable and unique talents and it is our job as educators to do whatever we can to provide them with the opportunity to further explore those talents . . . If you look at our program, it is very diverse. We have an amazing academic program, but it is supported by an amazing offering in the arts and physical education. We bring in guest artists, we explore new things on field trips, and we are always trying to expand [our programming].
How would you like the school to evolve under your stewardship?

I am committed to continuing the academic excellence that has been such a part of this place. I am excited about looking forward to see how we do things and see how we can do it differently. I want children to be given the opportunity to explore more through hands-on experiences and give them more opportunities to be creative. We want to establish an environment that fosters both independent and team work. We want to make sure that we prepare children for the world they are about to enter.

I am dedicated to the idea of children looking at the big picture and thinking globally. We should continue to support foreign language. I was happy to bring in Spanish for kindergarten through fifth grade. I think we need to look at ways to expand our teaching of technology. We have already done some great things but we can do more. One of the things we have already worked on is treating computers as a special tool and something that should be embedded in the classroom to support everything else. We have brought laptops into the classrooms. While this can be costly to the district, we have also seen great results from it. Now we have five laptops in each classroom at minimum. They are available at all times of the day.
You started in the district as an assistant teacher. Did you always know that you wanted to pursue a career in administration?

I started in 1996. I was a teaching assistant for two years and then a taught for seven years. I mainly taught fourth grade. I didn’t know that I would end up in teaching. I was an economics major in college, but I always had a love for working with children. I took some education courses for my electives and the rest is history, I got the teaching bug. Actually, I pursued my education credentials through my masters at the same time I was working as a teaching assistant. There are teachers in my family and I think you tend to follow the people who have most affected you in your life.

It was a big change when I decided to go into administration. It was a big decision because I loved teaching. But if you think about how you can have a positive impact on so many children and their families and support the staff to continue to do great things for the children, that was very exciting to me. As an administrator, you can have a larger impact. It is something that continues to be exciting to me. As I got into it, I saw that I had a real aptitude for what the job entails. I was able to do it and do it well, and at times my economics degree comes in handy.

As the leader of the school, you go through all that it takes to manage the building, working with faculty and staff, you make sure the environment is safe and healthy for children. Most importantly as principal, you have to guide what the school is all about. You establish the budget for the new year and make sure the schedule is created in such a way to support all the different programs. I find that curriculum development is the most exciting part. You work together with the faculty and staff to design new experiences for children, particularly project based learning.
Since around 1998, Frisicano has advocated to establish a Pre Kindergarten program in the district and it seems the current school board hopes to implement a program in the fall of 2010. Given the ailing local economy, how important do you think it is to start a Pre-K program now?

Not only do I believe in the value of Pre-K, but it is something that I have had the opportunity to do a lot of research on. I am excited that the district is really exploring implementing the Pre-K here in Sag Harbor. I know Joan and several committees have been trying to get this off the ground for a while. But you always have to make decisions about how you are going to use resources to start this. I am excited that we are behind the idea, but how we are going to implement this is yet to be seen. Pre-K will only enhance an already great program, but we do have a finite amount of resources and we have to be responsible of everyone’s needs. We have some work to do there.

I know that Pre-K has a cost benefit in the long term for the school district. Are their programs already implemented at the elementary school level which save the district money in the long run?

I think we are providing so many wonderful services like that. We have language arts where we help struggling readers and writers. We have intervention in math at the early grade levels. There are a lot of things we do with special education, such as speech and occupational therapy. Receiving that kind of support early on is extremely beneficial to students, especially if something [like a learning disability] isn’t detected until later in their lives.

A Farewell to Frisicano

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A few months ago, Joan Frisicano informally announced her resignation as Sag Harbor Elementary school principal. Her decision, however, wasn’t made official until Monday night at a board of education meeting. Countless parents, administrators and board members thanked Frisicano for her role in shaping their children’s education and lives. After working for more than twenty years in the district, Frisicano is often recognized as a beloved educator in the community; but Matt Malone, a recognizable face to students and parents as the assistant principal of the elementary school, will fill her shoes in September at the start of the new school year.

At the meeting on Monday night, Frisicano highlighted her role as a mentor to Malone in a speech before the board and gathered public.

“I do believe it is a responsibility of this job to mentor others. For 12 years, I have worked with Matt Malone and he is proof of that success,” gushed Frisicano.

In his remarks, Malone said there is often a lack of close relationships between new teachers and administrators and senior educators in other school districts, but added that this isn’t the case in Sag Harbor. Malone started working in the village 14 years ago as a teaching assistant in Nina Landi’s fifth grade class. He slowly worked through the ranks of the school and has spent the past four years as assistant principal. Malone credits much of this success to Frisicano.

“Joan has been the absolute best. She has challenged me and corrected me when I am wrong,” noted Malone. “I think the Sag Harbor elementary school is the best place for children. I am excited about the future and all the great things we will do in the years to come.”

School Board President Walter Wilcoxen presented Frisicano with a clock on behalf of the district as a token of their appreciation for her work. Although Frisicano is closing the chapter on her life in the elementary school, she contends that she isn’t retiring.

In June, when Frisicano first announced her forthcoming resignation, she said, “I think I have one more step to go in my career, but I haven’t put my finger on it yet. All my thoughts right now are about leaving everything at the school in a good place.”

Bond and Energy Contract
As early as next summer, Pierson science students may be able to study solar and wind power in an intimate setting. The school board is exploring purchasing solar panels and a wind turbine as part of an energy efficiency contract, which will most likely be implemented in the coming school year. On Monday evening, the board gave a short overview of the contract, which included replacing most of the windows in the elementary school building. Superintendent John Gratto believes that many of the windows haven’t been replaced since the 1940s.

In the next few months, the board will mull over which items will be included in the contract, although several of them have a cost benefit to the district.

Wilcoxen explained during a later interview that the company Honeywell will install many of the items in the contract, including the windows, and the district will pay them a fee based on how much the school is expected to receive in energy savings. He added that there are rebates available for the solar panels and the wind turbine.

The windows, panels and wind turbine could be installed next summer because Honeywell is overseeing the installation and the school doesn’t have to bid on these projects.

Previously, the board eyed replacing two boilers in the elementary school, both of which are nearing thirty years of use; but Wilcoxen, a local architect, contended that cast iron boilers could last up to fifty years. Frisicano added that the real issue at the school is heat distribution throughout the rooms. Wilcoxen said in an interview that a portion of the bond monies will be used for a temperature control project, but at the meeting he added that a consultant might be needed to see if the building in fact needs a new boiler system.

“We are trying to flesh it out and get a general sense first of what people want,” remarked Wilcoxen of the ideas in the bond and energy contract. “When we reach a point where people are satisfied with the amount [to spend on this contract and the bond] then we will get the plans drawn.”

In addition to the bond and energy contract, the district is using money from the capital improvement fund to install new carpeting, track lighting and a screen in the auditorium.

Wilcoxen also confirmed that the nearly $250,000 worth of maintenance projects needed in the district’s facilities will be bundled into the bond for next year.

“These things hadn’t been taken care of for so long,” explained Wilcoxen. “We hope in the future to create a maintenance line in the budget to give a realistic view of this expense.”

Joan Frisicano has handed over the reins of Sag Harbor Elementary School to Matt Malone, above.

Principal Will Retire, Says This Time She’s Sure

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Over her 20 year tenure at the Sag Harbor Elementary School, principal Joan Frisicano has amassed a collection of kid-friendly items in her first floor office. Glass dishes filled with lollipops and candy lay atop her conference table. Her floor to ceiling bookcases are lined with children’s books and student artwork decorates her walls.
Last fall, after Frisicano announced she would retire in January 2009, students taped color-paper renderings of Frisicano’s favorite insect, the lady bug, on her office windows. Even though Frisicano rescinded her decision in November, almost one week after her announcement, the lady bugs have stayed up.
But come September, the lady bugs along with the rest of Frisicano’s office belongings will be packed up as she will retire before the new school year begins.
“When I resigned back in the fall, it was a hasty decision. The reaction that I got from the community and teachers had a negative appearance and that wasn’t my intent. I didn’t want [my leaving] to be disruptive to the school,” said Frisicano of her first retirement announcement.
Frisicano added that she also decided to stay with the school through an uncertain budget year. With the possibility of program cuts if the school budget didn’t pass, Frisicano said she wanted to stay at the helm of the school and lend her experience if cuts had to be made.
Frisicano first came to the school in 1989. Under her leadership Sag Harbor Elementary flourished into a Blue Ribbon school, recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for its excellence.
“The school is a place where children are valued and they are eager to learn. We have a staff that is willing and equipped to provide outstanding instruction,” opined Frisicano. She added that offerings like “Morning Program” help create the feeling of a “school family,” a concept Frisicano has championed during her tenure.
“With Joan it is all about the kids,” said assistant principal Matt Malone.
Although retiring from her role as a Sag Harbor school administrator, Frisicano said she will likely pursue another position or different career.
“I started looking at where I am age-wise and I think I have one more step to go in my career, but I haven’t put my finger on it yet. All my thoughts right now are about leaving everything at the school in a good place,” Frisicano remarked. “I know I am not moving away. I can’t imagine any place better to live.”
The position of Bridgehampton School Superintendent will be up for grabs in the next year when current superintendent Dr. Dianne Youngblood retires, but Frisicano said she doesn’t have any intention of pursuing this post at the moment.
“I haven’t applied for that job. I am very happy with what I am doing here. I want to work through the summer and make sure that it is a smooth opening for next year,” remarked Frisicano.
As of yet, Frisicano hasn’t handed in her official letter of resignation to the board of education. Once the letter is submitted, the school will begin the search for a new candidate, said superintendent Dr. John Gratto. Dr. Gratto added, though, that the school is already eying a Sag Harbor administrator to fill Frisicano’s shoes.
“Typically, we would do a search to find the best candidate, but I believe that we already have the best candidate – Matt Malone. He understands the culture of the community,” said Dr. Gratto. “Joan has been thinking about retirement for over a year now and she has done an excellent job of grooming [him] for that position.”
Malone has been a member of the Sag Harbor School community for almost 14 years. For roughly four years, he has worked as assistant principal.
Of his candidacy for the position, Malone said “I love being a part of the Sag Harbor district. It has been an absolute pleasure working here. Working under Joan, I gained the knowledge and experience to be a solid candidate.”
Though Frisicano didn’t name Malone as a potential contender for the job, she did say the incoming principal should “be themselves.”
“I don’t believe in people trying to replicate somebody else. They should be their own thinkers,” remarked Frisicano.
Frisicano added she is excited to embark on the next phase of her career, but her exit from the school is bittersweet.
“A lot of who I am and who I identify myself as is [wrapped up in] this school,” lamented Frisicano. “I think September will come and I will probably be in shock.”