Tag Archive | "pierson middle/high school"

Hamptons Film Festival Reaches a Younger Generation

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By Amanda Wyatt; Photography by Laurie Barone-Schaefer

While the 20th Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) brought a touch of Hollywood glitz and glamour to the East End last weekend, students at local schools were also able to get a taste of the silver screen — right in their own auditoriums.

On Friday, Pierson Middle School and Bridgehampton School students were not only treated to private screenings, but also to visits from the filmmakers behind two award-winning documentaries.

The screenings were part of the HIFF’s brand new Filmmakers in the Classroom program, which for the first time brought films and their directors and producers into East End schools.

The program was funded by a $20,000 grant from the Long Island Community Foundation to encourage community outreach and visiting artistic programing in schools.

Such an initiative is particularly important in an age of cuts to arts education, said HIFF community outreach coordinator Marianna Levine, whose own daughter attends Pierson Middle School.

“The foundation wanted to help bring the arts back to schools, because they think it’s a really important component to education,” she said. “I really wanted to be a part of it — as a parent, as a member of the local community.”

Just a few days before the film festival awarded “Best Short” to the film “Growing Farmers,” director Michael Halsband and producer Hilary Leff paid a visit to Bridgehampton students.

Sponsored by the Peconic Land Trust, the film focuses on how the organization has sought to revitalize agriculture on the East End. Particular attention was paid to the younger generation farmers, those in their 20s and 30s, making their way in the local agriculture industry.

Since Bridgehampton School has been a leader in the Edible Schoolyard movement, Levine believed the film was a perfect match. She also thought students would respond well to Halsband, a well-known photographer and director.

“[Halsband] discovered his love of photography when he was 10 or 11 — middle school age — so I thought it was a good fit,” she added.

And for Halsband, “Growing Farmers” was always designed to be an educational tool. He and Leff began filming with the intention of teaching the wider community about the efforts of the Peconic Land Trust and local farmers.

East End farms are “so visual and beautiful,” Halsband said. “So that was a draw for me, to explore that world deeper and to be the person discovering it for people who are going to eventually see the film.”

“I was learning as I was taking it in, like anybody else in the audience, just going along for the ride,” he added. “So in that respect it was an educational experience for me.”

At Pierson Middle School, students screened “CatCam,” which won an award at the South by Southwest film Festival. Charles Miller, the film’s director of cinematography and producer, introduced the documentary and handed out buttons with the image of its feline star, Mr. Lee.

The film tells the story of a German engineer who invented a miniature camera to track the whereabouts of Mr. Lee, a former stray. The images and videos taken on Mr. Lee’s excursions around his neighborhood transformed him — as well as Juergen, his owner — into Internet superstars.

“It’s really a dynamic film,” said Miller. “It’s about art and curiosity. It deals with technology. It’s just playful and fun on the surface, but it has a lot more depth to it.”

“This is the first time we’ve shown it to kids, and we’ve never heard audiences laugh like that. I think kids really respond to it,” he added.

According to Reilly Rose Schombs, a Pierson sixth grader, “CatCam” was “really awesome” and had an unexpected twist.

“I think that it teaches you that if you have a question in life, you should always try to find a way to answer it, ‘cause you never know what can happen,” she said. “You can always find surprises.”

Miller said that he and the “CatCam” crew were certainly open to invitations from other schools.

“I think it’s a perfect venue for the film,” he said.

According to Levine, the film festival is also interested in continuing Filmmakers in the Classroom next year.

“Our hope and dream is that we’ll have this year round, where we can bring local filmmakers into schools,” she said.

“I’m hoping in the future we can hook into the film community out here and also in New York City, and have them mentoring young people who are interested in film and photography, which is so accessible. It’s open to everyone,” Levine said.

Principal Proposes New Program To Help ESL Students

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By Claire Walla

English as a Second Language (ESL) learners at Pierson Middle/High School are typically not at the top of their class.

According to statistics presented at the most recent school board meeting, Monday, June 2, ESL students typically underperform on Regents Exams, often failing altogether.

Of nine ESL students who took the Regents Exam in Global History last June, only two received a score of 60 or above, the highest grade being 66. Of the nine students who took the Regents Exam in Algebra only three scored 60 or above. The numbers fluctuate over the years, but — on the whole — they remain low.

“This is our riskiest population,” said Dr. John Gratto, the Sag Harbor School District’s superintendent.

But according to Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols, this is not really a surprise.

In some cases, he explained, ESL students come from countries where the education systems are on par with the United States. However, particularly in recent years, Nichols said many ESL students come to Pierson well behind their peers, academically.

“What we have now are a lot of students with interrupted formal education,” he continued. “Not only is there a language deficit, there are preparation issues.”

For this reason — and in light of dwindling test scores — he has proposed hiring a new ESL teacher and adopting a new model of education geared toward helping the ESL population achieve success.

According to the district’s director of pupil personnel services, Dr. Lisa Scheffer, the ESL population district-wide has hovered between 50 and 60 in the last three years. About one third of the entire population is at Pierson, she added.

The plan is to create a class based on an education model called Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP). The model focuses on eight inter-related components: lesson preparation, building background, comprehensible input, strategies, interaction, practice/application, lesson delivery and review/assessment.

Nichols said the idea at Pierson, starting in the fall, would be to hire one new bilingual teacher who either has ESL certification or is pursuing certification. While most candidates would likely have expertise in one content area, Nichols said that instructor would have to be able to teach the five content areas covered by Regents Exams: Living Environment, Algebra, Global History, U.S. History and English. There would also be an academic support period.

The newly hired teacher would work with Fausto Hinojosa, a teaching assistant who currently works with the ESL population at Pierson.

“It all situations, a key piece [to academic success] is to establish a strong connection between home and school,” Nichols said. “This is more difficult in core content classes, where teachers have [roughly] 100 students… it’s difficult to establish the kind of relationship required for these students to be successful.”

The SIOP model would allow instructors to work with ESL students more closely, giving them the ability to better follow through with homework and assignments, more clearly explain instruction, translate information (if need be), and establish stronger relationships between the school and the families of ESL students.

Nichols said he and Hinojosa have already identified 36 ESL students at the high school who could benefit from the SIOP model, however not all 36 need help in each of the five core content areas. The students would take part in a SIOP class on an at-need basis.

In total, Nichols added that he imagines each class would be anywhere from eight to 17 students. He added that ESL students at the high school range in age from 15 to 21, and it’s likely SIOP classes would see a range of ages for each subject.

“Is this a perfect solution?” Nichols asked rhetorically. “No. But, for what we’re faced with, is it a viable solution? Yes.”

“We have to do something,” School Board President Mary Anne Miller agreed. “We’ve tried a lot of different initiatives, but we’re not getting these students to where we want them to be.”

Nichols added that the new position would be paid for with reserves that have been set aside for special education.

“The goal is not just to get them to graduate,” Nichols continued. “But to get [ESL students] to be number two or three in their class. We have to continue to reach for that.”

Sag Harbor Schools Look At Anti-Drug Programs

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By Claire Walla


Some D.A.R.E. to keep kids off drugs.

Others fry an egg ands say, “this is your brain on drugs.”

In the realm of substance-abuse prevention programs, methods for getting kids to “just say no” are various, and Sag Harbor Elementary School may be adding another mantra to the mix.

At a school board meeting Monday, May 21 elementary school principal Matt Malone spoke of a program that asserts, quite simply, kids are “too good for drugs.”

Created by a national organization called the Mendez Foundation, Too Good For Drugs is a substance-abuse prevention program that focuses not merely on the consequences of substance abuse, but on the strength of the character of each child.

According to the foundation’s website, the program “introduces and develops social and emotional skills for making healthy choices, building positive friendships, communicating effectively, and resisting peer pressure.”

It does so by focusing on five key categories: goal setting, decision making, bonding with pro-social others, identifying and managing emotions and communicating effectively.

These principles are then woven into the curriculum for each grade level.

“At this moment, we’re just at the exploratory phase,” Malone said.

The school’s assistant principal Donna Dennon and guidance counselor Michelle Grant recently received training in the program. However, at this point Malone explained that he and his staff are just looking into the possibility of running Too Good For Drugs as a pilot program for third graders next year.

This possibility was first brought to Malone’s attention by Sag Harbor School Board President Mary Anne Miller earlier this year as a suggestion for strengthening the district’s efforts to prevent substance abuse.

“The curriculum we have in place is multi-faceted,” Malone added.

He went on to explain that students are taught at an early age to distinguish between good and bad drugs, then in grade three students learn about the harms of cigarettes and in grades four and fives students discuss the dangers of alcohol.

If implemented, Too Good For Drugs would be another program added to the mix.

Malone continued, “We’re always trying to bring new innovative programs to the kids.”

Similarly, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols spoke of the programs in place to prevent the instance of substance abuse at the upper school.

“Our [prevention programs] are based on the philosophy of trying to reach students from different angles,” Nichols said. “That’s the best way to reach as many students as possible.”

So this year, in addition to lessons in seventh and tenth grade health classes, educational assemblies, special speakers, teen leadership programs, outside counseling and the annual prom presentation, Nichols introduced a Community Coalition.

The group is made up of school personnel, as well as members of the community, and reflects 11 different constituencies in Sag Harbor. (These include police officers, religious officials, parents and counselors, among others.)

“Their philosophy here being that the drug/alcohol problem can only be solved by the community addressing it,” Nichols said. “The Community Coalition is an effort to make this a community-wide program, not just a school program.”

The first Community Coalition meeting is scheduled to take place Thursday, June 14 at 5:30 p.m..


In other news…


Superintendent Dr. John Gratto pointed out that the Sag Harbor School District was recently named 437 out of 1,000 schools in the United States, in a survey conducted by Newsweek/The Daily Beast. The survey ranked all participating schools according to a set of criteria which included test scores, AP/IB and SAT scores, graduation rate, college matriculation rate and AP courses offered per student.

Third grade teacher Bethany Deyermond and her student Valerie Duran introduced the board to the oral history project Duran recently completed.

After presenting a blank questionnaire to “an elder in the community,” Deyermond’s third graders took the completed form and turned those answers into what Deyermond referred to as “a living history of the person.”

Standing before board members with a microphone in one hand and a copy of her project in the other, Duran spoke about her great aunt, for whom she said “life was harder in almost every way.” Her aunt used to ride mules instead of drive cars, and she used to make tortillas by hand.

“Life is so much easier now,” Duran continued, “but definitely she valued things more.”

Meet the Candidates Debate, Sag Harbor

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The race for two seats on the Sag Harbor School Board has three contestants: the veteran, the local and the experienced newcomer. All candidates met inside the Pierson auditorium last Thursday, May 3 for the annual “Meet the Candidates” debate run by the Sag Harbor Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and moderated by Bryan Boyhan, publisher of The Sag Harbor Express.

The incumbents include former School Board President Walter Wilcoxen, who is running for this third term, and Gregg Schiavoni, who was born and raised in Sag Harbor and is vying for his second. Newcomer Tom Gleeson, who moved to the area seven years ago and currently works part-time in admissions at Vaughn College in Queens, is making his first run for a seat on the board.

Though Schiavoni was not present at the debate Thursday night, he was contacted by The Express via phone and asked the same set of questions posed to Wilcoxen and Gleeson during the debate. Like his opponents, he was given no more than two minutes for each answer.

How do you see the International Baccalaureate (IB) program changing the school?


Wilcoxen: It will allow a greater rigor to be introduced [to the district]. The stress that [IB] puts on the communication pieces—oral and verbal—is something I think we’re lacking in our curriculum currently.


Gleeson: Most people know that I was not in favor of the IB program. But, if elected, I would make sure we implement it in the best way possible. I agree with Walter that writing is very important in society. Yes, we need to improve writing here.


Schiavoni: I think it’s going to change two things: I think it’s going to change the education of the students for the better, and I also think it’s going to better teachers’ instruction. Teachers who go for IB training will be able to use that for professional development. From what I’ve heard, this training is the best training for teachers. Let’s say in a year or two IB doesn’t pan out, teachers will be so advanced it will even benefit [the school] should we go back to AP.


The proposed school budget for the 2012-2013 school year succeeded in coming under the state-mandated two-percent tax cap, but that may prove more difficult going forward. What decisions do you see the district having to make in the coming year to meet the cap again?

Wilcoxen: The problem in our future is labor costs. Seventy percent of our budget is labor-related. Next year we’re going to have a choice. I think it’s going to be up to the staff and the board renegotiating contracts. I see no other way around it, other than cutting staff.


Gleeson: You’re going to have to look at labor costs, and that includes the superintendent on down. Our superintendent’s salary is high. I thought that when we brought him in from upstate. I think that you have to look at every possible cut without affecting education. One of the things we’re going to have to look at is the cost of books and technology.


Wilcoxen: The superintendent’s salary… while it’s high, if you look at the hourly cost of what he’s produced, it’s not that high. In order to get good, quality work you need to pay people to come here. Dr. Gratto has more than made up for his salary by what he’s saved us.


Schiavoni: It’s the battle we always have. We have to look at program: what’s available, what do students want, what do they not want? We have to ask the students and the community. I think the other thing is we have to be prepared to look one, two, three years down the line.



There has been considerable conversation about the school’s wellness policy. Do you believe the existing policy is too strict? Should students be given the opportunity to purchase products that include such items as high-fructose corn syrup?


Wilcoxen: I think the Wellness Policy is very good the way it is. I would like to see the education piece added to it. We all grew up on high-fructose corn syrup… I would say that if children want to bring in things that aren’t on our Wellness Policy, they’re free to do that. But the higher goal has to be to educate our kids to be healthier than we are.


Gleeson: I have to look at [the Wellness Policy] more carefully. What’s happening now is there’s so much research going on about how food affects people. We have to create a mindset in the students [that allows them] to make the proper choices. The other question I have about this is, how is it affecting our funding down at the cafeteria? Is this drawing students away?


Schiavoni: I don’t believe it is too strict. I don’t see the value in teaching that high-fructose corn syrup is bad for you and then promoting it. The Wellness Policy has language that states the school should move toward developing a menu that doesn’t include those things.


Should the school district take a greater role in ensuring students eat healthier?


Wilcoxen:  In the Curriculum Committee, we’ve discussed this.  We’ve requested the administration look into programs where students might integrate growing and making food… we haven’t gotten very far.

But, the school’s responsibility to feed children I don’t think is paramount.  We’re not an under-privileged community.


Gleeson:  We continue to try to educate the students through all classes, not only health classes. One of the things I find funny is that we’re removing high-fructose corn syrup, but one of the biggest allergies out there is peanut butter.  We’re removing one thing, and yet that’s still out there… I’m not sure how that fits into the guidelines.


Schiavoni: The school should take a greater role in giving the students healthy options.  Students can bring in whatever they want from home; but, it’s our responsibility to do everything in our power to offer healthy choices that reflect the Wellness Policy.


Drugs on school campuses are a problem nationally, and there are those that believe Sag Harbor is no different. Do we have a problem with drugs on our campuses, and was the school overreacting when it approved bringing in drug-sniffing dogs?

Gleeson: I’m still looking into this issue. Schools differ. The problems at East Hampton and Ross may be different than ours. As far as the drug-sniffing dogs, it puts a bad taste in my mouth. Are we not doing a good job administrationally so that drugs are coming into our schools? We have to have more forums about it. We’ve seen some about the dogs, but I’d like to see more research.


Wilcoxen: The dogs are not the issue. The dogs are just one small piece of an attempt to address what we see as an increasing drug problem… we’re starting to see it in the middle school. The school board has actually asked the administration to incorporate greater resources in providing a coordinator for all programs that deal with substance abuse. It hasn’t been done; but, I can assure you that, if elected, if will be on the summer goals list.


Schiavoni: I don’t think we have a problem. I think we do have correct procedures in place should there be an event. As far as the dogs, if we don’t have a problem now and they’re just one more tool, then I’m all for it. The dogs are not targeting a student or a group of students; they’re not in there because we have a problem, they’re in there as one more [preventative] tool. I don’t think the school overreacted, I think it’s just one more step we’re taking to be proactive.


Board members have talked about the importance of involving more community members in discussions about the school and its campuses.  How do you plan to improve communication between the school and the community?


Wilcoxen: Six years ago we seemed to have a lack of communication or understanding with the public.  We spent two years opening up the process, [adding two public input portions during board meetings]—that seemed to help a lot—and we paid attention to answering questions right away.


I think the community can be part of the school to whatever degree they want.  The school board is open to participation; it has to be respective, non-accusatory and follow the norms of decent communication.  We’ve had ad hoc committees in the past, but people only seem to get involved if there’s a touchstone issue.


Gleeson: I think community outreach is vital.  This is everyone in the community’s school.  We have a tremendous resource in the community and sometimes we don’t use it as well [as we should].  That’s one of the nice things, as I said before, about my schedule.  I have time to sit and talk to community members, to find out what their needs are.


Schiavoni: The school does a good job of communicating with the community through email blasts, posting notices online and The Express, through paper mailings… We form community groups when we have an event that may affect the community as a whole.  The bigger problem is how do we get community members more involved?  I can’t force someone to go to a board meeting.


Negotiating with the unions has been contentious in the past. What will you do differently this year to ensure a successful bargaining process?


Gleeson: I think the process needs to start early. Part of the problem is the state mandates…. We need to have those mandates relaxed. I look at it so differently because when I started teaching, we didn’t make a lot so our benefits package was so important. But, the pendulum has swung. We also want to make sure we get the best quality teachers. The issue is a thorny one.


Wilcoxen: Teachers are so important, but the control the school has over how things get taught… once a teacher has tenure, it’s almost impossible to remove that teacher.


Gleeson: We have to look at the contract, look at how many periods a day teachers are teaching. Maybe we can increase the workload. We have to look at health insurance costs and what their actual salary is when we take benefits; we have to look carefully at how they fit in with society. The issue of tenure has been kicked around for years. Can you get rid of a bad teacher? Yes, but it takes time and energy. We forget that teachers give recommendations for tenure. We have to make sure no one’s getting tenure that doesn’t deserve it.


Wilcoxen: I don’t know [how to ensure effective communication with the teachers’ union], but we’re going to have to start investigating it. To go that long without having a sane conversation is incredible. We have to be very honest and show people what [teachers’ benefits] are actually costing.


Schiavoni: I think the process has to begin earlier, and there has to be constant communication between the administrators, the board and the union. We’ll send our proposal, they’ll send theirs; we’ll look at it, but there’s no immediate talk. I think there has to be a set time frame; if we can keep moving forward, keep discussions going, it will move discussions much quicker.


The following are questions from the community, as posed to Walter Wilcoxen and Tom Gleeson during last Thursday’s debate.

Do you support the two-percent tax cap?


Wilcoxen:  I support it.  I don’t like the way it’s done, but I support it.  There has to be some way to let people know that the increasing rate of taxes is important.  I also see no other way to bring the unions to the table and be responsive.


Gleeson:  I support the concept.  I think in today’s society two percent may be more difficult as we move forward because of the lack of funding for certain mandates.


How can we improve middle school academics?


Gleeson:  If there’s more articulation between elementary and middle school, I think that will help as we meet the common core mandate.


Wilcoxen: I agree, I think the common core is a good effort by the state to help us out.  But, one of the things that’s going to help the middle school is IB.  We’re first saying, what do we want our children to be like when they graduate?  Now, what do we have to do for middle schoolers and high schoolers to get there?


What does the board do with a bad teacher?


Wilcoxen: One of the most important things with the school board is we don’t determine what a bad teacher is.  There is a process that has been changed, it’s going to be easier to discipline a teacher, but we also have to understand that teachers have the same problems that the rest of us have. We need freedom and trust to help them. I would like to see the union step up.


Gleeson: It’s really an administrator’s job to monitor their teachers.  What’s the tool that determines what we should be doing?  Do we have a teacher-mentoring program?  What is the administrator doing to improve the teaching in the school?  What assistance are we giving?  Some teachers should not be teaching because they don’t like kids.  We need to monitor and mentor the other ones.


Do you think health benefits for staff should be reformed?

Gleeson:  I need to look at [benefits] more carefully.  I’m sure it needs to be improved, but I can’t answer specifically.


Wilcoxen:  We have to change the medical insurance system.  The union agreed that we were allowed to offer an alternative health plan, which had a lot of wellness parts to it… there was basically no interest because everyone has Empire, it’s what they know.  [Benefits] are going to have to be repaired everywhere, or the United States is going to go broke.


Gleeson: This is a nation-wide issue.  I had surgery and thank God I had Empire, otherwise it would have cost $300,000.


How can we continue to attract more students from other districts?

Wilcoxen: The immediate answer is IB.  We will have quite a few people interested in that.


Gleeson: I think quality programs, whether it’s IB or AP, doesn’t matter.  [My family] chose to come to Sag Harbor because of the quality of the art program.  We also do great programs outside the classroom, like robotics, and if we continue to do things that are quality programs we’ll attract more people.


School Seeks Task Force For Master Plan

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By Claire Walla

Over the next three years, the Sag Harbor School District will draft a master plan for buildings and grounds, which will guide how the school will look and function in the future.

Currently, it’s a very preliminary plan.

This preliminary sketch, put together by the district’s Buildings and Grounds Director Montgomery “Monty” Granger, was presented to the Sag Harbor School Board at a regular meeting last Wednesday, April 18. Rather than refer to it as a working draft, however, Granger was careful to note that the presentation merely laid-out ideas for both campuses — they are nowhere near set in stone.

“I want to make a disclaimer that what you’re about to see is my opinion,” Granger told the crowd. In fact, he added, the purpose of his presentation was to request that the board set-up a task force, “to help me go forward with some of the things you’re about to see.”

Granger read from four bullet points listed on one of the slides, which illustrated the district’s philosophy on improving buildings and grounds: “health and safety first,” “clean and green,” “curb appeal” and “restore and refurbish.”

As he explained, the current school configuration toes the line between newer buildings and historic preservation.  During his presentation, Granger focused on the latter.

After showing several older versions of Pierson Middle/High School as depicted in black-and-white postcards and photographs, he emphasized that the grounds used to be more stark, open lawns giving way to the sight of the building more readily than they do now.  There also used to be a flag at the top of the bell tower.

Granger suggested removing the current flagpole on the lawn, as well as clearing away some of the foliage.  To highlight his point, he referenced two pictures of the brick, Pierson building with trees and bushes taking up most of the frame.

“If this were music,” he commented, “this would be cacophony, or noise.”

Other improvements could include installing new tennis/basketball courts on the elementary school campus, installing synthetic turf fields at the middle/high school, adding paved areas and benches to the Pierson drop-off area by the gym and the area just outside the cafeteria, as well as paving the parking spaces where the school district currently stores its buses.

Additionally, Granger mentioned the need to create a master plan for all trees that would pertain to both campuses. And he mentioned the sign at the base of the middle/high school, which, in his opinion, is far too small.

“I just can’t read it,” he added.  “You can go bigger and put information up there that people can read.”

At that point, Granger showed an image of an LED flat screen message board.

“It’s a little 42nd Street,” he admitted.  “I just wanted to get the creative juices flowing.”

After Granger floated the idea of installing an LED screen at the corner of Jermain Avenue and Division Street, board member Chris Tice pressed the need for community involvement.

“It’s important to involve the neighbors in this conversation,” she noted.  “Particularly the ones that live across the street.”

Ideally, the proposed task force would involve both members of the school district and members of the community, Granger said.

Pierson/Bay Street Meeting Sparks More Conversation, Draws No Conclusions

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By Claire Walla


Finally, the two boards came to the same table.

On Tuesday, January 31, school officials and Bay Street Theatre board members held a meeting on the Pierson Middle/High School campus to discuss the potential for a collaboration between the two. The idea of the Bay Street Theatre collaborating with the Sag Harbor School District to create a new theater venue has been floated for a few years. And with Bay Street’s impending move from its current location on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, discussions have been spurred with greater urgency in the last few weeks.

The dialogue oscillated in scope for much of the two-hour meeting, wavering back and forth between small details (like whether it’s possible to obtain a liquor license on a school campus since Bay Street serves alcohol), and larger ideas, such as the school and theater working together to build an entirely new performing arts center in Sag Harbor.

But, while no board member on either side of the aisle completely put the kibosh on the potential for collaboration, there were aspects of this hypothetical partnership that raised red flags for both.

“I don’t want to throw any cold water on the issue, but I can’t possibly see how [an independent theater] can be in this school district, in this area,” school board member Walter Wilcoxen said.

Based on a memo the school district received from its attorney, Tom Volz, Wilcoxen pointed out some of the smaller issues, like limited parking and storage capacity.

But Tracy Mitchell, Bay Street Theatre’s executive director, expressed some concerns with the overall picture.

“One of the biggest issues for us, from a creative perspective, is we need to be able to have complete control over what we produce,” she said.

Though Mitchell and the theater’s creative director, Murphy Davis, assured the school that no expletives would be used on any signage related to the theater, some of the theater’s productions can be a bit, well, “racy.”

While Davis said there are elements to what Bay Street does now that could shift to conform to a different production model — for example, the theater could stop selling alcohol if it managed to secure other revenue sources — creative freedom is non-negotiable.

“We can do some pretty racy content,” he continued. “It’s imperative that we don’t feel hemmed in by that.”

Then there’s the time frame.

At best, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto said the process would take three years to complete. (Later, he explained that the time frame would more realistically take up to five years.) It would take six months for the school’s architect to draw-up a new design and then for the state education department to review the plans, another three months for the school to bid the project, then at least a year to construct the building.

“We’re talking two years after voter approval,” he continued. “And voters would have to approve such a project.”

The district’s current design for a 415-seat theater comes in at an estimated $12 million. Even if private funds were used for the project, Dr. Gratto said state aid would still kick-in for 10 percent of the cost, but that would trigger the need to put the project up to a vote.

Mitchell said the theater has a certain degree of flexibility for discussing future plans because it’s not scheduled to leave its current space until spring of 2013.

“The board would be able to back us renewing our current lease if we were working toward a pre-approved plan,” she said. “But, what we can’t do is say it’s going to take us another year to figure out whether we can get through these hurdles, and in the process lose all our other options.”

According to Mitchell, the theater is actively pursuing all possible options, including in Sag Harbor the Schiavoni property on Jermain Avenue, the National Grid lot on Long Island Avenue, the Sag Harbor Cinema, and in Southampton Village the soon-to-be vacant Parrish Art Museum space on Jobs Lane. At this point, Mitchell said the theater has put together several committees to further explore these options.

“It doesn’t sound like [the school] is going to be at the forefront,” Davis stated at the end of the meeting. Besides issues of parking, storage space and creative control, he said the time frame doesn’t seem viable.

“Just what I’m hearing tonight, it makes me uncomfortable that we’re going to have to wait,” he said.

And while nestling into the Pierson campus may seem like a dream sequence too riddled with legal complications to become a reality, school board members were energized by the idea of a potential collaboration off-campus.

Dr. Gratto directed interests to the piece of empty land directly across the street from Pierson, at the intersection of Division and Marsden streets, where the Trunzo family owns four parcels. According to community member John Landes, who’s already investigated the site, the cost would roughly total $4 million — just to purchase the land.

As for the overall idea of collaboration, Bay Street Board Member Robbie Stein said, “When you look at it, there are a lot of problems. But, on some level, starting this dialogue is bringing to the community the idea of: is there a place for arts in the community?”

The Bay Street Board will meet again next week to further discuss all its options.

Pierson May Bring On the Dogs

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By Claire Walla


Before the end of this school year, it’s quite possible the Sag Harbor School District will bring drug-sniffing dogs onto the Pierson campus.

“For years I was hesitant to pursue this angle, but I’m more inclined to do this now,” said Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols, who took a hard-lined stance against bringing drug-sniffing dogs onto the campus as recently as last fall. “I don’t want to say there are more incidents than in the past, though there have already been a few incidents this year,” he explained.

According to Sag Harbor Village Police Officer Paul Fabiano, there has only been one reported incident of marijuana possession on the Pierson campus since September 2011. The event involved a 14-year-old student. However, Fabiano said not all campus incidents get reported.

Nichols continued, “I know the harm [in bringing drug-sniffing dogs on campus] is in saying to the students that we don’t trust them; but, making sure drugs are not on this campus outweighs the trust factor.”

All board members, including those who were previously on the fence on the issue, seemed to support the notion of bringing drug-sniffing dogs on campus. And school superintendent, Dr. John Gratto, introduced a school policy on the topic.

According to a draft of the policy read at a school board meeting on Monday, “The Superintendent of Schools is authorized by the Board of Education to utilize dogs, which are trained to detect illegal drugs. The superintendent and high school principal are designated as the contact persons and they will determine if, and when, and how often a police agency’s ‘drug dogs’ will be called to school property.”

What’s more, the presence of drug-sniffing dogs would not be announced prior to their arrival. And the policy goes on to say that the dogs would be active on the campus while students were in classrooms, and the dogs would not be permitted to “sniff search” the students themselves.

While board member Water Wilcoxen pointed out that it’s within both Nichols’ and Dr. Gratto’s power to bring drug-sniffing dogs to the campus without a formal vote from the board and without an official policy, Nichols indicated that he wanted to make certain he had the full backing from the board and the superintendent before proceeding with any plans.

“This is a big step,” said Nichols. “I would not want to move forward with this unless I knew that the superintendent and the board were ok with it.”

Part of the supporting materials behind the motivation to crack down on substance abuse in the district includes results from the Sag Harbor School District Survey which was administered earlier this school year to students, parents and teachers.

According to those results, 71 percent of Pierson students agreed with the statement: “Students in my school use drugs and alcohol.” And 39 percent of those who responded said they had witnessed students consuming alcohol and/or using drugs on school grounds.

Overall, 57 percent of Pierson students either agreed or strongly agreed that drug and alcohol abuse is a problem for students in the Sag Harbor School District. But, that figure rose to 69 percent when it came to the teachers’ responses to that same question.

Dr. Gratto and various board members referred to the survey to further illustrate the problems with substance abuse that have found their way to Pierson, but Dr. Gratto was careful to note that the survey results are not perfect and do not necessarily reflect the community as a whole. (To their credit, he said, 87 percent of all students actually took the poll, but only 23 percent of teachers and TAs responded.)

Teacher Peter Solow cautioned the school against following through with actions based on results culled from these surveys, which he called “imperfect instruments.”

“I’m not denying there’s an issue here,” he declared. “But I don’t think any policy should be based on inaccurate or anecdotal information. I don’t know the extent of the problem, but I know it’s relatively serious. And I don’t know about the drug-sniffing dog thing, but that’s got to be a little piece of a bigger comprehensive plan.”

School Board President Mary Anne Miller told Solow that the school district already has a comprehensive plan to address issues of alcohol abuse and prevention.

“It’s working, but it’s not working to the degree any of us are comfortable with,” she explained. “There’s still a problem. How many more times do we have to catch kids before we solve it?

“We need to look into bringing in a parent seminar immediately,” Miller continued. “That has to be done almost twice a year. I know these things cost money, but we should try to come back with a game plan.”

According to Nichols, the school needs a multi-pronged approach that is not limited to drug-sniffing dogs. In addition to taking a serious approach to eliminating substance abuse on campus, Nichols echoed Miller’s sentiments and mentioned that preventative measures must move beyond the classroom, even beyond the walls of the school.

“We have kids for seven hours out of a 24-hour day,” he began, alluding to the fact that students often develop habits and behaviors at home, or else off school grounds. “There are instances that are indigenous to our community.”

“We’re a resort community and we have some specific challenges,” he added.

Namely, Nichols said, the presence and availability of both alcohol and drugs are prevalent.

Wilcoxen agreed, and added that education needs to involve parents, as well as students. “You tell your child not to drink alcohol and drive, but how many parents get in the car after drinking, and their kids see them? It’s the same thing with dope. How are we going to reach out and help this? All I know is we haven’t done a very good job.”

Board member Sandi Kruel said she was in favor of utilizing drug-sniffing dogs when she previously served on the board five years ago. But now, especially with backing from Nichols who had previously been a staunch opponent, she said it’s imperative.

With a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old son, Kruel went on to say that she’s often privy to information about parties where there is underage drinking.

“I myself have gone to the police station to get the cops to help close down parties,” she said. “We have a problem. And if it takes this to help stop it, I say get the dog treats ready.”

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.”