Tag Archive | "pierson middle/high school"

School Officials: Pierson Students Will be Allowed to Take Limos to Prom

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Pierson Middle/High School in Sag Harbor.

Pierson Middle/High School in Sag Harbor.

By Tessa Raebeck

After a month-long debate, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols confirmed Friday that Sag Harbor students will be able to take whatever transportation they choose to the prom this spring.

The traditional method of taking limousines or “party buses” to the prom came under threat in January, when Pierson’s Shared Decision-Making Committee (SDM) – a group of parents, teachers, administrators and students – suggested that, in hopes of curbing drug and alcohol use, students instead be transported to the event in school-sponsored coach buses.

Olivia Bono, a member of the senior class and president of the student council, quickly spoke up on behalf of her peers, who she said felt their voices were listened to, but not heard, in the discussions leading up to the proposal. The two parents on the committee are parents of middle school students, not high school students, and Mr. Nichols said the students on the SDM were not in favor of the committee’s suggestion.

After voicing their concern at a school board meeting in January and again in February, the students’ voices were heard – with a little help from their parents.

This week’s decision came following the results of a survey Mr. Nichols conducted of the parents of students in grades 11 and 12. Parents were asked to choose between two options: requiring students to take school-sponsored buses with increased security procedures or allowing students to take limousines/party buses with increased security procedures. Parents chose the second option three to one, Mr. Nichols said.

“I will [be] allowing students to [use] whatever transportation they wish to use. Increased security screening prior to entering the prom will be in effect,” said Mr. Nichols.

Pierson administrators are not yet sure whether they will be hiring an outside security firm or using school security personnel to conduct the increased security screening. Mr. Nichols said Friday he is in the process of checking with other schools to see what their practices have been.

Citing Exhausted High Schoolers, Sag Harbor Parents Ask for Later Start Times at Pierson

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Susan LaMontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

Susan Lamontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

By Tessa Raebeck

By 7:25 a.m. when many adults are either still asleep or just getting up, Sag Harbor teenagers are in class, solving math problems, writing chemistry equations, and, some say, struggling to stay awake.

Since the mid-1990s, school districts across the country have taken measures to push back morning start times for high school students, citing research that says early times interfere with the natural circadian rhythms of growing adolescents, who require more sleep than adults and naturally have more energy at night and less in the early morning.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has voiced his support for later start times, posting on his Twitter account in August, “Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later.”

Despite the research and growing public support, however, many school administrators are wary about changing start times due to potentially detrimental effects on student athletes, who practice and play games after school. Administrators also cite the logistical concerns of having enough sunlight for outdoor games and the inherent difficulties of competing against schools with different hourly schedules. Later times would also require transportation schedules to change, an obstacle with undetermined costs.

At the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday night, several parents showed up to advocate for later start times, present the board with supporting research and offer their help in determining how such a change could be implemented in Sag Harbor.

As it stands, the bell rings for first period at Pierson Middle/High School at 7:25 a.m. The sixth grade eats lunch at 10:17 a.m., seventh and eighth grade students eat at 11 a.m. and high school students eat at 11:43 a.m. The last class ends at 1:49 p.m. and students have academic support, an optional period they can use as a study hall or to get extra help from teachers, until 2:26 p.m., when the academic day ends.

The Sag Harbor Elementary School starts at 8:35 a.m. and gets out at 3:10 p.m.

A parent of two children in the district, Susan Lamontagne founded the Long Island Chapter of Start School Later, a nonprofit coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and others “working to ensure that all public schools can set hours compatible with health, safety, equity, and learning.”

Addressing the board Monday, Ms. Lamontagne cited sleep research that has found teenagers’ changing hormones make it difficult for them to go to sleep earlier than 11 p.m. and wake up before 8 a.m. Some Pierson students wake as early as 6 a.m. to get ready, catch their bus and get to class in time.

Ms. Lamontagne referenced schools across the country that saw increases in attendance and test scores and decreases in failing grades, depression, sports-related injuries and teen-driving related accidents once later start times were implemented.

At Nauset High School in Massachusetts, after the start time was moved more than an hour later, to 8:35 a.m., the number of days students were suspended for disciplinary reasons decreased from 166 days in the first two months of the 2010-2011 school year to 19 days in the first two months of the 2011-2012 school year.

In 2011, the Glen Falls City School District BOE voted to change the high school start time from 7:45 to 8:26 a.m. effective September 2012. In an interview with PostStar, Principal Mark Stratton stood by the board’s decision, although he admitted some students, particularly those who play sports, were unhappy about getting home from school later.

According to Mr. Stratton, after a year of the later start time, by September 2013 the percentage of students who were late to school dropped by almost 30 percent. The number of students failing courses also decreased, from 13.6 percent to 8.6 percent.

Glens Falls City School District does not provide transportation for its students, removing one obstacle cited by administrators considering earlier school start times.

“We want to offer our help,” Ms. Lamontagne told the board Monday, adding that she and others are willing to walk the administration through the experiences at other districts, the logistics of changing times and “the full body of research.”

“All of the research that I’ve read indicates that there’s only benefit to the students’ health and performance,” replied Chris Tice, the board’s vice president, saying she would like to “at least put it on the table and hear back from the administrators on their thinking that—if that was going to be the will of the board—what would it take to make that happen.”

BOE member Susan Kinsella said, while other districts have lights on their athletic fields, Sag Harbor has no such means of finishing games in the dark.

“We have problems as it is finishing games in the fall,” agreed Todd Gulluscio, the district’s athletic director, adding that Sag Harbor students have longer travel times to and from games than other districts that have implemented later start times.

“For me,” added Mr. Gulluscio, “from an academic standpoint, if the kid’s going to miss something, I’d rather it be academic support than a class.”

Ms. Tice asked Mr. Gulluscio whether the district would be able to play schools that are closer.

He said no, “we can’t control where small schools are in Suffolk County.”

BOE member Sandi Kruel said that with the overwhelming amount of research in support of later start times, “the pendulum’s swinging backwards for us instead of forward.”

“I too have read and understand the research and it makes a lot of sense,” said elementary principal Matt Malone. “But there’s many, many factors that go into it.” He pointed to families who have structured their work schedules around the schools’ current times.

“We have to think about what’s doable,” agreed Pierson Middle-High School principal Jeff Nichols. He said the issue has been “brought up for years here” and it may be realistic to move the start time by 10 minutes or so, but in terms of athletics, the school cannot simply choose to only play schools with the same schedule.

Mr. Nichols said such a change might work with a larger school district, but not one as small as Sag Harbor.

“It would be a challenge,” agreed vice principal Gary Kalish.

Parent Diana Kolhoff said if she had to choose between having bus service and school starting later, she would choose the later time, but Ms. Tice informed her cancelling transportation is not a legal option for the district.

BOE member David Diskin said later start times “obviously” make sense in terms of the benefits.

“My personal transition—having my kids go from elementary school to [high school] time—it’s torture. I mean it’s so early, it’s crazy,” he added.

Board member Mary Anne Miller asked Ms. Lamontagne, “if there’s a roadmap or some sort of a guideline that you could provide the board and the district with so we could keep talking about it, rather than closing the door and saying it’s too difficult, because most things in municipalities have many hurdles and obstacles.”

Ms. Lamontagne proposed the board put together a small group to go through the barriers and provide the board with recommendations.

“I’m comfortable with that,” said Mr. Nichols.

No decision was made and a group was not officially formed, but Ms. Lamontagne committed to continually updating the board.

Contract for Teaching Assistants

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board approved a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Teaching Assistants Association of Sag Harbor, which has been without a contract for three years.

The contract is from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2016. It provides for 0-percent salary increases in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, a .5-percent increase in 2012-2013 and again in 2013-2014, and 1-percent increases in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, thanked the negotiating team, calling them “respectful, caring, very clear with their perspective [and] willing to listen to all perspectives.”

The board also granted the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) the right to include the title “Occupational Therapist” within their bargaining unit.

The Beasts from the East, Pierson Robotics Team Starts Work on New Competitive Robot

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The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotics Team robot, competes in last year's FIRST Robotics Competition Long Island Regional Event at Stony Brook University.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotics Team robot, competes in last year’s FIRST Robotics Competition Long Island Regional Event at Stony Brook University.

By Tessa Raebeck

They design, build and program robots, fundraise for their team and build alliances for intense competition — and they do it all on free periods, during lunch and after school.

Having just received the regulations for this year’s game, the 30 students on the Pierson Robotics Team are now hard at work preparing a unique robot model for battle.

The Pierson Whalers robotics team, whose members call themselves “The Beasts from the East,” is more than an after school club; students spend hours researching and designing, building in the lab and trucking up and down Main Street in search of sponsors. They maintain active Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages and a team website and share accounts in robot chat rooms or informative forums.

“Those who are really involved are there all the time, after school, at lunch, all the time,” said Abi Gianis, a junior at Pierson who joined the team as a sophomore. “We work in our free periods as well, at least we try to.”

When the schools were closed early Tuesday afternoon due to inclement weather, team leaders Lucas Pickering and Alex Cohen were hard at work in the Pierson Middle/High School basement.

The team meets throughout the school year, but they are now in fierce preparation for April, when their finished robot will compete in the three-day Long Island Regional competition at Hofstra University. Now in its 15th year, the Long Island Regional has grown from eight teams to near 50.

The international competition, or the “Superbowl of Smarts,” has grown to over 2,000 teams, with 40 regional events from Israel to Brazil.

Established in 1995, the Pierson Robotics team won the second Long Island Regional Competition in 2000 and was a finalist in 2001, 2002 and 2004. Out of thousands of teams competing in US FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the Beasts from the East are proud to note their team number is 28, representing their veteran status

In addition to points gained in direct competition, teams are judged on excellence in design, demonstrated team spirit, professionalism and maturity, and ability to overcome obstacles. Pierson received Judges Awards in 1998 and 2000.

“Winning means building partnerships that last,” the Beasts from the East say on their team website.

FRC released the rules and framework of the competition January 4, and the students have been hard at work designing and constructing their model ever since. They have six weeks to prepare their robot, meaning the deadline is less than a month away — and this is crunch time.

FRC challenges competing teams to solve a common problem under the same rules and using the same standard “kit of parts” to build a robot that weighs around 130 pounds.

“They’re working on prototypes now and they’re starting to build it,” said Gayle Pickering, who mentors the team along with her husband Rick, Robotics Coordinator Clint Schulman and Robotics Assistant Rob Coe. Four students from East Hampton High School are also on the team and shop teacher Trevor Gregory works with the Sag Harbor mentors.

This year’s game, Aerial Assist, requires two alliances of three robots each. The three-team alliances compete against each other in a game sort of like robot basketball. The robot must be able to lift up and throw a ball that is two feet in diameter. Last year’s Pierson robot, named the “Harpoon” but also called “Mission Impossible,” shot Frisbees across a court.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotic Team's entry into last year's FIRST Robotics Competition.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotic Team’s entry into last year’s FIRST Robotics Competition.

Since the game requires an alliance this year, the Pierson team must market itself to teams from other school districts and scout out potential partners.

“We’re challenged,” said Gianis, “to make a robot that can not only pick up a ball with a two foot diameter, but also cooperate with other robots that we have never interacted with before and help assist them.”

Looking for more female engineers, Shulman encouraged Gianis and friend Clara Oppenheimer to join the team last year. Now the two are being trained to program the robot next year when the senior programmers graduate.

“It’s a game for nerds,” Pickering said, “but anybody can participate.”

Sag Harbor Parents Express Safety Concerns Over Pick up and Drop off at Pierson Middle/High School

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By Tessa Raebeck

Last Friday afternoon at the end of the school day, Dr. Carl Bonuso was on Division Street waiting to make a left turn into the Pierson Middle/High School parking lot, with his left signal blinking. A Mini Cooper came behind him, swerved to the left and illegally passed Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent of the Sag Harbor School District.

Several Pierson parents have expressed concern over such incidents during pick up and drop off at the school’s southern entrance, saying poor design, lack of supervising personnel and drivers’ rush to get kids to school combine for a haphazard and potentially dangerous scenario.

“I’m a parent, not an expert,” said Robbie Vorhaus, who has had two children attend Pierson — one is now in college and the other is still a student at the school. “But I’m still very much aware of the fact that there is a very flagrant potential safety hazard that’s been going on for a long time. And it would seem as though the police department would want to work with the school to prevent something horrible from happening.”

During the morning drop off, parents circle around the Division Street parking lot loop, dropping kids off at a curb by the entrance. Principal Jeff Nichols and other administrators are often present to move traffic along the curb.

John Ali, a Pierson security officer, monitors the buses and is positioned at the Marsden Street intersection in the afternoon. The buses park south of the intersection on Division Street and exit down Marsden Street. Cars line up down Marsden Street, despite a No Standing sign, and up and down Division Street.

During the morning, drivers pull around the loop to drop their kids off; cars approach the parking lot entrance from all directions. The four-way traffic created by the intersection is about 20 feet from the three-way traffic created by the lot entrance.

“There are different problems in the morning than in the afternoon,” Vorhaus said.

In the afternoon, students must find the car picking them up. If it hasn’t yet pulled into the loop, kids often go down the road in search of it.

On Friday afternoon, in addition to directing the intersection, there were students to be monitored. On the loop, a student on a razor scooter had to be directed to stay out of the road. A girl in a red jacket ran across the street, dropping a cup in the middle of the road and stooping to pick it up. During both pick up and drop off, which lasts about 20 minutes each, several cars ran the three stop signs at the Marsden Street intersection.

“It was absolute mayhem there today,” Vorhaus said Tuesday, speaking of the afternoon pick up, which came early due to inclement weather. “With the snow and the early pick up, there were more people and there was nobody there [aside from Ali]. There was no other public safety officer anywhere to be seen.”

Dr. Bonuso said Monday the school is hoping to implement several practical safety changes when the parking lots are renovated as part of the district bond capital projects.

“We’ve also in our school and community meetings talked about the details regarding the design for the parking lot,” he said Tuesday. “One of the things we’re tossing around is whether or not we could expand that curb length, so that people could pull up much further and [thus] not have as much of a line of people spilling out into the street.”

“And of course,” he added, “we also welcome working with and partnering with the village.”

“The answer is,” Vorhaus said Tuesday, “that the police department — as in any other community — works in cooperation with the school and puts either a patrol officer or a safety officer, certainly, at the corner of Division and Jermain.”

Although that intersection is priority, Vorhaus would also like to see a second officer at the northern intersection of Division Street and Marsden Street, especially during pick up.

Dr. Bonuso said he would welcome it if the village’s traffic experts spoke with the district’s architecture firm, BBS Architecture, “to get a sense of traffic flow and what the best design is both from the school’s perspective and the village’s perspective. We absolutely welcome having both the village and school share as much information and expertise as is available.”

“Honestly, I think that’s a school issue,” Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride said Tuesday, adding that he sometimes accompanies his son to drop off his grandson.

Mayor Gilbride said there is a Traffic Control Officer (TCO) at the Sag Harbor Elementary School’s Route 114 entrance “who does an excellent job.”

Sag Harbor Police Chief Tom Fabiano said Tuesday he could not comment because he is unaware of the problem, but anyone with concerns should come to him to discuss a possible solution.

 

At Sag Harbor School Board Meeting, Questions Arise Regarding Lack of Newspaper at Pierson High School

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Sag Harbor Board of Education Vice President Chris Tice, President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district's interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Vice President Chris Tice, BOE President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

By Tessa Raebeck

Although less than 10 community members stayed for the full duration of Monday’s Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) meeting, those in attendance – most of them regulars – were passionate about the needs of village schools.

One need, according to parents in attendance and many who are active on the Facebook group “Sag Harbor School District Parents Connect,” is for an active student newspaper at Pierson High School.

A newspaper for the Pierson Middle School was officially created on Monday with the board’s appointment of Jason LaBatti, a math teacher, as advisor to the new club.

According to Gary Kalish, vice principal for Pierson High School, the middle school newspaper club has been dormant for “a few years.” A literary magazine, “sort of a compilation of students’ artwork and stories,” ran in the meantime, said Barbara Bekermus, director of pupil personnel services for the district.

“It’s a position that’s been available to middle school students but [there] hasn’t been a lot of interest,” Kalish said Monday. “So, recently, I guess a group of students got together and approached [Jeff Nichols, the principal of Pierson Middle/High School] and asked if they could have a middle school program.”

Kalish said the high school newspaper is no longer running because “there wasn’t a significant interest this year.”

The high school newspaper, The Leviathan, ran from October 2011 to May 2013. The May 2013 issue had seven contributors, at least three of which are still attending Pierson High School.

Each edition of The Leviathan was both published in hard copy and posted to the district website, which describes the paper as “a club designed to provide students with an authentic experience in journalism and publishing. Members of the Newspaper Club are editors, photographers, reporters and graphic designers for the school newspaper.”

The paper’s contents included reviews of movies, books and school plays, a sports page, a photo spread, interviews with teachers and department representatives, a “whale quote,” and such thorough political examinations as a May 2013 piece by Mari Chavez titled “The Dreamers: The Complex Issue of Immigration and Pierson Students.”

Prior to The Leviathan was Folio, a student-run publication that was printed for free in The Sag Harbor Express. Led by advisor Peter Solow, an art teacher at Pierson, the full-page spread included editorials, articles, photos and information concerning the district, all written and designed by students. The last printed issue, from early May 2010, outlined possible contingency budget cuts and news on the school board elections and budget votes, as well as district announcements and upcoming events.

At Monday’s board meeting, BOE member Daniel Hartnett recalled Folio, mentioned a neighboring district similarly utilizes its local paper and wondered whether such collaboration might be available for the middle school.

“Instead of something going home in kids’ backpacks or lost on the bus or whatever, it actually gets printed in the paper,” Hartnett said.

“Yeah,” replied Kalish, “I remember the high school would partner up and it was really kind of amazing, so I’ll talk to the advisor about that.”

In other school board news, the board defended their decision to hire the public relations firm Syntax Communication Group for “communication services.” Syntax, which worked for the board in communications regarding the capital bond project propositions passed in November, is a Bohemia-based firm that provides marketing communication consulting services and specializes in working with school districts.

At the December 2 BOE meeting, the board approved an agreement between the district and Syntax, effective January 1, 2014 through June 30, 2014 for $9,500. At Monday’s meeting, community member John Battle asked the board to explain its intent in hiring the PR firm.

“They will do everything from press releases to touching base with the media representatives to crisis management,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of schools, responded, adding the firm will work on the school calendar, write articles, cover various events, write budget newsletters and press releases and communicate with “various constituents.”

“We’re going to take a look at how it works out for the rest of the year,” said Dr. Bonuso, “and see whether or not – you know, we’re always evaluating the bang for the buck – we’re going to see…whether it’s cost effective and whether we have the dollars to do so.”

Hartnett said “most districts” use PR firms and Sag Harbor has employed a similar firm in the past.

“It’s an issue that the Communications Committee has been talking about,” added Theresa Samot, president of the school board. “There’s a lot of great things happening at the school and the community doesn’t always know about them.”

Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said with changes in technology, the type of communication has changed and many schools have hired “in house communication managers.”

The BOE will hold a budget workshop and educational meeting on January 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle/High School library.

With Sandy Hook in Mind, Sag Harbor Ups Safety Measures in Schools

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By Tessa Raebeck

In response to state-mandated changes in school security regulations and increased safety awareness nationwide, the Sag Harbor School District is continuing implementation of new safety standards and measures at the Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School.

The SAVE (Schools Against Violence in Education) Act, initiated in 2000 by Governor George Pataki, requires school districts to develop comprehensive school safety plans covering evacuation, dismissal, community response and alerting family, law enforcement and other schools in the area in the event of an emergency.

Following the fatal school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut last December, in January Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the NY SAFE Act (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act), furthering the guidelines of the existing SAVE Act.

In addition to increasing the penalty for possession of a firearm on school grounds or a school bus from a misdemeanor to a Class E Felony, the legislation formed the NYS School Safety Improvement Team, a group of state agency representatives from relevant fields, such as the state police, created to assist school districts in the development and implementation of school safety plans.

In accordance with these guidelines, Jonathan Hark, safety and administrative support manager at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, completed a facilities assessment report for Sag Harbor and presented it to the district in April 2013.

The report covers six areas: grounds and building exterior, building access, building interior, social and emotional tone, general security and development of a building level emergency response plan.

Hark gave the district 21 “bolded” recommendations, considered to be the most pressing. At the board of education (BOE) meeting Monday, interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso reported that 17 of the 21 recommendations have been addressed.

Three of the remaining four items have not yet been addressed due to budgetary concerns.

Additional cameras need to be installed in several places, primarily at Pierson Middle/High School, which school administrators anticipate will be budgeted for in the spring and completed this summer.

Another budgetary issue arose with the recommendation to improve communication with school buses through the purchase of walkie-talkies for drivers.

Hark’s report also advised for architectural work at the elementary school to make the top floor library lockable, which principal Matt Malone called “a major project.”

The fourth element not yet addressed is Incident Command System, or ICS-100, training. Jeff Nichols, principal of Pierson Middle/High School, said that training has been tentatively scheduled for January for all security personnel in the district.

Dr. Bonuso applauded the work of the administrators in being “very proactive” in bringing in Hark and quickly implementing his recommendations, noting that the remaining four are “pretty much on deck.”

“Once you’re getting close to an end of a list,” board member David Diskin reminded the room, “it’s time to start building a new one.”

Concerned Sag Harbor Parents Crowd Pierson Library for Math Curriculum Workshop

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Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols presents a workshop on the Math Curriculum in front of concerned parents at Monday evening.

Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols presents a workshop on the Math Curriculum in front of district administrators, the Board of Education and concerned parents Monday evening.

By Tessa Raebeck

Parents told stories of children bursting into tears, berating themselves for being “idiots” and spending hours agonizing over homework at the Sag Harbor School District’s math curriculum workshop Monday night, voicing concern over the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS).

“The first thing we say to her is get out your math homework,” said Christa Schleicher of her daughter, who is in seventh grade at Pierson Middle/High School.

Concerned parents, mostly of seventh graders, filled the Pierson Library to hear a presentation led by Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols, with assistance from their math teachers.

Developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core is a set of educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade that states voluntarily adopt. CCLS has been adopted by 45 states. New York State (NYS) adopted CCLS in July 2010, but it is being phased in over several years.

Every seat in the library was filled as parents showed up to express their discontent with the Common Core program, which many believe was rolled out haphazardly without clear direction from the state and to the detriment of students.

“It’s not specific or indigenous to Sag Harbor,” said Nichols, who has three children in the Southampton Intermediate School. “Everybody is struggling with these same issues.”

“We really want to commend the effort of all the instructors in our district who are working through this new initiative,” said Malone. “There’s a lot of challenges and in a way we’ve all kind of been thrown into it.”

At the end of the 2012/2013 school year, NYS math assessments for students in third through eighth grade measured CCLS. Nichols said state assessments assume kids going into the seventh grade curriculum had Common Core instruction since kindergarten, when in reality, mathematics instruction was not fully aligned with CCLS until the 2012/2013 school year for students in grades three through eight and the 2013/2014 school year for high school students.

“That assumption is a big assumption to me,” Nichols said Monday evening, adding that the pacing of the modules is also inaccurate. “They say a lesson will take 40 minutes…reality is it’s not 40 minutes, it’s 60 or 70 minutes.”

“As a school,” he continued, “what we struggle with and what I’m struggling with is to what extent do we let mathematics dominate the landscape?”

Nichols said about an hour and a half of math homework each night is on pace with the modules, a time requirement many parents said is overwhelming for their kids.

“It’s a lot more rigorous,” said Diana Kolhoff, a Sag Harbor resident and math consultant. “So some of the historical traditions that these schools have had are running into trouble with the Common Core. Things that had worked in the past are no longer working.”

“This is probably the most exciting part but also the most challenging part,” said Malone. “This is the part where you wrestle with, ‘are we presenting things in the best way to kids?’ Because it’s really challenging and it’s causing kids to have to work a lot harder than they had to before.”

“I get it all and I get that they’re reprogramming,” said Schleicher. “My struggle and our struggle at home is the amount of it. My daughter, she’s beginning to despise math because it’s so much…she’s getting it, she’s getting better at it, but it’s just taking too long.”

“I’m dealing with the same thing with my children,” Nichols said, calling it a “juggling act” because by diminishing homework, the students fall behind the state’s expected pace in the classroom. He said they are trying to gauge how fast teachers can go without turning kids off math.

“If we have to tweak our workload and at the end of the day where our students are at, we’ll do so,” said Nichols, who has already implemented a few modifications.

To increase instructional time and hopefully minimize time spent on math at home, Pierson added a lab period designed to reinforce the CCLS lesson for students in seventh grade and algebra classes.

Middle School Assistant Principal Brittany Miaritis said lab time provides the students with far more one-on-one learning instruction than available in the classroom setting. Teacher Richard Terry said it has been “very helpful” for his seventh grade students. Additionally, several senior math teachers were moved from the high school to the middle school two years ago, due to their comprehension of what would be required of those students later on.

Although they recognized its challenges, the teachers in attendance appeared to be proponents of the CCLS methodology. Fifth grade teachers George Kneeland and JoAnn Kelly shared a CCLS fluency activity, a fast-paced drill that is supposed to be a fun way to measure a student’s personal best. Kelly said her students love sprints, asking for them almost every day.

Kneeland then introduced an application problem, or “problem of the day,” which is designed to be strategically linked to previous lessons and concepts.

“We were just taught a methodology for doing it and we did it,” he said of his grade school experience. “The Common Core philosophy is taking a step deeper and looking at things so we get a pictorial understanding and more concrete understanding and then transition to what’s called the standard algorithm.”

Janice Arbia, who has four children in the school district, asked, “When they’re actually grading these tests, does it matter how they do it?”

The intent, Malone said, is for students to grasp what they were asked to do, so they can choose the way of solving the problem that works best for them. Energy is devoted to the concepts instead of the calculations.

“One of the big shifts now,” added Terry, “is rather than have a teacher standing in front of the students doing all of this work, the students are becoming an active participant in the lesson.”

“My students coming up this year in geometry are significantly stronger than they’ve been in the past and I expect that trend to continue,” said high school teacher Chase Malia. “I really think my students are much better prepared than they’ve been in the past.”

The administrators said their model of approach relies on feedback from teachers, parents and students. Nichols said that while some parents say their children are overwhelmed, others say they like the rigor and their kids are thriving. He plans to administer a survey to hear students’ opinions on how much they can handle.

“We do have an obligation to make sure that we safeguard kids’ emotional well being,” said Nichols. “And if in fact we’re asking too much of them in terms of the amount of homework, this survey will be able to generate some data related to that.”

“Grading” Sag Harbor Teachers: Administrators Discuss Goals Updates at Board of Education Meeting

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External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

By Tessa Raebeck

“This has been a week of very special teams,” said Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, congratulating the champion Lady Whalers field hockey team and the community team that helped pass the district’s two bond propositions.

Passing the bond was a key component of the district goals for the 2013/2014 school year, which Dr. Bonuso presented to a small group of people gathered Monday for the Board of Education (BOE) meeting.

Dr. Bonuso discussed the headway made on the first three of the district’s nine goals. He said progress was made on the first goal, improving academic achievement, through the resubmission and implementation of Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR), an evaluation system required by the state since 2012. It rates teachers as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, based on a 100-point scale. Half of the review relies on administrative observations, 10 percent on an “evidence binder” of components like electronic posting and 40 percent on test scores. For teachers whose students are not yet being tested regularly, that portion is determined by a project the district assigns in order to produce a score. Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the majority of Sag Harbor teachers were graded “effective.”

“We need to take a second look at this emphasis on testing, the over testing,” said Dr. Bonuso. “We need to take a second look at whether or not we have the materials and modules – let alone the mindset – to approach this in a manner where people are feeling good about what’s happening instead of anxious and discouraged.”

Susan Hewett, a parent, asked the board how teachers are rewarded or reprimanded based on their APPR performance. Dr. Bonuso replied teachers are not rewarded, but if they are determined to be “developing” or worse for two years, “we can literally remove them…even if they are tenured.”

If a teacher is rated “ineffective,” the superintendent said, “We don’t have to go through all the gyrations and all the bureaucracy that in the past we had to in order to remove you.”

The administrators reported on the progress of the newly formed shared decision-making teams, a component of the second goal: to build partnerships with the community. Two teams have met, one for the elementary school and one for Pierson. The district-wide team is looking for two replacements for members who left the committee prior to the first meeting.

Board member Mary Anne Miller questioned the inclusion of the middle and high schools in the same team, which BOE Vice President Chris Tice agreed should be revisited.

The third goal is to ensure sound fiscal operation and facilities management. The district added experienced security personnel and hours at both school, enhanced systems at school entryways and held its first lockdown drill of the year last week. External auditor Alexandria Battaglia said Monday the district is in good financial health, with an unassigned fund balance of about $1.4 million.

In other school news, BOE member David Diskin again asked the board to discuss starting to video record their meetings. Board President Theresa Samot said it was a good idea to look at further.

The next BOE meeting will be held December 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.

Pierson Teachers Host Community Forum on Proposed Auditorium Renovations

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By Tessa Raebeck

Exposed wires, breaking seats and a sound system that routinely fails during performances are just some of the things the performing arts faculty at Pierson Middle/High School hope will be fixed by the Sag Harbor School District’s proposed capital projects bond — if it passes November 13.

At a community forum Tuesday on the proposed renovation of the Pierson auditorium, teachers told stories of the dangers and inefficiencies of the current space, which was part of the original Pierson construction in 1907 and was converted from a gym to an auditorium in the 1980s.

“The foundational criteria for everything that we were doing was health and safety,” explained Peter Solow, an art teacher who serves on the Educational Facilities Planning Committee, the group of community members which formulated the bond propositions.

The auditorium renovations are included in Proposition 1, which holds the bulk of the proposed improvements. The proposal aims to create safer egress from the theater, increase seating capacity, improve the theatrical lighting and sound systems, and add support facilities and supplemental air conditioning.

“It will make it more efficient on a daily basis, but it will also make it safer,” said Solow. “If we had to evacuate this place very quickly, it could be problematic.”

The teachers estimate that about 60 high school students and 90 middle school students are involved in performing arts at Pierson in some capacity each year, while all students use the auditorium during assemblies.

The auditorium currently has no designated handicapped seating area and no room for the pit orchestra, which ends up using about 50 audience seats during performances. During a play last spring, an audience member sat in a chair that promptly broke, resulting in a fall. In addition to new seats, the bond would increase the seating capacity so the entire student body of the high school could fit in the auditorium at once. The school currently puts on multiple presentations of the same assembly, often at additional cost.

The bond also provides for storage space for instruments and equipment.

“No matter what condition things are in, obviously we are going to do our best and put on the performances,” said Paula Brannon, director of Pierson musicals. “I see things backstage that are safety hazards that are beyond the control of custodial staff or administrators to fix anymore.”

Brannon said sets and costumes which could be recycled for use in future performances are often thrown out because there is nowhere to store them.

“At the end of every show we have a decision,” she said. “Do we throw this away or do we try and save that? And if we save that, we’re now to the point where we have to throw something else away in its place. It will just continue the costs.”

“If you do go backstage right now — and a child does go backstage — there’s tools, there’s glass, there’s wood, there’s screws, there’s nails, there’s all kinds of things — and no lights,” added music teacher Eric Reynolds. “.It’s very dangerous to have a shared space without any kind of room to store some of that material.”

Reynolds said there is not an empty spot to be found in the existing space and instruments and other materials are often lost due to lack of organization.

“One of us is always scrambling to find an instructional space,” he said of the music teachers. “Right now our students really don’t have any rooms to practice in.”

Currently, makeshift dressing rooms are housed in classrooms and bathrooms, making it awkward to navigate the school during production week. Brannon said that during performances, students must “run the entire width of the school” to get to the stage.

“They deserve their own space,” said Reynolds, who added that when audience members use the bathroom during intermission, “you walk in there and the entire cast of boys from the musical is in the bathroom.”

Members of the faculty also spoke of “many incidents” of sound and lighting systems failing during performances. Because the sound system is “antiquated,” Brannon said the school must rent sound equipment every year, using $8,000 of the funds allotted for musicals.

“We love to be self-sufficient, we try really, really hard, but there’s just a lot that we can’t overcome,” said Brannon.

Reynolds said the school started renting outside equipment because on opening night of “Chicago” three years ago, the entire sound system — including all the mics — “totally failed.”

“So, three years later, we hire professional sound guys at a large cost. It would be great not to have to do that,” he said.

Pierson’s audiovisual coordinator Austin Remson recalls, “assemblies where five minutes before the show was going to start, there was a short that blew all the circuits. Unfortunately, that happens very often where this stuff is old, it’s very old.”

When searching for a new light board five years ago, Remson had trouble locating one that worked with the outdated system.

“The only board we could get is a used board from 1995 because our system is what we call DMX and the world is now AMX,” he said. “So that took a great deal of effort to try to find something when the old board completely broke and that [newer] board now has about five channels on it that don’t work.”

“How many Band-Aids are we going to put on?” he asked. “How much money are we going to keep throwing at the problem that is recurring?”

Remson said on a regular basis, an entire row of lights will go out, with replacements costing some $45 a bulb.

“It’s amazing how many crises happen on almost a daily basis that have to be remedied very quickly,” continued Remson, adding that sometimes when he climbs up to change the bulbs, he finds wiring harnesses that have “completely melted.”

“This is really dangerous,” he said. “It’s a little scary.”

The bond would create a controlled climate in the auditorium, which was quite cold on Tuesday. Remson said he asked the custodians to turn the air conditioning off during a particularly cold assembly last week and they replied they were afraid to because they didn’t think it would come back on.

The primary concern expressed by the faculty Tuesday was not for a warmer room or nicer seats, but for the students.

“Students that had their moment to shine and they’re half lit or students who are not able to be lit because we don’t have the capability,” said Remson. “Our students are fantastic and they really deserve a space that’s inspiring and safe.”

The Pierson performing arts department will host another community forum on the proposed improvements on Tuesday, November 5 at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium.

Sag School Board Talks Parking, Process for Bond Proposals

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By Tessa Raebeck

“We’re just trying to get facilities that are as good as the children we serve,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, said of the district’s proposed capital improvements bond at Monday’s board of education meeting.

In anticipation of the November 13 vote on the bond, district representatives addressed concerns and opinions voiced by community members in recent weeks — particularly in regards to the proposed parking lot renovations — and clarified the design process that would take place should the bond pass, as well as details of the current diagrams. With the help of district architect Larry Salvesen, Dr. Bonuso emphasized all plans are conceptual schematics that could undergo continual revisions that would not change the face of the projects, but could alter their scope.

The bond is separated into two distinct propositions. Proposition 1, with a projected cost of $7,357,132, covers the majority of the proposed capital work. Through five categories (architectural, HVAC, plumbing, electrical and site), it addresses facilities preservation and renovations, building code compliance and ADA compliance, health and safety issues, energy conservation improvements and efficiencies and supports the district’s curriculum.

In addition to capital improvement work like installing CO2 sensors and re-piping the domestic hot water heater, Proposition 1 includes: the renovation of the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium, as well as construction of support facilities; renovations to the Pierson shop/technology classroom space; expansion of the Pierson kitchen; the addition of a storage room in the Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES) gymnasium; and the restoration and reconfiguration of the Jermain Avenue parking lot at Pierson and the Hampton Street lot at SHES.

At the estimated cost of $1,620,000, Proposition 2 will be voted on separately and provides for the installation of a synthetic turf athletic field, a two-lane walking track and other site improvements, such as a scoreboard.

At Monday’s meeting, Dr. Bonuso and other administrators emphasized the timing is as good as any to execute the bond, as bond rates have lowered and the district will receive approximately 10 percent in state aid.

“Most of these things we would go ahead and we’d do it anyway [through annual budgets], the problem is we would pay more money and we would have to wait a whole lot longer to reap the benefits,” explained Dr. Bonuso.

Due to the state-imposed property tax cap, completing such projects through the annual budget would negatively impact the funds allotted for school programs, the district said in a newsletter on the bond.

“We know what the worst choice is,” said Dr. Bonuso. “The worst choice — forget all the options, everyone has their opinion on what to do — but I think everyone pretty much agreed on what is the worst thing to do — the worst thing to do is to do nothing.”

In addition to failing pavement and crumbling curbs, the district said the parking lots’ designs are unsafe for both children and the community at large and maintained that the parking lots absolutely need to be reconfigured and restored, but the district remains open to suggestions as to the best ways to do that for Pierson’s neighbors, passing pedestrians, school children, cars and emergency vehicles.

“We look at it in a schematic fashion,” explained Salvesen. “We get a general understanding of the approach to the project and create a diagram that represents what is proposed and then we use that to create a cost estimate.”

That process was completed before the bond was presented to the community. If the bond is passed, the next step toward enacting the proposed projects is the design/development stage, during which the scope is reviewed and the design is refined. After additional community input, the final recommendations are brought to the board before the plans are sent to the State Education Department for approval.

If the bond is passed, the Educational Planning Facilities Committee, a group of 21 teachers, parents, administrators, board members and members of the community who met at least six times over the past year in preparation of the bond, would be reformed to invite continued conversation and review possible changes. After additional community input, the final recommendations are brought to the board before the plans are sent to the State Education Department for approval.

Following the recent dialogue between members of the EPFC and the community, Salvesen has drawn in several amendments to the parking lot plans. The original diagram for the lot at Jermain Avenue, for example, did not have an explicit sidewalk drawn in until this week.

“That’s something that would come with the evolution of the design,” Salvesen explained. “There is money to put a sidewalk along there; it is a desired element.”

According to the district, some residents were concerned the Jermain Avenue lot changes would infringe on Pierson Hill or the property’s trees.

“We are not going to negatively impact Pierson Hill,” clarified Dr. Bonuso. “We love Pierson Hill, we love the tradition. We’re going to be very respectful of it.”

“We’re going to be very respectful of the trees,” he continued. “In one or two instances, we’ve already picked out which trees we will purposely transplant just to make sure that we save them.”

Salvesen said after reviewing the plans with the district’s traffic engineer consultant, they found moving the parking lot’s entry point further away from the bend at the northwest side of Jermain Avenue would also increase safety. The district also chose not to pursue the expansion of the elementary school’s secondary Atlantic Avenue lot that was part of a proposed bond that failed to garner community support in 2009.

“That has been completely removed from the project in an attempt to address overall cost concerns,” said the architect.

Since its construction in 1946, the Hampton Street parking lot at SHES has stayed in the same configuration, according to Salvesen. After reviewing the plans for that lot with the traffic engineer, the district is considering altering the project to include one entry point, rather than two. Instead of the 25 additional parking spots in the original diagram, the revised plan would add 17 stalls.

“It’s not about the numbers here, safety is the point,” said Salvesen.

Members of the board were grateful community members had come forward with their concerns and hopeful the bond would ultimately pass.

“These are schematics,” reiterated Daniel Hartnett, a school board member. “We had to put something up to present to be able to move this forward…There is the opportunity — should the bond pass — as we move forward for people to come in and express their views and for us to tweak what we end up doing.”

Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said such collaboration is “great because they’re voicing a variety of different perspectives and the more perspectives the committee and the board and the administration hear, the better solution we’ll have.”

If Sag Harbor voters pass the propositions, the estimated costs are the cap. Salvesen has built in contingencies so that the projected costs represent a high estimate, he said. By law, the district cannot spend more than is approved by voters. If the projects cost less than estimated, the district will return the money to the taxpayers.

Salvesen held that his firm, BSS Architecture in Patchogue, has a proven record in bonds staying well within their budget.

“Since the early 90’s,” he said, “we’ve done $1.7 billion in school improvement bonds and we have not gone over.”

“Well,” said Mary Anne Miller, a member of the board, “That’s why we hired you.”