Tag Archive | "sag harbor board of education"

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.

Sag Harbor Voters Pass School Budget; Samot, Kruel and Kolhoff Elected to School Board

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Sandi Kruel celebrates being reelected to the Sag Harbor School Board with Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio and interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso after polls close in the Pierson gymnasium Tuesday, May 20. Photo by Michael Heller.

Sandi Kruel celebrates being reelected to the Sag Harbor School Board with Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio and interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso after polls close in the Pierson gymnasium Tuesday, May 20. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Sag Harbor voters easily passed the school district’s $36.8 million budget for the 2014-15 school year and reelected two incumbents, Sandi Kruel and Theresa Samot, and first-time candidate Diana Kolhoff to the Board of Education.

The budget passed by a 72-percent margin, 578 to 222. Turnout was lower than usual with 800 ballots cast, compared to last year’s approximately 1,100.

The budget represents an increase of $1.36 million, or 3.83 percent, in spending from last year.

With a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, the spending plan came in below the states 1.51 percent tax levy cap for the district, which is determined by district-specific calculations. The total amount of the spending increase to be raised by taxes is $484,543.

For Sag Harbor homeowners of a house valued at $1 million, the monthly tax bill is projected to increase by $5.83 in Southampton and $5.80 in East Hampton.

Under new legislation announced by Governor Cuomo, STAR-eligible homeowners in Sag Harbor will qualify for a rebate. Homeowners are eligible if their house is their primary residence and the owners’ combined annual income is $500,000 or less. Since the district will stay under the New York State mandated tax cap on property taxes, it is allowed to grant a rebate to eligible homeowners in October.

Incumbents Sandi Kruel and Theresa Samot congratulate each other on their reelection to the Sag Harbor School Board. Photo by Michael Heller.

Incumbents Sandi Kruel and Theresa Samot congratulate each other on their reelection to the Sag Harbor School Board. Photo by Michael Heller.

 

School Board Elections

In the race for three seats on the Board of Education, incumbents Theresa Samot, Sandi Kruel and newcomer Diana Kolhoff secured positions.

Sag Harbor residents were allowed to vote for three candidates.

Ms. Samot, the current president of the board, came in first with 587 votes, and Ms. Kruel, who will begin her fourth term on the board, came in second with 526 votes.

A newcomer, Ms. Kolhoff earned 503 votes, earning the final position on the school board. With 346 votes, challenger Thomas Ré fell short of securing a seat.

There were also a handful of write-in votes: John Battle had three votes, Stephen Clark had two and Mary Anne Miller, a longtime school board member who decided not to pursue another term, had one write-in vote.

The three seats were left up for grabs by the expiration of Ms. Kruel’s, Ms. Samot’s and Ms. Miller’s three-year terms.

“I’m just so excited,” Ms. Samot said after the results were announced Tuesday night in the Pierson Middle-High School gymnasium. “It’s really, I think, a new chapter in the Sag Harbor School District, with the new superintendent and the building project and all the good things that are happening, the expansion of the IB program.”

“So, I’m just so excited to be part of it and I want to thank the community for their support,” she added.

“I’m excited,” Ms. Kruel said in between hugs with administrators and fellow board members. “I’m excited going forward. I’m excited with what we’ve done and about moving forward with the new superintendent—and making our schools greater than they already are.”

Having moved to Sag Harbor about five years ago, Ms. Kolhoff is new to the school board, but has two daughters attending the Sag Harbor Elementary School. She and her husband, Randy, own Black Swan Antiques.

Ms. Kolhoff worked as a high school math teacher for 12 years and is currently a mathematics education consultant. She trains grade school teachers in best instructional practices and aids them in the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards.

“I got into mathematics because I like solving problems and I’m good at it,” Ms. Kolhoff said at a Meet the Candidates forum earlier this month. “So, if elected, that’s what I would like to do. Whatever problem comes up, let’s figure it out and find a good solution.”

The new board members will begin their three-year terms July 1 and stay on until June 30, 2017.

Meet the Candidates: Four Hopefuls for the Sag Harbor School Board

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Moderator Bryan Boyhan (left) with the candidates for the Sag Harbor Board of Education: Incumbent Sandi Kruel, challenger Thomas R, challenger Diana Kolhoff and Incumbent Theresa Samot, at the Meet the Candidates night, Thursday, May 8. Photo by Michael Heller.

Moderator Bryan Boyhan (left) with the candidates for the Sag Harbor Board of Education: Incumbent Sandi Kruel, challenger Thomas Ré, challenger Diana Kolhoff and Incumbent Theresa Samot, at the Meet the Candidates night, Thursday, May 8. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Two incumbents and two challengers vying for three spots on the Sag Harbor School Board debated last Wednesday, May 7, at the annual Meet the Candidates forum at the Sag Harbor Elementary School.

The candidates, Diana Kolhoff, Sandi Kruel, Thomas Ré and Theresa Samot, were allowed one-minute answers and optional 30-second responses during the forum, which was moderated by Sag Harbor Express consultant and publisher emeritus Bryan Boyhan and hosted by the PTA and PTSA.

Newcomer Diana Kolhoff, 41, was a high school math teacher for 12 years. She now owns Black Swan Antiques and works as an educational consultant, providing professional development for math teachers, especially in the Common Core standards.

“I’ve served districts all over Suffolk County, but I’m most rewarded when I serve the district that’s educating my children,” Ms. Kolhoff said.

Incumbent Sandi Kruel, 51, graduated from Pierson High School and will see her second of three sons do the same this spring. She served on the board from 1999 to 2005, then took six years off but “still maintained probably 80-percent attendance at board meetings,” she said, until her return in 2011.

Another challenger, Thomas Ré, 62, an attorney, has a daughter at Pierson. He has served on several school committees, including the long-range financial planning committee, and is active in the Sag Harbor Coalition.

“I bring new ideas and perhaps new ways that could be very useful to the school,” he said, adding he has commitment to the school and its children “before all else.”

Current school board President Theresa Samot is completing her ninth year on the board. A graduate of Pierson, Ms. Samot has had three daughters go through the district, with her youngest currently in 11th grade. She works in healthcare administration as a nurse.

Mr. Boyhan asked the candidates for their thoughts about how Common Core was implemented in New York and whether they believe the new curriculum should be changed in any way.

“The Common Core has, initially, not been orchestrated nor implemented very well,” Mr. Ré replied. “The thought was there, the protocol was there, but the preparation and the training—both of the teachers and also the materials that were necessary—I think had not been done well.”

“I actually have a bit of expertise on this,” Ms. Kolhoff said. “There’s a lot of issues that surround Common Core that get mixed in with Common Core that actually have nothing to do with Common Core. The standards themselves are excellent, the way the modules were introduced definitely has some hiccups.”

“The idea and the concepts behind the Common Core were certainly good ones in the goal of advancing and standardizing education across the state,” Ms. Samot agreed, although she said there were many unfunded mandates that proved challenging. “I am very confident in the way our administrative staff and teaching staff were able to pull together.”

“It’s not the first time that the state has mandated us and said, ‘Here’s this, do this and by the way, you have no money to do this,’” said Ms. Kruel, adding the district has been “very proactive” in meeting the challenges of implementation. “I feel like a rigorous program is great and I want our children to be challenged, but if they’re going to challenge our children, they have to help us with budgeting for it and smoothing out a textbook.”

Mr. Boyhan asked the candidates whether they believe the state should continue with the mandated cap on property taxes once it expires in 2016.

“It would be nice to have a little more flexibility, but we have to see where the economy goes. I can understand where the spirit of the tax cap came in,” Ms. Kolhoff replied. “Ultimately, funding of the schools is up to the community, what burden they’re willing to bear, so that issue needs to go out to the voters.”

“I do not think the state should continue with the tax cap in 2016,” Ms. Samot said. With many unfunded mandates, Ms. Samot said it will be “more and more difficult” for Sag Harbor to stay under the cap while maintaining its programs and staff. She stressed the need for continued long range planning with community input.

“The tax cap takes away the local control,” she added. “The local community should be in control of their school district and that includes the spending and the programs that they want in place.”

The tax cap “was quite frightening for all of us and we have managed to stay under it,” said Ms. Kruel. “It is going to start to decimate programs and the teachers, that’s not what the Sag Harbor community is about. I do think that it’s going to be problematic for us.”

“We’ve actually gained a lot of trust throughout the community that we’ve been able to do this, but I think it has not been easy,” she said, adding later, “With or without a tax cap, it’s important to me to be respectful for all of our taxpayers.”

“The concept of a tax cap or limitation on financial matters is a good idea,” said Mr. Ré. “It should be examined in terms of the percentage, I understand how it was originally derived, but I think that that can be refined.”

Mr. Ré added he would like to see “a much longer range plan” of three to five years and the district should look into other options, such as grants and new programs, to secure funding.

Referencing the budget tightening under the tax cap, Mr. Boyhan said many districts are looking toward shared services as a way of saving money and asked the candidates for new ideas of how Sag Harbor could share services.

Ms. Samot said the board is planning on hosting a program with its administrators and neighboring districts to look at ways they could share services. She said some of those savings could come from personnel areas, sharing sports or sharing “some of our more advanced programs.”

“There’s going to come a time when we’re going to have to sit down with the smaller districts and consolidation is going to be inevitable,” Ms. Kruel said.

Rather than viewing consolidation as failure, she said, other districts need to be on board and “understand that uniting with us makes the district stronger and better.”

Mr. Ré agreed consolidation is going to have to happen at some point. Excellence, he said, would draw the parents and encourage them to rationally pressure their district “to find a way to work together in a consolidation.”

“If we’re going to look at consolidation,” Ms. Kolhoff said, “we really need to explore what our options are, how much money it would save us, what are the benefits, what are the detriments.”

“Consolidation needs to be on the table, but I’m not willing to commit one way or another without more information,” she added, adding it is “absolutely worth exploring.”

All four candidates agreed the research supports later school start times and such a change would be beneficial to Sag Harbor’s children, although they also recognized with sports schedules and other logistical constraints, the district would need to be creative if it were to change its times.

The candidates also unanimously favored pursuing more green initiatives within the schools.

The Sag Harbor school board budget vote and elections will be held Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson gymnasium.

New Superintendent Katy Graves Discusses Her Vision for Sag Harbor

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The Sag Harbor School Board welcomed the district's new superintendent at its meeting April 23. From left: Board members Daniel Hartnett and David Diskin, Superintendent Katy Graves, board member Susan Kinsella, President Theresa Samot, board member Sandi Kruel, Vice President Chris Tice and board member Mary Anne Miller. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

The Sag Harbor School Board welcomed the district’s new superintendent at its meeting April 23. From left: Board members Daniel Hartnett and David Diskin, Superintendent Katy Graves, board member Susan Kinsella, President Theresa Samot, board member Sandi Kruel, Vice President Chris Tice and board member Mary Anne Miller. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

When searching for a new job last year, Katy Graves saw more than 70 superintendent positions available, but she only applied to one: Sag Harbor.

“Absolutely what piqued my interest was the size of the community and the size of the school,” Ms. Graves said Monday.

Sag Harbor’s new superintendent of schools, who will begin a three-year contract on July 1 at an initial annual salary of $215,000, said she applied to Sag Harbor “because it’s what I know. I know small towns.”

Ms. Graves’s current district, the Stamford Central School District in the Catskill Mountains, is a small rural school district with one school building housing about 370 students in pre-k through 12th grade.

Sag Harbor is larger than Stamford, with a proposed enrollment of 1,030 for the 2014-15 school year, but offers the tight-knit community she was searching for.

“I really wanted small, because in a small district, you still have the connection with children,” she said. “And I think for real school improvement and to get every student to their personal best, you need that connection with children. You really need to have that real interaction between mom and dad and the family and be at concerts and be at ball games.”

Ms. Graves, a mother of four with one child with special needs, has served in public schools as a teacher, administrator and board member during her career in education.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the past two school years, will pass the reins to Ms. Graves and provide guidance during the transition.

“Sag Harbor obviously has been a very strong school district that has great ties to the community and what my number-one goal is is to listen and learn initially,” said Ms. Graves. “I’m going to work on getting to know the administrative team, getting to know the community, getting to know the teachers and the staff and especially getting to know the students, because you don’t ever want to go in and fix something that’s not broken. And sometimes the things that work the best in the school district aren’t seen to a new leader.”

Prior to joining the Stamford district in 2012, for four years Ms. Graves served as assistant superintendent for the Windham-Ashland-Jewett Central School District in Windham, a rural resort community upstate with a population of less than 2,000.

She was also principal of the Otego Elementary School, assistant principal and placement coordinator for ONC (Otsego Northern Catskills) BOCES and a home economics teacher for 12 years.

One school, which Ms. Graves chose not to name, had just been placed on the state education department’s Schools in Need of Improvement list and was ranked as the county’s lowest performing school when she entered the district.

“You don’t want to make radical changes,” she said, “but I worked with the staff to say, ‘Hey, we have [two years to get off the list], let’s work as a team, let’s work together—what is working and where do we see parts that are fragile?’”

By looking at where the district was doing well and building on those successes, Ms. Graves said she and her team had the school not only off of the list, but also ranked as the highest performing school in the county’s 19 districts.

Ms. Graves uses an asset-based approach, where, rather than focusing solely on the problem areas, administrators look for a school’s strengths and build upon them.

The new superintendent has a certificate of advanced graduate study in educational leadership, a master’s degree in health science education and a bachelor of science degree in home economics and clinical dietetics.

“My first week in the classroom, I just knew I loved it. It didn’t mean I was great at it right away, but I just loved it, I loved working with the kids, I loved the atmosphere,” she said.

The international baccalaureate , currently being expanded in Sag Harbor, is not offered at Stamford, but Ms. Graves said she is familiar with it.

“It’s great because it gives students a global perspective and it gives them an opportunity to think about their thinking and, of course, it also builds in the community service piece, which I really love,” she said.

“I found that students really thrived doing volunteer work and really got to ‘Velcro’ to community members and that community members got to see students in a different light,” she said of her early work as a Key Club advisor, adding that as an administrator, she always tries to ensure kids are doing volunteer work.

Of the Common Core curriculum, an issue of much debate across the state, Ms. Graves said, “It has excellent pieces, but how it was introduced was just a huge burden for our teachers and for our school districts… and it made it hard to defend… and then it was being evaluated at the same time it was being introduced, so I think that made it very, very sad.”

Under Ms. Graves’s direction, Stamford has not had to pierce the state tax cap on the property taxes a school district can levy, in part because it worked with the neighboring Jefferson Central School District.

“We’re sharing managements between the two school districts, we’re sharing teachers, we’re sharing bus runs, we’re doing a lot of sharing so that we have been able to step back from piercing the tax cap,” she said.

In addition to hosting office hours for community members to come meet her when she comes to Sag Harbor, Ms. Graves intends to go out to specific stakeholders in the community and meet with them.

“You go to the parades, you go to the events in town and you just make yourself available to talk to folks so they know who you are,” she said.

One way she makes herself visible to students is by going around to all the classrooms and introducing herself as the person who decides snow days.

“Once the kids know that you have a job, that you decide snow days, they will introduce you to their grandparents and their parents in the community,” said Ms. Graves, adding she wants everyone to feel comfortable “approaching you and talking to you and getting to know you.”

 

Sag Harbor School Board Budget Finalized, Parking Still Under Discussion

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Members and mentors of the Pierson Robotics team were among the range of Pierson students recognized at the Sag Harbor School Board's meeting May 6. In addition to the robotics team, recently returned from a national championship, the board congratulated and recognized students who participated in the NYSSMA musical competition, were inducted or are members in the National Honor Society and who performed in last week's production of "Fantasticks," which everyone agreed was "fantastic." Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Members and mentors of the Pierson Robotics team were among the range of Pierson people recognized at the Sag Harbor School Board’s meeting May 6. In addition to the robotics team, recently returned from a national championship, the board congratulated and recognized students who participated in the NYSSMA musical competition, were inducted or are members in the National Honor Society and those who performed in last week’s production of “Fantasticks,” which everyone agreed was “fantastic.” Photo by Zoe Vatash.

By Tessa Raebeck

In an effort to address questions and inform the public about a $36.8 million proposed budget, the Sag Harbor School Board of Education will bring its 2014-15 budget plan to community forums this month.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and John O’Keefe, the district’s business administrator, will visit the Noyac Civic Council on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The duo will also make a presentation at the Sag Harbor Elementary School following morning program on Wednesday at 9 a.m., again that day at 2:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle-High School library and at 3:30 p.m. in the elementary school library. While the latter two sessions have been scheduled for staff, school board vice president Chris Tice said Tuesday that members of the public are welcome and encouraged to attend any of the presentations.

This year, the average proposed school tax increases in New York are dropping below 2 percent for the first time in over 40 years, with an average of 1.83 percent on Long Island and 2.01 percent statewide, according to Newsday, due to the pressures of a state-mandated cap on the property taxes a school district can levy.

Some expenses, such as employee pension costs, are exempt from the calculations, so each district’s individual cap limit varies, based on those exemptions and other factors like voter-approved construction costs.

For Sag Harbor, the tax levy cap is lower than average at 1.51 percent.

The proposed 2014-15 budget has a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, with an increase of $1,360,881 or 3.83 percent in spending from last year. The monthly impact on a house valued at $1 million is projected to be an increase of $5.83 in Southampton and $5.80 in East Hampton.

“This budget is the result of some key strategic planning that has gone on over the years,” said BOE member Daniel Hartnett at a budget hearing Tuesday night. “You can’t get to this point—with, frankly, low budget numbers, preservation of staff, preservation of program, in fact, some incremental building—without strategic planning.”

The budget and school board vote, for which all registered voters in the school district can cast ballots, is Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson gymnasium. On Thursday, May 8, at 7 p.m. the district will also host a candidates forum in the elementary school gym. There are three school board seats up for election. Incumbents Theresa Samot and Sandi Kruel are seeking re-election with Diana Kolhoff and Thomas Re also vying for seats.

In other school news, several board members who served on the Educational Facilities Planning Committee again brought up the issue of parking. At its last meeting, the board voted to move forward with a parking plan that would add minimal spaces, compromising with a group of residents and Pierson neighbors who were worried the original plans would encroach on Pierson Hill, discourage alternative modes of transportation and ruin their view.

Board member Susan Kinsella asked the board to consider going with a larger option, but having half asphalt parking and half “grass parking,” referencing a presentation on Eco-Raster, a permeable paver that is a green alternative to asphalt, that Gordon Herr made to the board in March.

“I just think it’s a wiser plan, I think it’s more responsible,” said Ms. Kinsella, adding the plan would increase parking while sustaining the green vista.

“I think when the community truly realizes that you’re spending $220,000 to lose 10 parking spots to make it pretty, it’s not what they voted for. Sorry,” added Trustee Sandi Kruel.

Under the current plan, seven spaces would be lost in the Jermain Avenue parking lot, with the potential of adding three, pending the relocation of a tree. Ten spaces would be added at the Division Street lot by filling in the tree wells there, so the net gain of the entire project is three to six spots.

“At the end of the day, those members [of the community] should have been there for the last three years, not the last three minutes,” Ms. Kruel said.

Ms. Kinsella and Ms. Kruel, adamant that the committee they served on had intended to increase parking, asked the board to consider the half grass, half asphalt plan.

Mr. O’Keefe said in addition to bidding the smaller lot as the primary, they could “bid the green as an alternative” and “see how that would work out.”

“I think that would do wonders on building a bridge back to the center on this very difficult discussion for many, many years,” said Mary Anne Miller, a longtime board member.

Sag Harbor Village and School Officials Make Strides to Improve Drop-Off Situation at Pierson

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Pierson Middle-High School in Sag Harbor.

Pierson Middle-High School in Sag Harbor.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Sag Harbor Village Police Department and administrators at Pierson Middle-High School have teamed together to address the pick-up and drop-off problems at the school and, after years of confusion, congestion and concerns over safety, administrators say the issue has been resolved.

“Things are going—I think they’re going much better,” Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols said Wednesday.

Parents contacted The Sag Harbor Express in January voicing fears that the lack of organization on the Division Street side of Pierson Middle-High School during the morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up of students, with the haphazard movement of children and cars, would result in an inevitable accident.

In March, the Board of Education hosted a traffic safety workshop, inviting community members, village officials and Police Chief Tom Fabiano to brainstorm a collaborative solution.

At that meeting, Chief Fabiano said he would have to discuss the possibility of adding a village crossing guard with the village board in September. It appears, however, that process was expedited, as the village has appointed Kathy Carlozzi to monitor the situation.

Ms. Carlozzi is present along the entrance to the Division Street parking lot from 7 to 7:30 a.m. and from roughly 2:10 to 2:35 p.m., according to Mr. Nichols.

In the morning, two members of Pierson’s custodial department are stationed along the bus drop-off zone on Division Street from 7 to 7:30 a.m.

School security guard John Ali, formerly the only person officially manning drop-off and pick-up, remains in the Division Street lot “moving traffic along in there as he always has,” Mr. Nichols said.

On the opposite side of the school at the Jermain Street lot, Steve McLoughlin, the security guard from Sag Harbor Elementary School, is stationed facilitating drop-off from 7 to 7:35 a.m.

Mr. Nichols said roughly between 25 and 35 vehicles utilize that side of the building and a monitor supervises the Jermain Street entrance between 7 and 7:30 a.m., after which it is locked.

For those who park along Montauk Avenue, the school has opened up that back entrance, which allows students to enter through the cafeteria. It is supervised by the cafeteria staff between 7 and 7:30 a.m. and likewise locked afterwards, with the primary entrance on Division Street being the only accessible way to enter the school during the day.

“I think probably the biggest help,” Mr. Nichols said, “has been discouraging a left hand turn into the Division lot. And that’s been done by Kathy Carlozzi putting cones out and not allowing people to make that left hand turn.”

“So, doing that has encouraged a one-way flow of traffic, which has encouraged parents to utilize the bus drop-off zone after the buses leave,” he added.

“Any time you add Kathy Carlozzi to the mix, the situation always gets better,” said Robbie Vorhaus, a parent in the district.

“There are lots of things to do, but I certainly feel grateful to the school and to the police for taking a step in the right direction,” he added.

Sag Harbor School Board Will Move Forward With Smallest Parking Lot Option for Pierson

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At its April 23 meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted to pursue option 3, the smallest of the parking lot reconfiguration choices, and to fill in the tree wells on the Division Street lot with 10 parking spaces. Plan courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

At its April 23 meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted to pursue option 3, the smallest of the parking lot reconfiguration choices, and to fill in the tree wells on the Division Street lot with 10 parking spaces. Plan courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

By Tessa Raebeck

After a contentious April 23 meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted to move forward with the smallest of the parking lot reconfiguration options for Pierson Middle-High School. Their choice, option 3, will add 11 spaces, one in the Jermain Avenue lot and 10 by filling in the Division Street lot tree wells.

Since a bond proposition for capital projects that enabled the district to redesign the lots was passed in November, the board has spent several months listening to concerns and demands of Sag Harbor residents, district architects and even the village police department.

Many residents who voiced concern, predominantly members of the group Save Sag Harbor and neighbors of Pierson Middle-High School, worried the parking plans would discourage walking and alternative modes of transportation, encroach on the green space of Pierson Hill and fail to meet the primary goal of ensuring students’ safety.

The original parking lot proposal approved in November called for an increase of seven parking spaces at the Jermain Avenue lot, which would have resulted in 46 spaces total.

When residents came forward to protest the parking plans just prior to the vote, the district assured them the plans were “conceptual schematics” that could be altered after the bond was passed.

Larry Salvesen, the district architect in charge of crafting the capital project plans, devised three alternative options and presented them to the board and public March 25.

Option 1, closest to the original plan, proposed a total of 44 lined parking spaces at the Jermain lot, an increase of five spaces. Option 2 was slightly smaller with 38 total spaces.

At an April meeting, the Educational Facilities Planning Committee voted to recommend option 3, the smallest option, to the board.

Eight of the 11 committee members in attendance were in favor of option 3, which provides the district with a net gain of just one parking spot.

The plan has 30 total spaces in the Jermain lot, three spaces that could be constructed in the future and five spaces for on-street parking if permitted by the village. Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano made it clear at last week’s meeting that he would not support using the five on-street spaces, which are on village property.

“I’m totally against that,” Chief Fabiano told the board. “If you’re looking for additional parking on the street, that will not happen.”

Mr. Salvesen said the asphalt presence would increase by about 5 to 8-percent under option 3 and that two trees would need to be relocated. The plan addresses safety concerns by eliminating the backup of cars onto Jermain Avenue and providing safer access for emergency vehicles. Like the other options, it would add a sidewalk on Jermain Avenue along the length of the hill with crosswalks at the entry points.

Community members Carol Williams, Rob Calvert, Gigi Morris and Caroline Fell, all vocal throughout the parking lot process, voiced their support of option 3 at the board meeting.

“It’s safe and it preserves the hill and the history and the ecology,” Ms. Morris said.

“I’m not going to argue about the parking lot ’cause everybody wants number three,” Chief Fabiano said. “I’m just kind of disappointed in the whole process.”

“It was my impression when I voted on this that we would get some increase in parking spaces,” he added, saying the community is “spending a lot of money” for a parking lot redesign that won’t actually solve the need for more spaces.

Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols said there is a need for more staff parking, but the district needs to be “very, very sensitive…to the front hill.” Option 3, he said, appears to be the best choice in finding that balance.

For the vote, the board divided option 3 into two choices: one that would gain an additional 10 spots by filling in the tree wells at the Division Street lot and one that wouldn’t.

“My concern,” Ms. Morris said, “is, assuming you go with lot 3, there’s been talk of kind of in exchange, we’ll take out all the tree wells. I would just urge you to be cautious about that, I think it will be dramatic.”

The tree wells have no living trees; the ones that were originally planted there died after their roots hit the nearby asphalt.

“I am strongly for option 1 and strongly against option 3,” said board member Susan Kinsella. “I was on the board in 2006 when Chief Fabiano told us we needed to address the parking in the district.”

“I think there’s a small segment of the community that doesn’t want it, but I think there’s a large segment of the community that does. I would never have voted on spending money on parking to not get more parking,” she added.

Longtime board member Sandi Kruel agreed with Ms. Kinsella and both voted for option 1.

“I’m not in favor of making the smaller lot and then just paving over somewhere else,” said board member Mary Anne Miller, voting to pursue option 3 without filling in the tree wells.

Board members Theresa Samot, Chris Tice, David Diskin and Daniel Hartnett voted to go with option 3 and fill in the tree wells to add a total of 11 spots.

In other school news, the board approved a new policy to videotape its meetings and will implement a six-month trial run July 1 through December 31.

Katy Graves Named Sag Harbor School District Superintendent

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The new Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves will begin her term July 1.

By Tessa Raebeck & Kathryn G. Menu

Katy Graves was named the new superintendent of the Sag Harbor School District by a unanimous vote of the school board Wednesday night.

Ms. Graves, who will begin work on July 1, received a three-year contract and will be paid an annual salary of $215,000.  Ms. Graves is currently the superintendent of the Stamford Central School District near Albany.

“We were able to come up with an overwhelming decision that the candidate we’re presenting tonight is the perfect superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District,” said board president Theresa Samot while introducing Ms. Graves at Wednesday night’s meeting.

According to Ms. Samot, School Leadership—the firm hired to conduct the search for the new superintendent—brought together 150 people in focus groups, and collected 50 completed online surveys to help it define criteria in its nationwide search.

A total of 55 applications from across the country were filed with School Leadership during the search. Those candidates were screened and the field was narrowed to six finalists. Following interviews with all six candidates, Ms. Samot said the selection of Ms. Graves was unanimous by the board.

“Selecting a superintendent is one of the most important responsibilities of any board of education,” said Ms. Samot in a press release issued after Ms. Graves’s appointment. “After an extensive and thorough search, Ms. Graves was selected from among a pool of more than 55 highly competent candidates. We are extremely confident that she possesses the professional vision, administrative experience, character and interpersonal communication skills to successfully lead our school district to the next level of success.”

“During our interview process, it quickly became apparent that Katy was the clear choice as our next superintendent,” continued Ms. Samot. “Her professionalism, experience, engaging personality and enthusiasm to work with our administrators, staff, parents and community residents to ensure that all of our students reach their highest potential were important qualifications identified by our stakeholders.”

“I would like to thank the board of education for their vote of confidence,” said Ms. Graves. “I look forward to working with the administrators, staff, students and their families and community residents. Together, I am confident we can achieve an even greater level of excellence for all students. I’m also anxious to meet with students and hear about their goals for the future.”

“Thank you to Dr. [Carl] Bonuso for creating a learning environment where everyone works together for the common good of all students,” she added.

Prior to serving in her current position in Stamford, Ms. Graves was the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at the Windham-Ashland-Jewett Central School District. She possesses a certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in school leadership from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, a master of science degree in health education from Sage Graduate School, and a bachelor of science in home economics/clinical dietetics from the State University of New York at Oneonta.

Ms. Graves will replace interim superintendent Dr. Bonuso, who has served the district for the past two years, beginning in the summer of 2012. Dr. Bonuso replaced Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, who resigned in July 2012.

According to Ms. Samot, Ms. Graves has already rented a home in Sag Harbor to become better acquainted with the community.

Four Candidates Announced in Race for Sag Harbor School Board

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By Tessa Raebeck

With three incumbents’ terms ending this summer, four candidates—two of them newcomers—have come forward to enter the race for the Sag Harbor School District Board of Education (BOE).

The three-year terms of BOE President Theresa Samot and longtime members Sandi Kruel and Mary Anne Miller are ending June 30. While Ms. Miller will not be seeking reelection, Ms. Samot and Ms. Kruel have again entered the contest.

Thomas Ré, who had an unsuccessful bid for the school board last year, and newcomer Diana Kolhoff are also in the running.

The three open spots are for three-year terms beginning July 1 and expiring June 30, 2017.

Diana Kolhoff.

Diana Kolhoff

Ms. Kolhoff, who moved to the district from Southampton about five years ago, has two daughters at Sag Harbor Elementary School, in the first and second grades. She has a background in education, having worked as a high school math teacher for 12 years and currently as a Mathematics Education Consultant, training grade school teachers in best instructional practices.

“Although I serve districts throughout Suffolk County, I am most rewarded when I serve my local school district,” Ms. Kolhoff said in an email Wednesday. “I am running for school board so that I can make a positive impact on the school charged with educating the children of this community I have grown to love.”

Ms. Kolhoff has coached the Pierson Girls Volleyball middle and high school teams and is on the district’s Nutrition/Wellness/Health and Safety Committee.

Seeking her fourth term on the board, Ms. Kruel has had three children in the district. The second will graduate Pierson High School this year and her youngest is in the sixth grade.

Sag Sandi Kruel

Sandi Kruel

“I definitely have thought about possibly not running, but I feel that we’ve made such amazing strides in the last couple years that it was really important to keep consistency,” Ms. Kruel said Wednsday. “Our tax increase has been under the [state-mandated 2-percent] cap, we’ve passed bonds, we’re the only district not to lay off employees, we’ve actually been able to increase programs—which is unheard of.”

“So at this point for me, it was like, we’ve got a superintendent to put in place and you know what, let’s finish what we started,” she said, adding if elected, she would “keep it going and going in the right direction.”

Thomas Ré, an attorney with a daughter in the 10th grade at Pierson, is seeking a school board position for the second spring in a row.

“I have a general sense of service for the community and with the school…and I want to help,” Mr. Ré said Wednesday.

Thomas Re

Thomas Re

Mr. Ré said there are three main categories of issues for the board: people, plant and program.

“We have to always remember that the whole purpose of everything is to give to the children the best possibilities and to create the best possible educational situation for them, so that they can grow and can have productive lives and can be important members of their community wherever they are,” he said.

Current BOE President Theresa Samot is seeking her fourth term on the board. She has served as president for three of her nine years on the board, and also as vice president. Ms. Samot has had two daughters graduate Pierson and her youngest is currently in eleventh grade at the school.

Theresa Samot

Theresa Samot

“I think it’s important that I continue to collaborate with the district and community on the goals that we’re currently working on,” Ms. Samot said Wednesday.

Ms. Samot pointed to the recent implementation of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in the high school and the passage of the bond as recent achievements of the board.

The three key components, she said, are continuing to work on student achievement in a cost-effective manner, develop budgets that are under the tax cap but maintain programs and staff, and focus on building and improving our facilities.

“And certainly the umbrella that comes over all that is sound fiscal cooperation,” she said, adding that community involvement “in everything that we do” is another key element.

The budget vote and school board elections are Tuesday, May 20 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the gymnasium at Pierson Middle/High School, 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.