Tag Archive | "sag harbor board of education"

Technology Expands in Sag Harbor Classrooms

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An aerial photograph of Sag Harbor taken with the Pierson art department's drone. Courtesy of Peter Solow.

An aerial photograph of Sag Harbor taken with the Pierson art department’s drone. Courtesy of Peter Solow.

By Tessa Raebeck 

With iPads for eight-year-olds and a Chromebook for every middle school student, Sag Harbor teachers and administrators told the Board of Education Monday that technology is on target in the school district.

Director of Technology Scott Fisher and Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School teachers presented on “Technology to Support Student Learning,” updating the school board on what the budget buys.

“I prefer that the instruction drive the technology rather than the technology driving the instruction,” said Mr. Fisher, who admitted that although he loves his gadgets, he aims to present technology department budgets that are both cost-effective and in-line with instructional needs, not industry trends.

Technology is constantly changing and thus flexibility and regular reevaluation is required in determining which tools are used, how they are used, and in which classrooms they will work best, Mr. Fisher said.

While iPads “work very well” for young children in grades Kindergarten through second, Mr. Fisher said “as the students are getting older, we’re finding that the iPads may not be best suited for them…as we get into the older grades in the elementary school, we’ve started doing things like adding Chromebook computers to the mix.”

For the first time this school year, there is a Google Chromebook available for each Sag Harbor student in every fourth and fifth grade classroom. Chromebooks, a cheaper alternative to traditional laptops, are designed for use primarily in conjunction with the Internet.

“When we introduce new technology,” Mr. Fisher said, “we don’t simply discard the technology and toss it to the side.”

The Mac computers that were in the fourth and fifth grade classrooms are now being used by the second and third grades, and every third grade classroom now has its own full set of computers.

Seventy-five Chromebooks were also added to Pierson Middle/High School this year on three carts of 25 each that can be moved between classrooms. The library already has a set of 25.

Fourth grade teachers Jeff Reed and Liz Surozenski demonstrated how the new Chromebooks in their classrooms have helped students to collaborate with each other using Google apps and said students seem more excited and engaged with the content they’re learning.

Ms. Surozenski said in the past, her classes have only published one writing piece by this time of the school year. This year’s class is working on the third.

Mr. Reed shared a presentation on “women of war” shared on Google Drive by student Chiara Bedini. Although the fourth grader was only required to make one slide, she had instead made three: “women of the war,” “more women of the war” and “lots more women of the war.”

“You get an enthusiasm that leads to innovation where kids want to learn,” said Mr. Reed, adding that writing the content is not the end of the assignment. The end product “is the communication and collaboration of their discoveries.”

That collaboration extends far beyond the classroom. Using their new Chromebooks, Sag Harbor’s fourth graders are accessing worldwide databases such as the “World Water Monitoring Challenge,” a site that allows them to punch in data taken from Sag Harbor’s waters to be shared with scientists—and students—around the world.

Computer Lab teacher Jonathan Schwartz shared a sample lesson from Tynker, a computer programming course the district started this year. With different levels beginning in third grade, students can start by putting blocks together on a screen and grow to be typing code proficiently.

“It certainly challenges the students to create things on their own, rather than having everything told to them or handed to them,” said Mr. Schwartz. “Create something—show me what you did and tell me how you did it.”

Tynker, he said, aligns with the Common Core values of thinking, rather than reciting, and prepares students for modern jobs in growing fields.

“It’s absolutely their language and we know that that’s a huge career field,” Superintendent Katy Graves added.

Principal Matt Malone thanked the board, and especially Mr. Fisher and his team, for supporting the Sag Harbor Elementary School in implementing its new technology initiatives.

“I think we all have a sense of how lucky we are to get this technology in our hands and get to share that with the boys and girls, and it’s clear what it can do to enhance instruction and those 21st century skills,” he said.

Although some of the technological instruction are handed down to students by means of tools and software, other aspects come from directly their imaginations.

Pierson art teacher Peter Solow said although the “fundamental technology” used in the art department is still the pencil, the students and teachers are continually coming up with new ideas to integrate technology into creativity. Pierson students are using computers to convert sketches to picture books, taking aerial photographs with drones, and scanning, digitizing and archiving photographs and documents in collaboration with the Sag Harbor Historical Society and the John Jermain Memorial Library.

“The most important thing…is using technology as a tool that allows students to become self-directed in their own art making through guided, independent work,” said Mr. Solow.

Sag Harbor School District Will Look Into Later Start Times

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By Tessa Raebeck 

In an effort to listen to both concerned parents and tired students, the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Monday announced its goal to review options for a later school day start time.

As part of the board’s visions and goals for the 2014-15 school year, Superintendent Katy Graves announced an ad-hoc start time committee would be created to meet with the superintendent, Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi, Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols, Head Bus Driver Maude Stevens and Athletic Director Donnelly McGovern, and develop multiple plans “of how we can do a later start time for the district.”

The plans are expected to be complete by November 2014, with a December 1 deadline for a report to the board, “which also puts us before our budget cycle,” Ms. Graves said.

The decision comes in light of a national discussion on moving start times for high school students later due to research that finds American students are chronically sleep-deprived and perform better behaviorally and academically when start times are moved past 8 a.m. At the end of August, the American Academy of Pediatrics joined the discussion by publishing a report recommending that all high schools start after 8:30 a.m. for students’ health, calling insufficient sleep in adolescents “an important public health issue.”

Research has found that humans’ circadian rhythms change during teenage years, making it close to biologically impossible, according to studies, for high school students to go to bed before 11 p.m. and wake before 8 a.m. Doctors recommend teenagers get at least eight and a half hours of sleep, which some Pierson students and parents say is quite difficult with a start time of 7:26 a.m., which requires some students, particularly those who live farther away or take the bus to school, to wake before 6 a.m.

Although the school board appears to be standing by the science behind later start times, the district will have to contend with athletics and bus schedules in order to make the changes, which proponents say hope will be in effect for the 2015-16 school year.

At Monday’s meeting, the district also announced its intention to “develop and present a plan by June 15, 2015 to share services with other regional school districts and municipalities with a goal of showing a cost saving to the district of two percent of our tax levy,” according to Ms. Graves.

Ms. Graves said the board has already had its first shared services meeting with five school districts in the town of East Hampton and will continue to work with regional districts in order to find ways to cut costs by sharing services such as sports teams and buses.

Another goal the board hopes to tackle this school year is improving district communications, which a survey found was an area of widespread discontent among parents and students.

The board goal, Ms. Graves announced, is to “implement and improve communication strategy to become an engaged and active pathway for school and community through newsletters, work toward a current and active website, continue with emails, phone calls and videotaping [of school board meetings].”

The parties primarily responsible for implementation of that goal are the superintendent, administrators and the “Communications Director,” a position that is not yet filled. The district aims to have a report finalized by December 15, 2014.

A communications committee that met last year had announced in the spring its recommendations that the board fill the position in-house with a full-time staff member, a communications director/specialist who would be dedicated primarily to enhancing communications between teachers and the district and parents and students.

School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said similar positions in Suffolk County offer a salary of at least $46,500 in addition to health benefits, and more, adding, “There is definitely a significant cost associated with using this model.”

The Southampton School District has a “Community Relations Specialist” who is required to pass the state’s Civil Service test and is part of the district faculty.

Ms. Buscemi said an alternative to the in-house position recommended by the committee would be to use Syntax Communication, a Long Island firm that specializes in public relations for school districts, which the board used last year in a limited capacity.

Ms. Buscemi said for the standard service fee from Syntax, “you’re talking close to $90,000,” but another option “would be to go with someone part-time,” which she said would cost around $37,000.

School Board Vice President Chris Tice, who served on the communications committee, asked how much of what the committee thought was vital to improve communications “will actually get done and continue to be done consistently and well” under the less expensive Syntax package.

Board member Tommy John Schiavoni wondered how well the company would be able to integrate with the faculty and Sag Harbor community.

“I’m not ready to make any decisions on any of this until we get at least a preliminary three to five year [financial] plan,” said board member Sandi Kruel, adding that communications/technology “changes daily” and although it needs to be improved, the board needs to know “where we’re going to come up with that money.”

Ms. Tice said while they need to make a financial decision, she is concerned as to how communications can be immediately improved in the interim.

If the board is to postpone bringing a communications specialist in, she said, “then in the short term we need to figure out how to have increased attention in areas that we are failing at now.”

Sag Harbor to Consider Later School Start Times for Sleep-Deprived Students

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Pierson teacher Eric Reynolds tries to wake up his student Shane Hennessy in class on Wednesday, September 24. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Pierson teacher Eric Reynolds tries to wake up his student Shane Hennessy in class on Wednesday, September 24. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

By Tessa Raebeck

On weekday mornings, Grace Gawronski’s alarm goes off at 6:20 on the dot. The 12-year-old reserves about 10 to 20 minutes to drag herself out of bed, then spends another 20 to 30 minutes getting ready for school at Pierson. She gets on the bus at 7 a.m. and arrives at school between 7:10 and 7:15 to make it to class by the starting bell at 7:26.

Most days she doesn’t have time to eat breakfast or pack a lunch, and her stomach rumbles until she can buy some cafeteria food during her lunch period.

Grace, a seventh grader, is in school from 7:15 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. After school, she has two hours of field hockey practice or a game, which can involve upward of an hour of travel time to and fro. She gets home at around 5 p.m. and starts her homework, which takes her 45 minutes to two hours.

“I am tired throughout the whole day,” Grace said Tuesday. “When I get to field hockey practice I’m very tired and I really don’t feel like playing sometimes because I’ve been in school all day. But it’s one of my favorite parts of the day.”

Her most favorite part of the day, Grace said, is after school, sports, homework and dinner, when she finally gets to return to her bed. Grace tries to get in bed before 10 p.m. so she can get eight hours of sleep, but said she needs “at least nine and a half hours of sleep to be wide awake the whole day.”

Schedules like Grace’s are prompting a discussion among parents and administrators about potentially moving Sag Harbor’s middle and high school starting times—which are some of the earliest in the country—about an hour later, to 8 or 8:30 a.m.

In addition to personal anecdotes from tired families, research into teen sleep cycles and the effects of sleep deprivation on mental and physical health, as well as on behavior, safety, and academic, athletic and extracurricular performance have prompted the Board of Education to look into ways to balance healthier starting times with already established schedules.

At its meeting on Monday, September 29, the board is expected to announce a district goal to come up with plans that would allow Sag Harbor students to sleep later.

Busing logistics, both in the morning and to after-school sports, are often cited as the key reason schools start their days around dawn and end mid-afternoon. Sag Harbor’s head bus driver Maude Stevens said in an email Wednesday that she hasn’t been “approached by anyone in the district about time changes.”

In addition to pointing to scheduling obstacles, some opponents of later times express fear that teenagers will start going to bed later and parents who need to be at work by 9 a.m. will be unable to get their kids on the bus or drop them off. Those were the concerns raised upstate last year after Glen Falls High School changed its start time from 7:45 to 8:30 a.m. The school board narrowly voted to stand by the changes and in the first year, students’ grades improved, teachers said they were more alert in class and the percentage of students who were late for school dropped by nearly 30 percent.

“It can be done, because there’s a ton of school districts throughout this country that are showing us it can be done,” said Susan Lamontagne, a Sag Harbor parent who has been at the forefront of the national push for later start times for over four years. Some schools, she said, have early morning hours for families who need students dropped off earlier so parents can get to work. Research shows students with later start times aren’t going to bed any later, they are simply getting more sleep.

“It’ll be challenging,” Superintendent Katy Graves said of the potential switch, adding the board will be forming an ad-hoc committee “to look at what are all the challenges involved with the later start time and what are the pieces that we have to put in place to make a later start time happen.”

Mr. Reynolds tries a little harder to wake up Shane Hennessy on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Mr. Reynolds tries a little harder to wake up Shane Hennessy on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

At previous school board meetings, Vice President Chris Tice cited the research in support of later start times and encouraged the board to look into how it could be applied in Sag Harbor. Other board members appear to be supportive while acknowledging athletics as a major obstacle to a change.

“They’re listening to the community and they’re listening to the medical community and they’re saying, ‘Let’s see if we can make this work.’” Ms. Graves said of the board.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acknowledged the scheduling difficulties in an NPR interview last September during which he voiced his support for later start times.

“But at the end of the day,” he said, “I think it’s incumbent upon education leaders to not run school systems that work good for buses but that don’t work for students.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics also weighed in on the issue in a publication released last month, in which doctors recommended all American middle and high schools start after 8:30 a.m.

Calling insufficient sleep in adolescents “an important public health issue,” the academy urged schools to aim for later times that allow students to get at least eight and a half hours of sleep a night, in order to improve physical health and reduce obesity risk, improve mental health and lower rates of depression, increase safety by limiting car crashes caused by “drowsy driving” and improve academic performance and quality of life.

Pierson senior Zoe Vatash said she usually wakes up between 6 and 6:30 a.m. “which is late compared to some of my friends.”

“Teenagers need more sleep. Telling us to ‘just go to bed earlier’ isn’t realistic and isn’t working,” she said.

During teenage years, the body’s circadian rhythm shifts some three hours backward, making it nearly biologically impossible for teenagers to go to bed earlier than 11 p.m. and awake before 8 a.m.

“Because of the shift in their circadian rhythm, asking a teenager to perform well in a classroom during the early morning is like asking him or her to fly across the country and instantly adjust to the new time zone—and then do the same thing every night, for four years,” said David K. Randall, author of “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.”

On Shelter Island, school starts for all students at 8 a.m. Everyone rides the same bus, with elementary students in the front and middle and high schoolers in the back.

“Shelter Island is even smaller than Sag Harbor and often travel time to games can be quite long” with added travel time on ferries, said Jean Cowen, a Sag Harbor parent who was the guidance director for the Shelter Island School District for 25 years.

The school day on Shelter Island ends at 2:30 p.m. and teachers are contractually obligated to stay in their rooms until 3 p.m. to provide extra help, which many also do voluntarily from 7:30 to 8 a.m.

Senior Liam Rothwell-Pessino, who travels to Pierson from his home in Springs, wakes up for school before 5:30 a.m. “At least in theory,” he said. “Most days I hit the snooze button a few too many times.”

If he had gone to the Springs School, which has students in kindergarten through eighth grade, instead of Sag Harbor, Liam would have started school at 8:20 a.m. and gotten out at 3:10 p.m. Instead, he aims to leave home by 6:40 and get to school by 7:10 at the latest, in order to have time to stop by his locker and be in class before the 7:26 bell.

Sag Harbor parent Andrea Grover said the current schedule “negatively impacts an entire family, and I know we are not alone.” Her 12-year-old Lola wakes up at 6 a.m. to get to Pierson Middle School in time for the morning bell.

“Last year her lunch was at 10:15 a.m.; this year it’s mercifully one period later,” Ms. Grover said. “I drive her to school because it buys her an extra 30 minutes of sleep and because I don’t want her waiting for the bus on Noyac Road in the dark.”

After dropping Lola off, Ms. Grover heads home to wake up Gigi, her 9-year-old who attends the elementary school, then returns to town to drop her off by 8:35 a.m. when morning program starts.

“So from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. I am in transit between my children’s schools and my home, and then I finally head to work. I’d say we are often all sleep deprived,” said Ms. Grover, who added that out of the schools her children have attended in Texas, Pennsylvania and other towns in New York, Pierson Middle School starts the earliest. Ms. Grover said Lola tells her she is tired at least once a day.

Liam, the senior at Pierson, confirmed the condition: “Ask any high school student how they’re feeling and nine times out of 10 the response is, ‘I’m tired,’ or something along those lines. On a daily basis, I will see four middle school kids out of five holding a coffee cup walking down the hallway. That’s not even an exaggeration.”

Sag Harbor School Board Still Looking for Committee Members

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By Tessa Raebeck

Three primary goals for the 2014-15 school year were approved by the Sag Harbor Board of Education at a special meeting on Thursday, September 11.

The main goals, which encompass smaller, more specific items to be approved later, are: 1. Increase communication to become an engaged and active pathway for school and community; 2. Build, share and measure the tradition of each student achieving a successful “Sag Harbor School Experience;” and 3. Raise districtwide accountability to reinforce student and school success.

The subcommittee that helped articulate the board’s goals will reconvene this month to establish the smaller sub goals for the board to approve, which members hope will happen at the board’s next meeting on Monday, September 29.

Board liaisons and committee assignments were also approved at the meeting and administrators repeated the need for community members to come forward to also serve on committees. The district is looking for all members of the community—and especially those with related knowledge—to serve on the Athletic Committee, Communications Committee, Educational Facilities Planning Committee, Nutrition/Wellness, Health and Safety Committee and the Wall of Honor Committee. Interested candidates have been asked to send a letter of interest to District Clerk Mary Adamczyk at madamczyk@sagharborschools.org or Sag Harbor UFSD, 200 Jermain Avenue, by Monday, September 22.

Committee charters and more information are available on the district website.

Also at last Thursday’s meeting, the board approved a salary increase of $20,000 for Pierson Middle School Assistant Principal Brittany Miaritis, resulting in a total salary of $122,500.

The increase, Superintendent Katy Graves said, is “because when she was brought on board for our middle school, her salary was not in the competitive range because she was new to the program, and she has truly proven herself in the last year.”

“So, we will be seeing that increase in her salary to bring it to a competitive range, so that we can secure our team and move forward,” she continued. “We feel very excited about the challenges we will be facing for our middle school and a very exciting year ahead.”

Sag Harbor Students Fare Well on Standardized Tests

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Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

 

By Tessa Raebeck

While board meetings at the start of the school year can often be tense, the mood was light and cheerful Monday, September 8, as Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves updated the Board of Education on the district’s results on state assessments.

At the educational workshop, Ms. Graves, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols and Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone compiled an extensive presentation of history, graphs and raw data on Sag Harbor students’ test performances.

“I always caution everybody that it’s only one piece of what we’re looking at,” Ms. Graves said of the data. “We take our data and we bring it to our teachers and our teachers take us that next part of the way.”

Sag Harbor fared well out of the 64 districts in Eastern Suffolk BOCES that took standardized tests in 2014.

Out of those districts for ELA, Sag Harbor’s fourth grade ranked 11th, the fifth grade ranked fourth, the seventh grade ranked third, and the eighth grade ranked fifth.

Mr. Nichols said the sciences at the high school level are all strong.

“Much like at the middle school,” he said, “we far exceed the New York State average in every discipline with the exception of mathematics, which you’ll see we’re still on par with New York State, but certainly not performing at the level as you see in other disciplines.”

He added that after two years with the Common Core, “We’re seeing some patterns in the assessment results and we’re able to allocate resources accordingly to where we’re focusing.”

In an effort to raise math achievement, the district has added math specialists at the middle school and elementary school, as well as teaching assistants who are trained in specific areas to add to “key instructional times,” Mr. Malone said.

Instructional time in math for the sixth grade has been doubled and math exposure is increasing for all middle school students, Mr. Nichols said.

Standardized testing of New York State students dates back to 1865, when Regents exams were first administered as high school entrance exams. Younger students began being tested in reading and mathematics in 1966, in writing in 1983 and in science in 1989.

The required tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and math that students take in fourth and eighth grade began in 1999. After President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind” Act in 2003, which expanded the federal government’s role in student testing by requiring states to develop assessments in order to receive federal school funding, all states were mandated to administer ELA and mathematics tests for all students in grades three through eight and science tests twice, once during grades three and five and another time during grades six through nine. New York State chooses to administer the science exams in grades four and eight.

At present, Sag Harbor students are given the following state-mandated tests: the New York State Alternate Assessment (only for students with severe cognitive disabilities); one speaking test and one listening, reading and writing test for English as a Second Language students; ELA tests for students in grades three through eight; mathematics tests for students in grades three through eight; a science performance test for grade four; a science performance test for grade eight; a written science test for grade four; and a written science test for grade eight.

High school students are also required to take the following Regents exams, which are in the process of being aligned with the new Common Core curriculum: Grade 11 ELA; either integrated algebra or geometry or algebra II/trigonometry; grade 10 global history and geography; grade 11 U.S. history and government; and a choice of earth science, living environment, chemistry or physics.

Testing this year starts September 29 with the alternate assessment and runs through June 24 with the last Regents exam.

Implementation of new exams is usually done slowly, but New York’s recent switch to Common Core raised protests from administrators, parents, teachers and students across the board last year due to its fast implementation.

“It was a blindside to the educational community who were used to things being implemented in a fairly strategic fashion… Most teachers and most educators didn’t have a problem with the Common Core, they had a problem with the implementation and how that felt,” Ms. Graves said.

The first administration of the Common Core Geometry Assessment will be this year. In 2017, this year’s 10th graders will be the first grade required to pass the Common Core Regents Exams with a 65 percent passing grade in order to graduate and in 2022, this year’s fifth grade students will be the first required to pass the Common Core Regents exams at “aspirational performance levels” of 75 to 80 percent.

The administrators’ presentation on the data is available online.

Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

Sag Harbor School District Seeking Committee Members

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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.

Below is a letter sent by the Sag Harbor School District on Wednesday, September 10.

 

Members of the Sag Harbor Schools Family and Community Members,

The Board of Education invites you to become a member of one of the Board Committees below. Members of the community with the requisite knowledge may serve on a committee. You may review each committee’s charters by using this link. The committees are listed on the left side of the screen under “Committees.”

  • ? Athletic Committee
  • ? Communications Committee
  • Educational Facilities Planning Committee
  • Nutrition/Wellness, Health and Safety Committee
  • Wall of Honor Committee

Please send or email a letter of intent by September 22, 2014 to:

Mary Adamczyk, District Clerk, madamczyk@sagharborschools.org

Sag Harbor UFSD, 200 Jermain Avenue, Sag Harbor, NY 11963

 

Sincerely,

Theresa M. Samot

Board President

New Athletics Director for Sag Harbor a Veteran of Pierson’s Fields

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Social studies teacher Donnelly McGovern was appointed as Sag Harbor's athletics director on Monday, August 25. Photo courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

Social studies teacher Donnelly McGovern was appointed as Sag Harbor’s athletics director on Monday, August 25. Photo courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Sag Harbor School Board appointed Sag Harbor teacher and coach Donnelly McGovern as the district’s new director of athletics, health, wellness, personnel and supervisor of physical education on Monday, August 25.

Mr. McGovern has taught middle, high school and college-level social studies classes at Pierson Middle/High School for the past 20 years. He has also worked in the past as an assistant principal and as an athletics coach for boys’ varsity soccer.

Mr. McGovern will continue as a teacher while also acting as athletics director part-time. Starting Tuesday, September 2, he will act as an athletics director for 60-percent of his work week and as a social studies teacher for the remaining 40 percent.

He is being paid at his Sag Harbor salary as a teacher, which is $130,466, with an additional stipend of $15,378. Mr. McGovern, who is certified as a school district administrator, will serve a three-year probationary term that ends September 1, 2017.

Mr. McGovern is filling the position left open by Todd Gulluscio’s resignation in May. After less than two years in the position, Mr. Gulluscio accepted an administrative post in the school district on his native Shelter Island. Since longtime athletic director Nick DeCillis left in 2007, the board has struggled to hold onto an athletic director; there have been six ,including Mr. Gulluscio, in the seven years since.

“I am extremely happy to continue working with the students and families at Pierson and Sag Harbor,” Mr. McGovern said in a press release.

“Donnelly McGovern has been an outstanding member of our faculty and we are confident that his level of character and dedication to our students will benefit everyone in our school community,” said Superintendent Katy Graves. “After an extensive search and interview process, we determined that the best candidate for the job was already a member of the Sag Harbor family.”

“The board,” added board president Theresa Samot, “is thrilled to appoint Donnelly McGovern as the district’s athletic director. Mr. McGovern’s leadership skills, as well as his wealth of experience building athletic programs, make him an excellent asset to our district.”

Also on Monday, the school board created the administrative position of director of physical education and appointed Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols to fill that position as part of his regular duties.

“What will be happening is Donnelly McGovern will be doing all the supervising of the K through 12 physical education programs” and make recommendations to Mr. Nichols on anything that has to be reported to the New York State Department of Education, Ms. Graves said Tuesday.

Although Mr. McGovern will be doing all of the supervising of the physical education programs, a person with physical education certification, which Mr. McGovern does not yet have, needs to be responsible for reporting anything to the state. Mr. Nichols volunteered to take over those duties without extra pay.

“So, Donnelly will make recommendations to him and Jeff will do all the reporting to New York State cause he has appropriate certifications,” Ms. Graves explained. “So, it was nice cooperative work on his part to make sure we got the best man on the job.”

Sag Harbor School Board Appoints New Member

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Sag Harbor school board members and new School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi watch as new board member Thomas J. Schiavoni is sworn in by District Clerk Mary Adamczyk Monday in the Pierson Middle/High School library. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

Thomas J. Schiavoni was sworn in as the Sag Harbor School District's newest board member by District Clerk Mary Adamczyk on Monday, August 18. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Thomas J. Schiavoni was sworn in as the Sag Harbor School District’s newest board member by District Clerk Mary Adamczyk on Monday, August 18. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

The Sag Harbor Board of Education appointed Thomas J. Schiavoni of North Haven as its newest member on Monday, following the resignation of Daniel Hartnett mid-term last month.

Mr. Schiavoni, who teaches middle and high school social studies in the Center Moriches School District, is active in volunteer and civil service groups throughout town. He is also the newest village trustee in North Haven Village, having been elected June 17. He is a former member of the village Zoning Board of Appeals, past president and treasurer of the Bay Haven Association and an active member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department.

A lifetime resident of the village known around town as Tommy John, Mr. Schiavoni is married to Southampton Town and Sag Harbor Village Justice Andrea Schiavoni. The couple has two children in the district, Anna and Thomas Jr.

After Mr. Hartnett, was required to leave the board due to residency issues, the board had several options on how to move forward.

At its July 28 meeting, the board, citing the advice of its attorney, Thomas Volz, outlined its options as follows: Holding a full interim election to allow the community to vote for the candidate; not filling the empty seat, which could allow the New York State Education Commissioner Roger King to fill the position for the board if he chose to do so; and screening applicants to choose a candidate who would serve until the next election, on May 18, 2015.

Following the precedent of similar situations in the past, both in Sag Harbor and at neighboring districts like East Hampton, the board chose to solicit the community for interested parties, screen applicants and appoint its newest member.

In a press release issued on July 30, the board announced it would accept applications and appoint a community member to fill the position. The deadline for applications was Monday, August 11, with the goal of presenting a candidate at the next scheduled meeting August 18, a deadline that was met today.

The school board said Monday that, after screening four interested candidates, its decision to appoint Mr. Schiavoni was unanimous.

“It was an unwelcome task to have to fill the vacancy of Dan Hartnett, whose insight and input was universally valued by this body and the community at large,” board member David Diskin, who was not in attendance, said in a statement read aloud by Theresa Samot, president of the board. “However, because of legal advice we were obligated to fill this spot.”

“Tommy John Schiavoni,” he continued, “is a man of character and integrity and has relevant and valuable experience for our school district. I am sure the board will be well-served by his presence as a trustee.”

Mr. Diskin added he is hopeful Mr. Schiavoni will seek re-election to a standard three-year term in the annual community-wide elections in May 2015.

Diana Kolhoff, a new board member who also did not attend Monday’s meeting, said in a statement she was pleased with the candidates who came forward. She said she hopes the candidates, who all “have a lot to offer to the school and to the board,” will be willing to serve on committees and find other ways to be involved.

Ms. Kolhoff added she is in “total agreement” with her fellow board members and that Mr. Schiavoni’s commitment to education is clear.

“We were very fortunate to have four people in the community that were so qualified to step up,” added Chris Tice, vice president of the board, who also reiterated Ms. Kolhoff’s sentiments on how she hoped the candidates who were not selected would seek other ways to be involved.

“I am delighted that you are going to be joining the board,” Ms. Tice told Mr. Schiavoni. She said the board really valued Mr. Hartnett’s participation as a colleague due to his experience working in the East Hampton School District and that she is “very confident that Tommy John will continue to help us with that as well.”

“It’s an honor to have you serve with us,” added board member Sandi Kruel, “to have you serve with us, to bring what you’re going to bring to the table—which is definitely an educational piece, which is what Dan [brought]. Those are really big shoes to fill, but I don’t think for one minute you’re going to have any problem filling those shoes.”

After the board unanimously passed the resolution to appoint Mr. Schiavoni, District Clerk Mary Adamczyk swore in the new trustee, who took his seat at the table behind a shiny new name plaque.

Sag Harbor School District’s New Business Administrator Excited About Small Town Possibilities

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Jennifer-Buscemi

Jennifer Buscemi.

By Tessa Raebeck

After managing a budget of just under $100 million, a staff of about 900 and seven separate school buildings, school business official Jennifer Buscemi is grateful to be coming to Sag Harbor.

The Sag Harbor Board of Education wasted little time in appointing Ms. Buscemi on July 28 to the school business administrator position vacated by John O’Keefe in early July. She comes to Sag Harbor from the West Babylon School District, where she served as executive director for finance and operations for nearly three years.

“I was basically looking for a change,” Ms. Buscemi said in a phone interview on Tuesday, August 5.

With about 4,200 students, a $99.3 million budget and a payroll of about 900 full- and part-time employees, West Babylon is a “fairly large school district,” she said—and monstrous when compared to those on the East End.

Sag Harbor, in turn, has about 1,000 students and, at $36.8 million, this year’s operating budget is slightly over a third of the size of West Babylon’s.

“There were many projects and many things that I wanted to accomplish over the years at my other school district that I just couldn’t move forward on, because there was just so much to do… I spent a lot of time constantly putting out fires,” Ms. Buscemi said of her previous position. “So, I was really looking for something on a smaller scale, so that I would be able to go ahead and move forward on those projects that I’ve always been thinking of doing.”

Once settled in Sag Harbor, Ms. Buscemi hopes to spend time looking at programs and doing “a lot of cost-benefit analysis,” as well as finding new sources of revenue.

“These are all the things that I want to sort of delve into, but I could never do that in such a large school district. So, I’m hoping to be able to get to do that here in Sag Harbor,” she said.

Attracted to the village’s “small town feel” and the options it affords her professionally, she plans on moving to the East End once her husband, Frank, retires, which he’s planning on doing sometime in the next one to three years.

Ms. Buscemi received her bachelor’s degree, with a major in accounting and a minor in economics, from Queens College in Flushing. She went on to Dowling College in Oakdale, where she earned a master of business administration degree in Public Management, and advanced certificates in Human Resource Management and School District Business Administration.

Prior to joining the West Babylon School District in 2011, she worked as an intern in the business office of the Commack Union Free School District for a year in order to fulfill advanced certificate requirements.

This past May in West Babylon, the district attempted to pierce the state-mandated 2-percent tax levy cap.

“We tried to pierce the tax cap because we didn’t want to make drastic cuts to programs and that’s what we were faced with,” Ms. Buscemi said of the decision. “The board wanted to move forward with trying to pierce it, but because of the property tax rate this year, I think a lot of voters came out and, unfortunately, the budget got voted down.”

With 51.3-percent voter approval, the district was shy of the 60-percent supermajority required to pierce the cap.

“So, what we did,” she explained, “was we revised the budget. We did end up reducing some programs, but from out of nowhere [State Senator Phil Boyle] was able to find $125,000 for us to restore those programs. So, we were able to go into the June 17 vote with a reduced budget that was within the cap and everyone was eligible for their property tax rebate check at that point.

On its second go-round, West Babylon’s budget passed with over 70-percent voter approval.

Although Sag Harbor has not yet had to ask voters to pierce the cap, Ms. Buscemi believes the tax cap will continue to be a challenge for all of New York’s school districts.

“I think every district is just going to have to rethink the way they’re providing programs at this point. [Governor Andrew Cuomo] wants us to find efficiencies and cost savings and be able to share services. So, eventually…we’re going to have to move in that direction,” she said.

Aside from size, another significant difference between Sag Harbor and West Babylon is the extent of state aid given to the districts.

“In my previous district, we relied very heavily on state aid, so whenever the governor’s budget came out, whenever the governor’s proposal came out, it was a real defining moment for us during the budget process, because if we did not get a decent increase in state aid, we were done,” Ms. Buscemi said.

“So, I have to say,” she continued, “in Sag Harbor, what is unique is that we don’t rely on state aid as much; I think less than 5 percent of our budget is funded through state aid… It’s a real community school, because the funding comes 100 percent pretty much—95 percent—from the tax levy.”

Unlike most school districts, especially those up-island (East End school districts have historically received less state aid than others on Long Island because of their high property values), Sag Harbor taxpayers bear most of the financial burden. Although this can be tough on residents, it means the district doesn’t have to deal with the unpredictability of being supported primarily by the state.

“They have to deal with fluctuations in state aid and when state aid does go down, that could mean drastic reductions,” explained Ms. Buscemi.

A self-described “numbers person,” Ms. Buscemi first gained administrative and financial management experience in state government. She was part of the management team at the New York State Comptroller’s Office and worked as a tax auditor for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

“I’m very, very analytical, so I love the fact that I’m doing something that is very rewarding,” she said. “Because, ultimately, we’re benefitting students; we’re providing really great educational opportunities and programs, and I know that whatever I do in all of my work on a daily basis is contributing to that.”

“When I worked as a state auditor,” she continued, “the job just was not as rewarding as [working in schools]. It was sort of like a thankless job. No one ever liked us coming in, no one ever liked us leaving, no one was happy to hear from us.”

“But when you work for a school district as a business official,” she continued, “every single thing you do is contributing to the benefit of the students, which is really great. So, at the end of the day, you feel like you actually did something wonderful and accomplished something.”

In Wake of Resignation, Sag Harbor School Board Will Appoint New Member

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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

Following the resignation of board member Daniel Hartnett two weeks ago because he is moving out of the district, the Sag Harbor Board of Education decided on Monday, July 28, that it would interview candidates for the newly vacant seat on the board.

The board discussed three options at Monday’s business meeting: Having a full interim election to allow the community to vote for the candidate; not filling the empty seat, which would allow the New York State Education Commissioner Roger King to fill the seat for the board if he so chooses; and appointing a candidate of its own choosing who would serve until May 18, 2015.

Citing similar situations in the past, board president Theresa Samot recommended the board interview potential candidates and choose a new member.

Ms. Samot said the first option of holding an interim election is “a costly one,” adding, “I don’t think we want to leave it open to the commissioner to appoint someone who may not be familiar with the workings of the board.”

The board’s vice president, Chris Tice, said most districts on Long Island that are currently facing “this challenge or opportunity” seem to opt for the board appointing a new member. She added that was the decision recently made by the East Hampton School District, which saw its president Patricia Hope resign this month.

“Unless it’s a month before an election… there’s almost no districts now that are spending the money to have elections and few districts are leaving it open,” Ms. Tice said.

Board member David Diskin said he was torn over the decision. He said although his heart always feels an election is the best choice, the financial and legal implications make him think it’s the wisest choice to fill the position as a board.

“I’ll concede to the will of the board on that one,” Mr. Diskin said.

“I’m for the appointment,” said school board member Sandi Kruel. “The election, I think, is just too costly and time-consuming. The only time I think you should leave a board position open is if there’s a very short period of time before the next election.”

The next scheduled school board election will not be held until late May.

Ms. Kruel added that this will be her seventh appointment in reaction to a resignation during her tenure as a board member, “so that’s the way it’s been done since I’ve been on the board so far.”

The board agreed unanimously to appoint its next member and expressed the hope that as many applicants as possible will come forward. Board members discussed ways to get the word out to all members of the community; even those who are outside the “school family” and do not regularly use social media.

“I would love to see a ton of applicants,” Mr. Diskin said. “I don’t want to choose between a handful of people because people didn’t know about it.”

During public input, former board member Mary Anne Miller expressed her support of a public vote.

“We should try very hard to let the public decide the board members,” said Ms. Miller, adding she believes a lot of community members would support a vote despite the cost.

She said while the annual 14-hour election in May costs upward of $7,000, the district could consider holding an election on a smaller scale.

In an email Tuesday, July 29, Ms. Miller said the district could keep the polls open less than 14 hours, use one machine, which would cost $550 to rent, as opposed to three, or consider using paper ballots to save on the machine rental altogether.

Ms. Miller said in the September vote held on behalf of the John Jermain Memorial Library, polls are open 10 hours, only two machines are rented and the vote does not include newsletters and associated postage fees. According to estimates given by former Superintendent Dr. John Gratto in 2012, a special election similar to the library vote would cost an estimated $3,841, as opposed to the $7,655 he estimated for a standard, larger vote.

Ms. Miller’s remarks were made after the decision to move forward with interviews had already been made by the board.

The deadline to submit applications to be the newest member of the Sag Harbor school board is Monday, August 11. The BOE is hopeful it will have a candidate by the next scheduled board meeting, Monday, August 18.

Click here to access the school district’s release on the position.