Tag Archive | "sag harbor board of education"

Sag Harbor School Board and Administrators Start the Goals Discussion

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the first brainstorming session of Sag Harbor Board of Education members and administrators led by the district’s new superintendent, Katy Graves, the group had a preliminary discussion on July 16 of goals for the upcoming school year.

With the standard concentration on people, buildings and equipment and programs, Ms. Graves stressed communication, accountability and “the Sag Harbor experience.”

From her observations, she said the district needs to focus on the strengths of Sag Harbor schools and communicating them clearly, measuring and monitoring those strengths and where the district needs support in terms of plant, program and people “to continue Sag Harbor schools’ outstanding trajectory,” and “that every child loves to come to school every day for the love of learning, the experiences in their day and the challenges they are provided.”

At the workshop, Ms. Graves told the administrators that her background in professional development supports brainstorming to get different perspectives. She had them split into small groups, counting off by three like school children, to discuss what they feel are the most significant steps to tackle in the upcoming year. The group then placed their ideas on sticky notes, after which they went around placing stickers on the ones they agreed with.

There were 60 answers as vague as “build an exciting and exceptional experience for students” and varied as “solar wind/alternate energy” and “volleyball at the elementary school.” The group then divided the ideas by people, program and plant and narrowed them down to the most popular responses.

In terms of “people,” later start times, accountability, staff development, adding a staff member to handle communications and adding faculty to teach course offerings in business and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) were the most popular answers.

The most frequent “program” responses called for teaching students coding, implementing the International Baccalaureate (IB) program into the middle years, enriching academic opportunities in the summer, adding business, computer science and programming courses, and having all teachers trained in special education.

Solar/wind/alternative energy, comprehensive and ongoing security training, exploring the Stella Maris building, instating healthier meals and adding a functional supervised room for athletic training after school were the most popular ideas for “plant.”

While the board will not be setting finite goals for the school year for some time, the meeting helped administrators and board members connect and articulate their concerns.

“The brainstorming session was just the beginning of the goal setting process,” Theresa Samot, president of the school board, said in an email Tuesday, July 22. “We will be having much more discussion at upcoming board meetings regarding goals.”

Update: Sag Harbor School Board Member Daniel Hartnett Resigns

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Sag Harbor School Board member Daniel Hartnett resigned Monday.

Sag Harbor School Board member Daniel Hartnett resigned Monday.

Originally published July 14, 2014 8:47 p.m.

By Tessa Raebeck 

Daniel Hartnett resigned from the Sag Harbor School District Board of Education Monday, July 14, after selling his house in the district two weeks ago.

Elected in May 2013, Mr. Hartnett entered the second year of his three-year term this month. He also served two terms on the board from 2005 to 2011.

Mr. Hartnett, a social worker and counselor at East Hampton High School, was the frontrunner in the school board in 2013, receiving the most votes from among a group of six candidates. The only educator on the board, he is one of its most vocal members.

“I have come tonight to very painfully, with enormous regret, ask you to accept my resignation from the board of education,” Mr. Hartnett told the board at Monday’s meeting. “I sold my house two weeks ago and have been unable to find affordable or appropriate housing in the district that would allow me to stay on the board. So, I’ve moved out of the district. I’ve signed a lease and need to resign.”

After listing his house in March, Mr. Hartnett said the sale went through much faster than he had anticipated. He was unable to find suitable housing in Sag Harbor and has rented a house in Springs. New York State Law requires all school board members to live in the district and the duration of Mr. Hartnett’s lease in Springs required that he resign.

While waiting for Monday’s meeting to start, Mr. Hartnett told several parents he was saddened by his unplanned resignation and had been looking forward to working with the district’s new superintendent, Katy Graves, who he helped to recruit.

“There’s not a lot of joy being on the school board,” Mr. Hartnett said from the podium during public input Monday. “Except for the fact that you know you’re doing something really amazing for the children of the district.”

“I would walk out of the house at night and say, ‘I’m going out tonight for you and if I can bring some of your friends with me, I will.’ And that’s really what it’s about: it’s about doing what’s best for the kids and it has been a privilege for me to bring whatever knowledge and experience I have to this table,” he added.

Mr. Hartnett thanked his fellow school board members and the administrators, superintendents and principals he has worked with “for the collegial relationships and collaboration that we’ve shared together on behalf of the children of this district” and thanked the community for giving him the opportunity to serve.

Mr. Hartnett also offered his services and said he was more than willing to continue to help and serve in whatever way he could. His son, who lives part-time with his mother in Sag Harbor, will continue to attend school in the district.

Chris Tice, vice president of the board, thanked Mr. Harnett for giving the board a heads-up when he first realized he might have to resign. As a real estate agent, she said she understood the challenge of finding suitable year-round housing in Sag Harbor. Ms. Tice said the board consulted with school attorney Thomas Volz to see if there was any way Mr. Hartnett could legally remain on the board “because everyone on the board was hoping you could stay on the board because you’re such an asset.”

Board President Theresa Samot recalled being first elected to the board the same year as Mr. Hartnett in 2005.

“We went through many great times and, as you said, some difficult times, and it made it much easier for me knowing that you were a colleague and that we were there working through these issues together,” she said.

“The great thing about a board,” said David Diskin, who was elected last year alongside Mr. Hartnett, “is that you have diversity of opinion and diversity of expertise and you add a huge piece of both of those to us and it’s going to be tough not having you there to share your mind.”

“I’m going to miss you as my friend,” said Sandi Kruel, a board member who has known Mr. Hartnett personally for many years. “But I have to tell you that having an educator on the board with such immense passion for children was just amazing to have next to me.”

“I’ve served with you quite often as well,” added board member Susan Kinsella, “and I have to say—although I don’t always agree with you—your knowledge as an administrator, a social worker, your willingness to advocate for the children of this district and for improvements in education—it’s going to be sorely missed, because you come with a welcomed knowledge that’s going to be hard to replace.”

In the wake of Mr. Hartnett’s resignation, the school board has several options: It can appoint someone immediately to fill the remainder of Mr. Hartnett’s term, which expires June 30, 2016; it can appoint someone to fill the position for this school year until the elections in May 2015; it can hold a special election for a new board member immediately; or it can continue with just six board members until the elections in May 2015. No decision was made Monday.

Sag Harbor Teachers Accept Minimal Salary Increases in New Contract

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Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

In a surprise announcement last week, released with little fanfare, the Sag Harbor Board of Education and the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) said they had agreed on new contract.

Besides minimal fanfare, the three-year agreement also carries minimal increases. It was approved at a board meeting on Monday, July 7, and is effective from July 1 through June 30, 2017. It gives teachers salary increase of 0.7 percent for the 2013-14 school year and increases of 0.75 percent for both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

The last contract negotiations between the district and the teachers union, which concluded in December 2010, took over two years and were marked by acrimony.

The union, led by then-president Eileen Kochanasz, had initially asked for salary increases of 3.9 percent, which were comparative to those in neighboring districts. After much back and forth, they agreed on increases of 2.5, 2.65, 2.7 and 2.6 percent for the respective school years from  July 1, 2008, through July 1, 2013.

During those negotiations, teachers eventually started wearing black t-shirts to school to protest their lack of a contract.

This time around, the bargaining was “much, much easier,” Jim Kinnier, the union’s current president who was involved in both processes, said Thursday, July 10.

“I think, in general,” Mr. Kinnier said, “both the board of [education] and the teachers wanted to have a more cooperative negotiation session and we kept negotiations out of the public. That was a priority for both sides.”

The process was eased by an early, private start in the fall that gave the groups plenty of time to go back and forth, in addition to “a much more cooperative environment than was around the last time,” said Mr. Kinnier, who is a math teacher at Pierson Middle-High School.

According to his understanding, this is only the second time in 40 years that a teachers contract in Sag Harbor has been settled on time.

“This is the third contract I have done,” board member Sandi Kruel said Thursday, “and this was one of the best experiences I have had. I feel that it was a wonderful team effort between the board and the teachers.”

Having asked for a 3.9-percent increase in 2008, when the economy first crashed, accepting an increase of less than 1 percent six years into the recovery is a seemingly surprising move on the part of teachers, but Mr. Kinnier attributed their willingness to compromise to the tight financial burdens felt in schools since the 2-percent tax cap was enacted by New York State in 2011.

“There’s only so much room that the district has and that’s the major reason why the increases are a lot less than they were,” Mr. Kinnier said, adding that teachers in many districts on Long Island have had to take salary freezes and give up step increases.

For the three-year term of this contract, the teachers’ contributions to active employee medical health insurance will remain at 17.5 percent. When the contract expires on June 30, 2017, however, that contribution will go up to 20 percent.

“Actually, the healthcare costs have leveled off a little bit, but the district wanted us to contribute more,” Mr. Kinnier said. “Our argument was that we contribute more than any district on the South Fork and we have done so for a long period of time,” he said, adding that Sag Harbor was among the first in which teachers contributed to healthcare costs at all.

“So, the compromise was that there will be an increase, but not until these three years are up,” he said.

“We have what I think is a fair deal, and they think it’s a fair deal” he added. “And as a result, we get to concentrate on what it is we do best and that’s public education.”

Update: Sag Harbor School Board Approves New Teachers Contract

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Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Sag Harbor Board of Education announced at its annual reorganizational meeting on Monday that it had reached a contract agreement with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH).

With unanimous approval from the board, the contract was settled before the current one expires for the first time in recent memory and only the second time in the district’s history.

“It was a sign of all of us working together collaboratively and we’re proud to have all of you in the district teaching our children,” Theresa Samot, president of the school board, said Monday.

The last contract negotiations took over two years and became quite heated, with teachers protesting the lack of a settlement by wearing black t-shirts to school for months. After the contracts expired in August 2008, the union and the school district did not decide on a new agreement until December 2010.

The new three-year contract is in effect from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2017. The agreement between the district and the union will increase the 2013-14 salary schedule by 0.7 percent. For each of 2014-15 and 2015-16, salaries will be increased by 0.75 percent.

During the term of the three-year contract, TASH members will contribute 17.5 percent of the premium costs for employee health and dental insurance, the same amount they’ve been paying since July 1, 2010. Starting June 30, 2017, members of TASH will have to contribute 20 percent of those costs.

“I just want to say thank you and how happy we are that we have settled this contract and approved it tonight,” said Ms. Samot.

Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, added the contract is “respectable both to the needs of the district and of the employee.”

The increases are significantly lower than those in the previous contract, which retroactively gave teachers a 2.5-percent salary increase for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, a 2.65-percent increase for the 2010-11 school year, a 2.7-percent increase for 2011-12 and a 2.6-percent increase for 2012-13.

“Finalizing the contract agreement through 2017 is a very good way to begin the new school year,” the district’s new Superintendent Katy Graves, who was sworn in at the meeting Monday, said in a press release. “It clearly shows the strong relationship and common goals shared between the board, administration and teachers union.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, Ms. Graves and new school board member Diana Kolhoff took the oath of office.

Having just finished her ninth year on the board, Ms. Samot was again elected president on a motion brought by Ms. Tice and seconded by Susan Kinsella.

“I just want to thank Theresa because most people don’t realize how much time it takes to be president,” said Ms. Tice, adding, “Your dedication is very appreciated and you’ve done a great job.”

Board member David Diskin said how important it is in this period of transition—with a new superintendent and several administrative positions to fill—to have Ms. Samot return to her leadership position.

Ms. Kinsella nominated Ms. Tice to again be vice president, a motion that was seconded by Mr. Diskin.

The board meeting Monday was the first one to be filmed, although not broadcast, in the trial period of the district’s new videotaping of board meetings policy, which aims to increase transparency and public access to the goings-on of the school board. Future meetings will also be broadcast live on LTV and SEA-TV.

Ms. Graves told the small crowd gathered in the Pierson Middle/High School library that, having worked in the district for only four days, she was unable to share her entry plan just yet, but would provide a detailed plan of action at the July 28 board meeting.

The board appointed J. Wayne Shiernat as interim athletic director, filling the position left vacant by Todd Gulluscio’s resignation last month. Mr. Shiernat worked part time in the district prior to the hiring of Mr. Gulluscio two years ago.

“He’s going to be part time and he’ll be starting immediately tomorrow, because we are working without an athletic director at this time and a lot of very important scheduling items happen at this time,” Ms. Graves said.

Mr. Shiernat will work for four hours a day, five days a week at a daily rate of $325, with a maximum pay of $35,750. He will act as interim for up to 110 days from Tuesday, July 8, through December 19.

The board debated whether it is financially pertinent and necessary to have a full-time athletic director. Ms. Kolhoff suggested looking at sharing services with the Bridgehampton School District, but Ms. Graves said they had already reached out to that district but had not heard back yet.

“We have to proof sharing, we have to,” added Ms. Graves, “and maybe this is the part where we start.”

Board member Daniel Hartnett worried that having a full-time athletic director would require funds that could be used to keep the district’s 62 teams strong and intact and benefit the children more directly.

Former board member Mary Anne Miller, on the audience side of the meeting for the first time in years, and community member John Battle stressed the importance of addressing the health and wellness portion of the position.

In the end, the district decided to move forward with the applications it has received using a similar job description to that under which Mr. Gulluscio was hired, as director of Athletics, Physical Education, Health, Wellness and Personnel.

“My recommendation with my four days here is to do what’s best for kids and that is to provide as much leadership as possible,” said Ms. Graves.

Sag Harbor School Board Approves Teachers Contract

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Sag Harbor Elementary School art teacher Lauri DeVito in her classroom. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

At its annual organizational meeting Monday night, the Sag Harbor Board of Education approved a new teachers contract with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH).

The contract was settled before the current one expires for the first time in recent memory.

“It was a sign of all of us working together collaboratively and we’re proud to have all of you in the district teaching our children,” Theresa Samot, president of the school board, said Monday.

The last contract negotiations took over two years and became quite heated, with teachers protesting the lack of a settlement by wearing black t-shirts to school for months. After the contracts expired in August 2008, a new agreement was not approved by both the union and the school district until December 2010.

The details of the new contract are forthcoming.

Pierson Parents and School at Odds Over Recognizing Sag Harbor’s Salutatorians

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A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

The parents of a Pierson High School senior say their daughter was unjustly denied recognition for her academic performance and that the Sag Harbor School District is doing nothing about it.

Kristin and Paul Davey maintain their daughter deserves to be recognized as a co-salutatorian of the graduating class of 2014 because the district uses faulty guidelines and does not have a clear policy for how valedictorians and salutatorians are named.

Pierson administrators, however, say the district is using the same guidelines it has used for decades and, although they may enact a board-level policy in the future, that change will not happen in the days leading up to graduation.

After taking the complaints to Facebook, Kristin Davey said in a phone interview Wednesday, June 25, that her daughter was in third place by 7/100ths of a point when the grade point average rankings were calculated in January. When the grades were recalculated in April, Ms. Davey said, her daughter had pulled into second by a full point.

Dr. Paul Davey in a statement to the board on June 18 said their daughter was then “invited by State Assemblyman Fred Thiele’s office to a luncheon honoring Long Island’s valedictorians and salutatorians.”

Ms. Davey said on Wednesday, June 25, that several days after they received the invitation, Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols informed her that her daughter had been invited in error.

She was told, she said, that “they were not using those grades, they were using the grades in January, as has been their tradition, and that [my daughter] was not the salutatorian.”

“We asked several times for the school to recognize [our daughter] as co-salutatorian and not to take anything away from the other student, but to recognize them both,” she said.

“I feel that we were misled and it’s gotten kind of worse from there,” said Ms. Davey, adding that she has sent many letters and made many phone calls to administrators that have gone unanswered.

“We’ve had very, very clear guidelines with regard to that, my understanding is certainly for the 17 years I’ve been here and for decades preceding that,” Mr. Nichols said when the issue was brought up at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, June 24.

The guidelines are on page 17 of the student handbook, which is given to every student and available on the district website.

Mr. Nichols read from the policy Tuesday, which states: “To validate who has earned the highest (valedictorian) and the second highest (salutatorian) ranks in a graduating class, students’ grades are re-averaged at the end of the first semester of the year in which the class graduates. Such determination is final and no adjustment thereafter will take place.”

In a phone conversation Wednesday, June 25, Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, said, “There was something where I believe some temporary word was passed along that [Ms. Davey’s] daughter was ranked second in the class, but when we checked it was an error.”

“While at the time of the ranking—that is at the end of the seventh semester in the middle of the year that they’re graduating, which is what Jeff read last night [at the school board meeting]—in fact, it was not her daughter,” he said.

“I’d rather not discuss a specific case or a specific child,” he added, “so I can only say that Mr. Nichols clarified it as much as possible additionally last night and no further comment.”

In his statement read on June 18, Dr. Davey questioned the lack of “a formal policy” and asked the board to vote that evening to recognize co-salutatorians for the class of 2014.

“The only thing they keep reciting in this refusal is traditionally they have never done that before and I don’t find that a good enough answer,” Ms. Davey said.

“Because they are lacking this formal policy,” she said, “I just don’t understand why they will not recognize both students…I just really hope that moving forward, the district writes a clear, comprehensive and specific policy so this does not happen in the future to any student graduating from Pierson. I will say that [my daughter] is beyond devastated that her school will not recognize her academic achievement.”

“There has been some discussion about having a more formal policy, there are districts that have board-level policies on it,” BOE Vice President Chris Tice said. “I would suggest at a future board meeting, we discuss whether we want to have that sort of policy on it.”

Later Start Times?

In other school board news, the board agreed to appoint a task force to examine the plausibility of starting school at later times, a move that is gaining traction across the country.

“There’s research that has come out that says if you could do one thing to help your kids do better in school—one thing—it would be to get our kids to school later,” said Ms. Tice.

Board member Susan Kinsella also brought up the idea of allowing varsity athletes to have study hall instead of gym class while in season.

“They certainly don’t need the gym class if they’re playing a varsity sport. Let them have that time to do homework,” she said.

“I think this makes a lot of sense,” agreed Ms. Tice, adding the district could see more athletes participating in International Baccalaureate (IB) and other challenging classes “if they knew they’d have more time to get the work done.”

The board will start its trial of videotaping meetings in July. The first meeting of the month will be taped but not broadcast to figure out some sound and technical kinks and the second meeting will be fully broadcast on LTV and SEA-TV.

Sag Harbor School District Says Goodbye to Three Chief Administrators

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School Business Administrator John O'Keefe, who will leave the district this summer, at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday, June 24. Photo by Tessa Raebeck

School Business Administrator John O’Keefe, who will leave the district this summer, at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday, June 24. Photo by Tessa Raebeck

By Tessa Raebeck

Although school’s out for summer, the Sag Harbor Board of Education will have its hands full with interviewing and hiring new personnel in time for students’ return in September.

In addition to the seven retiring members of the faculty, six of whom have positions that will be filled (one special education teaching position was abolished), interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso, business administrator John O’Keefe, and Todd Gulluscio, director of Athletics, Physical Education, Health, Wellness and Personnel, are leaving the district.

The board on Tuesday, June 24, accepted the resignations of Mr. O’Keefe and Mr. Gulluscio and appointed Dr. Bonuso as temporary assistant to the district’s new superintendent Katy Graves.

Dr. Bonuso will help Ms. Graves settle into her new position for 14 days between July 1 and July 31. He is being paid at a daily rate of $950 for a total of $13,300.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, community member and frequent meeting attendee Elena Loreto questioned the appointment of Dr. Bonuso to the temporary position.

“When you hired Katy Graves, everyone was high on her,” Ms. Loreto told the board. “We were ecstatic we found someone who was so neat, she was even better than sliced bread or ballpoint pens—then why does she need a mentor?”

“Carl, I love you, but we gotta say goodbye,” she added. “Katy is fully capable. Don’t spend the money.”

“Katy requested that Carl remain for some transition planning with her,” replied Theresa Samot, president of the school board. “We did, through our attorney, do a review of best practices, and he reported to us that it’s not unusual when a superintendent is coming from out of the district or out of the immediate area to actually have a transition for them.”

The board pointed to the extent of issues the new superintendent will have to deal with immediately, including capital projects from the bond referendum, for which the bulk of construction will start this summer, and the hiring of new personnel in many important positions. Ms. Samot added that the district budgeted for the transition in the 2014-15 budget.

“The board really carefully considered this issue,” said member David Diskin. “The request is really coming from Ms. Graves. This is a need that she feels is critical to make a great transition.”

“There’s just a lot of stuff happening,” added board member Daniel Hartnett, “and it just kind of struck me as Katy spoke that the reason that she asked for some transition is because she’s experienced…that I think is a sign of professionalism and I think it’s money well spent on our part.”

The board also recognized the contributions of Dr. Bonuso, Mr. O’Keefe and Mr. Gulluscio during their time in the district, as well as Mary Anne Miller, a school board member of six years who chose not to pursue another term.

“Mary Anne leads with her heart,” said Mr. Hartnett. “Mary Anne leads with her heart, but thank goodness, she’s got a great brain to follow. She’s a passionate advocate for public education.”

“I don’t know of many people that spend as much time focused on education that actually aren’t being paid to do so,” added Chris Tice, vice president of the board.

“Her willingness to be unafraid to turn over rocks and to challenge things and ask questions is unique,” said Mr. Diskin.

Dr. Bonuso initially came on as an interim for a few months, but was quickly asked to stay for longer and ultimately served two full years as superintendent.

“He’s been an amazing force not only in the school, but in the community,” said Ms. Samot.

“I think that you brought a new level of heart to this school family,” added Ms. Tice. “That is going to be your legacy when you leave, so thank you for that.”

“I have to say,” added Sandi Kruel, a board member, “that the senior class, you know every one of them by name, how to pronounce their last name…and when you showed up at [the New York State baseball finals] the seniors were like, ‘He’s the man,” and that’s all I can say, you the man. So thank you for being a part of so many of our students’ lives.”

Acknowledging the “100 people to [my] left and right,” Dr. Bonuso spoke of his love for Sag Harbor.

“I’ve been in the business a long time—maybe close to 40 years—I thought I was going to come by for a few months, turns out a couple years because I fell in love with the place and the projects we were working with,” he said, adding that he came out of retirement because, “I think God whispered in my ear, ‘Before you go, you have to see this place.’ It’s just a remarkable experience.”

Mr. O’Keefe has been the business administrator since 2012. He will be leaving the district for a position as assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations in the West Hempstead School District. His resignation is effective July 16. Mr. O’Keefe was instrumental in passing the bond referendum last fall and in getting the district’s Moody’s bond rating upgraded this spring.

“You’ve put us in the best financial shape we’ve been in since I’ve been in the district,” Ms. Kruel said to Mr. O’Keefe.

Mr. Gulluscio’s term ends June 30. A native of Shelter Island, he will be returning home to serve as director of Physical Education and District Operations in that district, where his wife also works. During his time in Sag Harbor, he oversaw several trips to state championship for the Pierson Whalers.

“You would be hard-pressed to ever find anybody as good at what they do than the two gentlemen who are in the room right now,” said Dr. Bonuso, adding, “It’s been a privilege to have them at the left and right side these past couple years.”

“You both leave the district in much better shape than when you got here, so thank you,” added Ms. Tice.

Sag Harbor School District’s Athletic Director and School Business Administrator to Resign

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Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio, School Board member Sandi Kruel, Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and School Business Administrator John O'Keefe celebrate the approval of the capital projects bond in November 2013. Photo by Michael Heller.

Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio, school board member Sandi Kruel, Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and School Business Administrator John O’Keefe celebrate the approval of the capital projects bond in November 2013. Todd Gulluscio and John O’Keefe are resigning from the district Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

According to the agenda for the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Tuesday, June 24, the board will accept the resignations of School Business Administrator John O’Keefe and Todd Gulluscio, Director of Athletics, Physical Education, Health, Wellness, and Personnel.

Mr. Gulluscio’s resignation was confirmed several weeks ago, but Mr. O’Keefe’s came as a surprise when the agenda was posted on the district’s website. The business administrator has been in Sag Harbor since 2012. Prior to joining the district, he was the Chief Financial and Operations Officer for the Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset for three years.

Once accepted, Mr. O’Keefe’s resignation will be effective July 16. Mr. Gulluscio’s term ends June 30.

The resignations come at a time when the district is already doing a lot of interviewing and hiring, as seven longtime teachers and staff members are retiring. Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso is also leaving his position, although he is set to be appointed as temporary assistant to the new superintendent Katy Graves. Dr. Bonuso will help Ms. Graves settle into her new position for 14 days between July 1 and July 31. He is being paid at a daily rate of $950, pending board approval Tuesday.

Sag Harbor School Board Honors Retirees, Grants Tenure

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Retiree Bethany Deyermond is congratulated by school board member Mary Anne Miller while board vice president Chris Tice, president Theresa Samot, interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and board member David Diskin look on at the board of education meeting Monday, June 9.

Retiree Bethany Deyermond is congratulated by school board member Mary Anne Miller while board vice president Chris Tice, president Theresa Samot, interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and board member David Diskin look on at the board of education meeting Monday, June 9. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

At what many members of the Sag Harbor School Board call their favorite meeting of the year, the district recognized the contributions of seven retirees and granted tenure to five teachers Monday.

The retirees, interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso joked, have been in the district for some 20 to 200 years each.

“I’m speaking as a colleague of theirs, somebody who started in the school when all of them had already established careers,” Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone, who started as a teacher at the school, said of his teachers before a crowd of friends and family gathered in the Pierson library.

“From the minute I walked into the building, I could always look to these four ladies for guidance and support and for setting the benchmark of professionalism,” he added.

Art teacher Laurie Devito, Mr. Malone said, has worked for 31 years to “ensure that art has been an integral part of our school and the educational experience for all the boys and girls. When you enter our school, art is truly alive.”

Mr. Malone spoke of the commitment shown by third grade elementary school teacher Bethany Deyermond, who has been in the district for 29 years, to promoting the growth and success of her students.

“All the boys and girls who have had the good fortune to work with her have truly benefited from that experience,” he added.

Those who have been “lucky enough” to work with Nancy Stevens-Smith, the elementary school’s Response to Intervention (RTI) specialist, during her 33 years at the school have learned much under her direction, Mr. Malone said.

“Each year, Nancy guided her students, our school and our entire community to become more aware of the tremendous contributions of African-Americans throughout history and for that we are grateful,” Mr. Malone said.

School board member Sandi Kruel thanked all the retirees, saying she is privileged and honored they have all worked with at least one of her three sons.

When asked what he was grateful for on a school assignment, “my son was grateful for Martin Luther King because if it wasn’t for him, he wouldn’t have been able to have Ms. Stevens as a teacher,” Ms. Kruel added.

Retiree Nancy Remkus has served the district for 31 years, filling multiple roles as a classroom teacher, special education teacher and music teacher.

“The institution that we all call Morning Program started with Nancy’s encouragement and triumphed due to her talents and care,” Mr. Malone said. “Our school is going to continue starting each day with a song and we thank Nancy for that.”

Spanish teacher Rafaela Soto Messinger is also retiring from the elementary school, although she was not in attendance Monday.

Director of Pupil Personnel Services Barbara Bekermus honored longtime staff member Laurie Duran, senior clerk typist for the district.

“When I was going to take this job,” Ms. Bekermus said of her position. “I thought, well, at least I have Laurie to teach me this job and show me the ropes.”

“The directors came, they went, and the only constant has always been Laurie—and every director has relied on you to steer the ship and show them the way. I’m grateful that I had my first year with Laurie, because I could not have done it without you,” she added.

A special education teacher for 33 years, Peggy Mott has “worked with some of our most challenging students, not only academically, but emotionally,” Ms. Bekermus said, adding that Ms. Mott advocates for her students and many of them told Ms. Bekermus they never would have taken challenging courses, graduated and mapped out careers without the guidance of Ms. Mott.

Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols celebrated his friend and longtime colleague Douglas Doerr, a science teacher.

“The pride with which he approaches his position here at Pierson is the same pride and commitment that he shows with regard to his own kids and as a single father, I’ve watched his kids grow up and turn into wonderful, wonderful people,” Mr. Nichols said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, five teachers were nominated and unanimously approved for tenure. Teachers can be nominated for tenure after they’ve served three years in the district.

“The board treats—all of us treat—tenure very, very seriously,” Dr. Bonuso said. “It’s not something that we automatically dole out. We know how important the teaching act is.”

For grades seven through 12, Anthony Chase Mallia was awarded tenure for mathematics, Richard Schumacher for chemistry and Kelly Shaffer for French. Elizabeth Marchisella earned tenure for Visual Arts and school counselor Adam Mingione was granted tenure in his field.

“This is one of the many fun things we get to do as a board and we have many very talented staff throughout our buildings,” said Chris Tice, school board vice president.

“To me,” said Dr. Bonuso, “I think teaching is the most noble of all professions, so to have the ability to say thank you to people who have devoted their life to that is an honor.”

Sag Harbor’s Substance Abuse Prevention Program Will Extend to Include Elementary Schoolers

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Consultant Marian Cassata Updates the Board of Education last August. Photo by Ellen Frankman.

Consultant Marian Cassata updates the Sag Harbor Board of Education on the district’s substance abuse prevention program last August. Photo by Ellen Frankman.

By Tessa Raebeck

Initiatives to combat substance abuse among Sag Harbor teenagers will reach all the way down to kindergarteners next year, district officials confirmed Tuesday.

The evening’s board of education meeting included an update on the district’s drug and alcohol abuse prevention program by Marian Cassata, a prevention consultant and the former director of Pupil Personnel Services at Pierson Middle-High School.

Ms. Cassata, along with her husband Bob Schneider, the former principal of Pierson, is active in the Sag Harbor Coalition, a group of community members dedicated to reducing the use of alcohol and other drugs among local kids. She and Katherine Mitchell of East End Counseling LLC were hired as consultants to address drug and alcohol prevention in the district last spring.

The increased attention to drug and alcohol abuse prevention comes following data from several surveys of local youth that found the rates of alcohol and drug use among Sag Harbor students are higher than average rates in Suffolk County.

Sag Harbor’s drug and alcohol abuse prevention program has traditionally started in middle school, when children are believed to be at the beginning stages of coming into contact with substances. The focus on younger grades has been on other relevant health topics, such as eating well and resisting peer pressure. But an effort to address what some say is an alarming number of Pierson High School students abusing alcohol and other drugs have caused the district to change its program.

Next year, the drug prevention program in the district will involve children as young as 5.

“Next year is the full implementation of that bottom strand of the pyramid,” Ms. Cassata said Tuesday.

Following recommendations made by the consultant to the board in August, the district decided to switch from its existing drug and alcohol program to HealthSmart, “a comprehensive K-12 health education program,” according to the company website.

For students in kindergarten through the fourth grade, the HealthSmart program includes four units: Personal and Family Health, Safety and Injury Prevention, Nutrition and Physical Activity, and Tobacco and Alcohol Prevention, introducing substance abuse prevention to Sag Harbor kids at a much younger age than the current program.

A source familiar with the current program who wished to remain anonymous expressed concern that students will be introduced to adult topics like drugs at an earlier age and said the district needs to educate parents prior to its implementation on what their children will be exposed to under the new program.

Ms. Cassata and Ms. Mitchell, as well as members of the Sag Harbor Coalition, believe an all-inclusive program is the most effective means of delivering a consistent and effective health curriculum that will prevent kids from abusing substances.

Ms. Casata said Tuesday staff development for the HealthSmart curriculum at the elementary school level will begin in June and the program will be “up and ready to launch fully in September.”

Ms. Casata told the board in August that the materials are estimated to cost in excess of $13,000 at $400 a kit and that she had already worked to secure grant money to fund the program.

According to Business Administrator John O’Keefe, drug and alcohol prevention services for the current school year, 2013-14, were budgeted at $25,000. The district has budgeted $20,000 for next year, 2014-15, slightly less because more funds were required to get the program up and running this year, Mr. O’Keefe said. Those funds cover payments to Ms. Cassata and Ms. Mitchell, as well as payment for guest speakers and “things like that,” he said.

Bond Upgrade

Also at Tuesday’s board meeting, Mr. O’Keefe announced Moody’s Investors Service has upgraded the Sag Harbor School District from a credit rating of A1 to Aa3, the first upgrade in the district’s history.

“This significant upgrade is based upon the district’s strong, successful financial management practices over the past several years, which have resulted in both improved and satisfactory reserve levels,” the district said in a press release.

As a result of this upgrade, the district anticipates saving approximately $330,000 in interest for the work proposed in the recently approved $9 million capital projects bond, as well as approximately $15,000 in bond insurance premiums. The district also plans to save additional money during the annual tax anticipation note borrowing.

“Really, that’s work for children, because that kind of money can be freed up for programs and for important things,” school board member David Diskin said Tuesday.