Tag Archive | "pre-k"

Sag Harbor Pre-K Program Now Under Full Control of District

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By Tessa Raebeck 

The Sag Harbor School District announced late Wednesday that its prekindergarten program, which has operated under SCOPE since its inception in 2010, would move under the full control and supervision of the district starting this year.

“Our board of education and administration believe this is a positive change for the district, and one that will enable us to provide a wonderful pre-k opportunity in Sag Harbor for years to come,” Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone and Assistant Principal Donna Denon said in a letter to families on Wednesday, August 27.

For the past school year of 2013-14, the program had 30 students and the contractual expenses were $80,730. The projected expenses for 2014-15, which will see 25 students in the pre-k, are $70,250.

According to School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi, the school attorneys reviewed the current contract with SCOPE in July and recommended the district become a New York State-approved universal prekindergarten Program in order to continue operating under a service contract arrangement with SCOPE.

“This designation would be the only way we could contract out a taxpayer funded prekindergarten program through SCOPE,” Ms. Buscemi said in an email. “This recommendation was based on a shift by the state over time in its policy of contracting out core instruction to outside vendors.”

The district applied for a portion of $340 million in competitive grant funding that became available for a statewide universal full-day prekindergarten program. In August, the New York State Department of Education confirmed that Sag Harbor had not been awarded any of the grant money.

“Since Sag Harbor UFSD did not receive approval for New York State funding, our prekindergarten program could not be considered a universal prekindergarten program,” Ms. Buscemi added.

The elementary school administrators said the district is “committed to maintaining this successful, tuition-free, early childhood learning experience in our district.”

No longer in partnership with SCOPE services, the Sag Harbor pre-k program will begin the 2014-15 school year on Wednesday, September 3, with a “Meet and Greet” for students and parents in the pre-k classroom and the Pierson Middle School. The first full day for students is Thursday, September 4.

“It is with great enthusiasm that we begin the 2014-15 school year knowing the Sag Harbor School District is stronger with our own prekindergarten program adding to a high quality educational experience for all children,” said Mr. Malone and Ms. Denon.


After Teaching Multiple Generations of Sag Harbor’s 4-Year-Olds, Sue Daniels Retires

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Sue Daniels with her 1991 class at the Tuller School, many of whom graduated with the Pierson class of 2014. Photo courtesy Sue Daniels.

Sue Daniels with her 2001 class at the Tuller School, many of whom graduated with the Pierson class of 2014. Photo courtesy Sue Daniels.

By Tessa Raebeck

When Sue Daniels’s 4-year-old students grow into adults and have 4-year-olds of their own, they instinctively know where to send their children for preschool: wherever Sue Daniels is.

Ms. Daniels, who has educated Sag Harbor’s prekindergarten students through three different schools, two generations and three decades, saw her last graduation June 13, as she retired from the Rainbow School this month.

Sue Daniels, who has educated generations of Sag Harbor 4-year-olds, in her garden Monday, June 30. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Sue Daniels, who has educated generations of Sag Harbor 4-year-olds, in her garden Monday, June 30. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

“It hasn’t really sunk in,” she said Monday, June 30, sitting in her Sag Harbor home surrounded by artwork from grandchildren and pictures of past students. One picture changes each year to show Pierson High School’s current graduating class when they were preschoolers with Ms. Daniels.

A Bridgehampton native, Ms. Daniels met her husband Al when she ran his truck off the road when she was just 16. The couple, who celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary last week, have two children, Mark and Kaitlin, and three grandchildren. Teaching runs in their family; Ms. Daniels’s daughter is a high school English teacher and her mother taught at the Bridgehampton School for over 30 years.

Ms. Daniels started teaching at the Hampton Day School, a private school that was in Bridgehampton where the Ross School’s Lower Campus now stands. After taking several years off to be home with her children when they were young, she returned to teaching as director of the Tuller School on the Maycroft estate in North Haven, which she ran for two decades.

When the property was sold in 2004, Ms. Daniels founded the Rainbow Preschool, currently located at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike. The school offers two sessions, morning and afternoon, for 3- and 4-year-olds. Through all her years and classrooms, Ms. Daniels has stuck with pre-K.

“I just love 4-year-olds,” she said Monday. “I think that’s the most amazing age. They are truly like little sponges—they just absorb everything. It’s just an exciting age…and they can go to the bathroom by themselves, always a bonus.”

Ms. Daniels will stay on as director of the school for at least a year and will remain on the board afterward. Her colleague of 12 years, Donna Cosgrove, who has been teaching the 3-year-olds, will take over the 4-year-old class with assistant Kaitlin Duran. Jessica Spehler, hired by the board, will teach the 3-year-olds.

Now that she is retired, Ms. Daniels plans, first and foremost, to spend more time with her grandchildren, but also to continue teaching piano lessons and get to work on a longstanding idea for a children’s book about a horse with special needs. She will also keep working on the business she shares with Al, Sag Harbor Seashells, combing the beaches looking for beach glass, shells and even fish teeth, which they then fashion into jewelry, beach glass Christmas trees and other custom ware.

Although she is excited to spend more time on the beach and with her grandkids, Ms. Daniels will miss her time in the classroom.

“I’ve taught now second generation,” she said.

Nina Landi, herself a kindergarten teacher at Sag Harbor Elementary School, was in Ms. Daniels’s very first class. When it came time to send her two children, Peter and Daisy, to nursery school, she knew who to call.

“I have very faint memories of doing amazing things back there,” Ms. Landi said Tuesday. “I was little—I was like 3, I think—but I remember when it was time for Peter and Daisy to go to Tuller, [having] an incredible sense of calm knowing that Ms. Daniels was there. She’s the best. She’s a Sag Harbor jewel.”

In the 30-plus years Ms. Daniels has been preparing Sag Harbor’s youngest students for elementary school, teaching has changed considerably.

“It’s just changed so much over the years,” she said, “For example, years ago if I was doing say a unit on dinosaurs, I would go to the library and do the research and get books and all that. And now you just go online and it’s there, so I think that makes it a lot easier for teachers in some ways.”

“In some other ways, I think we’ve lost some things,” she continued. “An example, years ago at Hampton Day School we heard about a whale that had washed ashore, so we put the kids in our car… no written permission slips or anything like that—and we just went to the beach. You can’t do that now.”

Ms. Daniels doesn’t allow computers in her classroom and forbids her grandchildren from bringing their iPads over.

“To me, the pre-school years are about socialization—how to get along with each other, how to talk to each other—and I really believe that there’s really only three things that kids need at this age: they need books, they need blocks, they need balls. That’s it, the three b’s,” she said, adding, “but it’s a different world now.”

Ms. Landi hangs a gold star ornament she made in Ms. Daniels’s class on her Christmas tree each year. Over two decades later, Ms. Daniels took both her children on their first train ride.

“We could not have been more thrilled or happy,” Ms. Landi said of her former teacher teaching her children. “It’s like having a second mom, she really is a great lady.”

“I think preschool is just so important,” Ms. Daniels said, “because it’s the gateway to education for the children. At this level, I think the most important thing is to build their confidence and help them with their communication skills, just so they can get along in this world. I keep telling my classes the most important thing is to be kind to each other, I think that’s just something we don’t always stress enough.”

“They’re going to get the basics,” she continued, “they’re going to understand about the alphabet and how to read and mathematics, but I think the socialization is just so important and I think this is where you start.”

“It’s really a shame that she has to retire, but God she deserves the rest,” Ms. Landi said, adding, “The whole town should throw that woman a retirement party…if you could ever count the kids and families—I always call it the ripples in the pond that she caused—you’d be there all day. It would be like trying to count stars, she’s been with so many families and she’s seen so many kids go all the way up to being married and having their own kids. It’s amazing.”

Sag Harbor School District Administrators Make Recommendations on Pre-K, IB Expansion

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By Tessa Raebeck

In back-to-back workshops before parents, teachers and members of the Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Monday night, administrators voiced their recommendations on how to progress with the potential expansion of the district’s Pre-Kindergarten and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.


Sag Harbor Elementary School principal Matt Malone and vice principal Donna Denon updated the board on the pre-K program, currently in its third year, and discussed the possibility of extending the program to a full day of five and a half hours.

Through SCOPE, a not-for-profit organization chartered by the New York State Board of Regents to provide services to school districts on Long Island, Sag Harbor currently offers a fully funded two and a half hour pre-K program for any eligible four year old in the district. Ms. Denon noted it is an option for parents that is “very rare.” The district pays SCOPE tuition costs to run its pre-K program.

If that program extends to a longer day (considered to be anything over three hours), there are additional requirements the district would need to meet, including limiting class size to 14 students, providing a bathroom for each classroom, ensuring both a certified teacher and teaching assistant is in each classroom, scheduling a 40-minute recreation period, as well as designated lunch and snack times.

The extension would increase the tuition paid to SCOPE from $2,750 to $3,150 per child for the half day, or $10,150 for the full day, although the numbers are approximate because they dependent on enrollment, Mr. Malone said.

“Each year, we’ve been making sure we have monies to accommodate 60 students, so clearly that would be a significant increase in what we would have to budget for for an extended day program,” Mr. Malone said.

This school year, 2013-2014, the pre-K program has 32 students and a budget of $88,000. The district is using only one classroom, which has its own bathroom, for both the morning and the afternoon sessions. The reduced class size of a full-day program would mandate more classrooms, and thus more teachers and teaching assistants.

“It’s a great model, but it’s a big undertaking,” said Ms. Denon, voicing concern over how they would find empty classrooms that could be designated solely for pre-K. Parents dropping off and picking up students would also “be a bit problematic,” she said, as more pre-K parents would be coming and going at the same time as the parents of older students, rather than in the middle of the day.

With space and logistical concerns, as well as fiscal limitations due to the lack of state aid for pre-K and the state-imposed tax cap on the district budget, the administrators’ suggestion to the board was to keep the program the way it is for now.

“We have a very strong program right now,” said Mr. Malone. “The entire school district and community are behind it and let’s keep that solid.”

Mr. Malone and Ms. Denon had several conversations with George Duffy, the director of SCOPE, on the pros and cons of pursuing an extended day program. His advice, according to Mr. Malone, was, “You don’t want to hinder the greatness of what you have. In other words, you don’t want to sacrifice something good to say you have an extended day. Keep your eye on what’s important.”



In its second year of offering an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program for 11th and 12th grade students, Pierson High School is considering extending the curriculum to students in grades six through 10.

The program offers students the option to be diploma candidates, who complete the full IB program for diploma credit, or certificate candidates, who do not receive a diploma but can take individual courses where they have an interest in that subject matter. It has grown steadily each year; in 2012-2013, there were 11 diploma candidates and 47 students enrolled in at least one course. This year, there are 21 diploma candidates and 83 students enrolled in at least one course. Selection is still ongoing for next year, but there are an estimated 31 diploma candidates.

“For the last five years,” said Gary Kalish, Pierson High School vice principal and the IB diploma coordinator, “we’ve been making the kinds of changes and trying to do the kind of development to help students achieve at a higher level.”

The Middle Years Program (MYP), he said, offers curriculum alignment across the grade levels and opens the program to all students, rather than the self-selecting, open enrollment of the upper level program.

After working with IB for the past couple years, “We’ve recognized the rigor and the level of difficulty,” Mr. Kalish said, adding that in the end, “it really is just good teaching and good learning.”

IB is designed to give students a global perspective, with more group discussion, problem solving and abstract thinking than traditional lecture-style classrooms. With an interdisciplinary focus, the MYP has eight subject groups: mathematics, language A (the “mother tongue,” or English for Sag Harbor students), language B, humanities, arts, sciences, physical education and technology. At the end of the five years, MYP students complete personal projects and compile portfolios of all their work. Administrators said the Common Core curriculum, with its similar focus on collaborative planning and interdisciplinary work, could be embedded within the IB framework.

The district can choose to extend the program to just the 9th and 10th grades or to grades six through 10. The administrators’ recommendation to the board, Mr. Nichols said, is to extend the IB program to grades six through 10, “because we see value in what the IB does for our students.”

Districts must apply to be authorized to offer IB, with the candidacy process expected to last about two years. After initial application and candidate fees of around $13,500, there would be an annual school fee of about $8,000. Staff development costing as much as $20,000 is also required, although Pierson has already sent its three administrators, Mr. Nichols, Mr. Kalish and Ms. Brittany Miaritis, along with some seven teachers, to training on MYP.

Pending board approval, the program could be offered for the 2015-2016 school year at the earliest. A resolution to extend the program will be voted on at the board’s March 25 meeting.



Sag Harbor Pre-K’s Success Leads to Program Growth

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By Tessa Raebeck

Now in its third year, the Sag Harbor School District Pre-K program has seen tremendous growth — and hopes to expand further.

At Monday’s board of education meeting, Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES) principal Matt Malone and assistant principal Donna Denon hosted an educational workshop on the pre-K program, updating the board on how far it’s come and where it hopes to go, as well as the continued benefits of having an in-house program.

“As a community,” said Malone, “We’ve had a long commitment to the idea of pre-K. We all have a deep understanding of the importance and value of the pre-K experience for boys and girls. We’ve really looked at it as an investment, a sound investment.”

When looking to start a program for the 2010-2011 school year, the district decided its best option was to partner with SCOPE Education Services, a not-for-profit private organization permanently chartered by the New York State Board of Regents to provide such services to school districts.

The district signed a contract with SCOPE to provide pre-K for every eligible four year old in Sag Harbor. The program follows a 180-day school year with New York State certified teachers and teaching assistants.

In its inaugural year, the pre-K had 10 students in one class, a morning session housed at SHES. The state previously provided funding for districts that wanted to start a new pre-K program, however, that funding was cut off the year Sag Harbor started its pre-K. The first year, the program was funded by tuition paid by parents and “generous support from members of the community who actually helped with scholarships,” Malone said.

“We all knew that really one of the inherent goals of a pre-K run by a public system is that we make sure all kids, regardless of their socioeconomic status, would have this opportunity,” he added.

In 2011-2012, the district began to fund the program — which had grown to 41 students — through its annual budget at a cost of $112,750. The program currently has 32 students and a budget of $88,000 for 2013-2014. It is projected to have 20 to 35 students next year.

Housed at Pierson Middle School, the program currently has both a morning session and an afternoon session. The pre-K is increasingly connected to the district as a whole, the administrators said.

“Partnership grows every year because our school embraces the kids and what’s happening more and more,” said Denon.

Malone said an added benefit of having an in-house program is that it provides the opportunity for the school to identify students who need some form of intervention early on. If a child has a speech impediment, for example, the school has an early opportunity to bring in speech pathologists, start conversations with parents and begin helping the child.

“We’ve been able to help a lot of students who possibly might not have gotten that early intervention,” Malone said.

Board member Daniel Hartnett added that children from non-English speaking homes also benefit greatly from a public pre-K program.

He said in addition to the children benefiting from coming into an environment where English is spoken at a young age, the program is also the first point of contact for many parents who come from other countries and educational systems.

“It goes a long way to breaking down those barriers,” replied Malone. “When we look at the numbers since the inception of our program, the one group that we have seen the biggest jump in is the students that come from non-English speaking homes.”

“It’s paying off tremendously for them educationally, but also socially,” said Malone, adding, “We’re always very proud of seeing our pre-K kids and the successes that they have.”

Malone said although his evidence is anecdotal, he has observed that students who attend the district’s pre-K as opposed to outside programs are less likely to need special attention down the line, since they are identified early in-house.

The Sag Harbor pre-K program now represents roughly 40 percent of the next year’s incoming Kindergarten class, Malone said.

Denon said the next steps are increasing enrollment in the program, improving programming and exploring extending session times, perhaps to 1:30 or 2 p.m.

Methodist Church Closer to Adding Pre-K

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Much to the chagrin of two of its neighbors, the Sag Harbor Methodist Church is moving right along with plans to open its basement classroom space to Our Sons and Daughters preschool program. If all goes according to plan, the 12-student program, for children ages 3 to 7, would be housed at the church starting this September.

“We’ve heard from other property owners that there’s been a positive impact on the area because of the church,” said Diane Lavery, an attorney for the church, at a Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meetings last Thursday, April 5. “Since the church has been there, property values have increased.”

Neighor Pam Wright staunchly disagreed.

“There’s going to be more commercial traffic to the area: supplies being dropped off, trash being picked up… It’s going to [negatively] affect our property values,” she said. “This church has already affected our neighborhood.”

Wright and her neighbor Linda Velsor, who also attended last week’s meeting, expressed concern with the notion of increased traffic in the area due to an added preschool/kindergarten program on site. While Lavery explained the 13-student school doesn’t intend to grow any larger than 30 students, that didn’t sit well with Wright and Velsor, who also worried about the potential for more growth—including summer programs.

Again, Lavery attempted to quell their concern.

“The summer camp is run at the Ludlow Farm, and [Our Sons and Daughters] plans to do that in the future,” she explained. And as for the increased population at the church, Lavery further noted that the school has board meetings four times a year, bringing about four to five people in each time, as well as one monthly administrative meeting for which 10 to 12 people typically show up.

Adding to a laundry list of complaints, Velsor said she is also concerned with the level of noise during school hours when the kids go outside for recess.

“It’s a situation that we want to be aware of,” she added. “Because children at that age are not quiet when they’re outside.”

That may be true, Pastor Tom Mcleod noted, but he said the outdoor area was strategically built 8 feet below grade for that very reason: to stifle noise. In fact, the church had been considering holding its own Sunday School or pre-school programs on its grounds when the church was initially constructed. Mcleod said he was very conscious of the noise issue, and made sure the outdoor play area was constructed below grade so that it would have natural noise buffers.

“These kids would have to be having a major rock concert to be heard on Carroll Street,” he added.

Finally, Velsor expressed disappointment over the notion of increased traffic that would be brought by the new school. “I feel the increase in traffic on that road would be very hazardous to the area,” said Velsor, who lives on Carroll Street. “Cars come down faster than the speed limit, and they go racing up Carroll Street.”

However, as attorney Lavery explained, the planning board already adopted the building plan, which allowed the church to create a building with an occupancy of 200.

“We’re only talking about adding 13 additional cars to an existing 65-parishioner church,” she said. “We’re not talking about enlarging the impact.”

Board member Adam Grossman said he understood Velsor’s concerns, but added “I’m not sure what we can do to address traffic except not issue the variance.”

More importantly, he said the planning board is in support of the project. Planning Board Chair Herbert Phillips added that for this 128,000-square-foot lot—which can legally be divided into eight spaces—“to have an accessory use there really isn’t a burden.”

The ZBA is currently waiting for the final SEQRA determination to be approved by the Southampton Town Planning Board before it makes its final decision.

Before moving on to the next issue, board member David Reilly addressed the two women: “I have a feeling your parade of horribles is just not going to come to fruition,” he said.

District Offers Free Pre-K

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By Claire Walla

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

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

And this year it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schools: Gearing Up For Day One

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By Claire Walla

Taking Advantage of Tax Cap Exemptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer School a Success

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

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

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

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

Enrollment Increases

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

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

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

Playground to be Ready for Start of School

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

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

New Courses for the New Year

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

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

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

Malone Proposes Pre-K Spending

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Malone Proposes Pre-K Spending


by Marissa Maier

At the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting on Monday evening, Pierson principal Jeff Nichols brought out a five-inch wide binder. The hundreds of pages jammed into the blue binder contained Nichols’ and elementary school principal Matt Malone’s spending projections for both buildings in the next school year. The duo went over nearly every spending line at the BOE meeting on Monday evening, after working with educators for the past few months to craft the spending plan. Their proposed budget ranged from the regular, such as instructional salaries, to the exotic, like pre-kindergarten supplies and equipment, completing a rock climbing wall at the elementary school and conducting a graduate survey.

The instructional salaries accounted for the bulk of the proposed 2010-2011 budget. Salaries for educators from kindergarten through twelfth grade were around $8.48 million. This budget line increased by roughly $559,000 from last year. School superintendent Dr. John Gratto noted that Nichols and Malone estimated these figures around a 2.5 percent annual salary increase plus step, or the board’s last public offer proposed to the teachers. The school will likely spend about $316,000 on salaries for special needs teachers, accounting for a $29,500 increase. The total guidance counselor salaries are slated at roughly $423,000, which is up by about $18,000 from last year. The nurses’ overall contracts cost close to $109,000 including a $4,000 increase. Co-curricular salary payments, for clubs and after school programs, were estimated at $226,000, showing a rise of about $11,400. School business manager Janet Verneuille pointed out that these numbers only account for salaries and do not include retirement contributions.

Malone also mentioned expenses arising from establishing a pre-k program. He proposed $10,000 for equipment, play area and toys, $10,000 for classroom supplies, $10,000 for a fence and $91,800 for midday transportation for the program. Though, Malone mentioned the school would save $78,000 in transportation costs if the school purchased its own bus fleet.

He also proposed spending $3,000 to complete a rock climbing wall at the elementary school. Malone slated another $5,000 for a contract with BOCES to provide electronic elementary school report cards. Nichols proposed $5,000 for a visiting artist or professional, which he noted has long been a facet of the curriculum.

Nichols slated $2,200 in spending for a graduate survey. He explained the school supplies BOCES with basic information on Pierson’s graduates. Then BOCES tracks the students’ progress and rate of retention in institutes of higher education.

By the next meeting, on February 22, the board expects to present a rough summary of the total budget, data on state aid revenue, fund balance projections and town property assessments. He added that Governor David Paterson is proposing to cut $195,000 in aid to Sag Harbor. Dr. Gratto said it was a bit premature to make a verdict on whether or not the board will have to make cuts to the budget.

“There are so many questions. If we have to make a cut what will it be?” asked board president Walter Wilcoxen.
Board member Mary Anne Miller added, “I think it is important to spend as much time as possible having these discussions.”

Pre-K May Bring Districts Closer

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Since 1998, elementary school principal Joan Frisicano has advocated opening a Sag Harbor pre-kindergarten program. Over the years, she saw neighboring school districts like Southampton, East Hampton and even Amagansett set up their own pre-k curriculums, but year after year the village functioned without a program. In Sag Harbor, it seems covering the initial costs for pre-k — priced roughly at $260,000 — was a hard sell to village taxpayers.

 In 2008, Frisicano believed some federal Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) funds would open up to the school district, but she faced another hurdle: finding room to accommodate the three and four-year-old students. With classroom space at a premium in the elementary school, Frisicano researched possible locations and seemed to find a perfect match at the Bridgehampton School.

 Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said in the past few months, the two school districts have been analyzing ways to share and economize services by working together. Running a joint pre-k program was one such idea Dr. Gratto discussed with Bridgehampton School’s superintendent Dr. Dianne Youngblood and principal Jack Pryor in the beginning of April.

 “Bridgehampton has the space and they currently have a program with a small number of students … They can accommodate more children,” said Frisicano during a presentation to the Sag Harbor School Board on Wednesday, April 22. Based on current kindergarten enrollment, Frisicano added that she believes Sag Harbor has roughly 65 children who would be eligible for a pre-k program in the next couple of years.

 “We found that the foundation of our pre-k curriculum was very similar to the curriculum at Sag Harbor,” said Bridgehampton School Principal Jack Pryor in an interview on Monday. “Joan [Frisicano] and I have a similar education philosophy.”

 Bridgehampton runs a half-day pre-k program for three-year-olds and a full day program for four-year-olds. There are currently 13 children enrolled in the program and Pryor said the school has the capacity to absorb 20 additional students. Pryor and Frisicano have discussed the idea of scheduling two sessions for a joint pre-k course. One class with eight students would be held in the morning, and the other session with 12 students would be held in the afternoon.

 Currently, the Bridgehampton school funds the pre-k program through the budget, but would be willing to apply for UPK monies jointly with the Sag Harbor School District.

 “We are allowed to file a joint application … UPK was very excited,” reported Pryor. “That is the kind of program they hope to get started — a collaborative program where the money is crossing district lines.”

 But state UPK representatives recently relayed word to Frisicano that resources for start-up pre-k programs have already dried up and UPK can’t provide adequate funding for the 2009-2010 school year. In the past, UPK offered the school district $2,700 per child, but capped the number of eligible students at 20.

 “UPK has a lottery program [for the 20 children]. So you are pulling names out of a hat,” said Frisicano. “Other districts have told me it’s quite a scene when they do that.”

 “That seems counterproductive,” said school board president Walter Wilcoxen at the meeting.

 Although the school district has previously balked at funding the pre-k program, PTA president Chris Tice asked at the meeting if the creation of such a program would end up saving the district money in the long term.

 “Research shows that the earlier we can get kids into the system, it will save us dollars as they go through the system … The earlier you can catch a [learning] difficulty the earlier you can remediate it,” said Frisicano.

 She added that children who enter kindergarten with learning or language difficulties often need academic intervention, at the expense of the school district, further down the road.

 Considering annual increases in operating costs, curtailing the budget is a pressing issue for school officials on the East End. As many local schools cover a small geographic area and support a modest student body, Dr. Gratto noted that sharing services is a viable way to maintain program value while reducing spending.

 “By sharing services with Bridgehampton we can offer high quality service at a lesser cost to the district,” said Dr. Gratto.

 So far Dr. Gratto, Dr. Youngblood and Pryor have discussed eight separate ideas for consolidating services, including creating a joint pre-k program, employing a technology coordinator and director of special education for both districts, and sharing fields and academic programs. In addition, Bridgehampton was looking into hiring Sag Harbor to prepare its food, as the school now contracts with an outside company to do so. Gratto admitted, however, that the school doesn’t currently have the capacity to provide meals for both schools.

 “We have talked with Bridgehampton about sharing a number of services but we haven’t found a match yet,” reported Dr. Gratto. “None of the points we discussed will work out for various reasons — at least not in the near future.”

 In terms of forming a district partnership, Pryor seems to be on the same page as Dr. Gratto.

 “Districts on the East End need to work together,” said Pryor. “The economy is down … Taxes are up … We need to be more fiscally responsible. Rather than trying to be an all inclusive district [who offers everything], why don’t we share what we have?”