Tag Archive | "sag harbor school"

Greenport AD Gulluscio Named Sag Harbor Athletic Director

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By Amanda Wyatt

Todd Gulluscio is a man used to wearing many hats. During his tenure in the Greenport School District, the Shelter Island native learned how to juggle responsibilities as its director of athletics, physical education department chair and dean of discipline.

This experience may serve Gulluscio well in January, when assumes his post as Sag Harbor’s new director of athletics, physical education, health, wellness and personnel.

Gulluscio was appointed to the position for the Sag Harbor School District at the board of education’s Monday, December 3 meeting, where he was warmly welcomed.

“This gentleman duly impressed me,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim school superintendent. “He just has an enthusiasm that is infectious.”

“The lines that we received when we called for his references said, ‘You don’t have a good man. You have a great man,’” he added.

Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said in January, the board would look for opportunities for parents and community members to meet with Gulluscio, such as at PTA and PTSA meetings. More information on times to meet with the new athletic director will appear on the school website at a later date, she said.

Gulluscio will serve a two year probationary term beginning January 2, 2013 and ending on January 2, 2015. He will earn a $90,000 salary annually.

For over seven years, Gulluscio has worked in the Greenport School District, and he has spent the past two and a half as its director of athletics. However, he said in an interview this week, teaching and playing sports have been his lifelong passions.

“Ever since I was a kid … [I knew] that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.

While attending Shelter Island High School, Gulluscio was an avid basketball and baseball fan. After graduation, Gulluscio headed to Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida, and while still an undergraduate, began coaching basketball, and eventually moved into coaching field hockey, soccer and other sports as well.

Gulluscio returned to the East End where he received a master’s degree in elementary education from Long Island University’s Southampton College, now Stony Brook Southampton. He also has an administration degree from Dowling College, as well as a permanent certificate in physical education.

A self-proclaimed “lifelong East Ender,” Gulluscio still lives on Shelter Island with his family. His wife, Jennifer, is a teacher in the Shelter Island school district, where his two children, Tyler and Caitlyn, attend elementary school.

Over the years, Gulluscio said he has noticed an increase in the variety of sports played at local schools.

“There are more travel leagues and more opportunities, actually, for kids than when I was growing up,” he said. “I think it’s fantastic, the amount of the opportunities there are for kids. I hope we can strengthen them.”

Gulluscio plans to do just that when assumes his new job next month. Still, he said he is aware that working in Sag Harbor will be a different ballgame than working in Greenport or even Shelter Island.

“When I get here in January, I’m really going to have to grasp hold of the Sag Harbor culture,” he said. “While they’re all small East End towns and villages, each one of them does things a little differently.”

“It may not necessarily be the biggest challenge, but it’s the first challenge,” Gulluscio said. “For me, it’s most important to assess where we are now when I come on board, and to listen to folks and see what the interests are.”

In addition to overseeing athletics, Gulluscio’s job will also involve a number of administrative duties. In this capacity, he will have to contend with new state mandates, such as Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR) and concussion management plans.

When asked whether he was concerned about how these new initiatives would affect his new job, Gulluscio said he wasn’t too worried.

“We’re all going through the process together, it’s not one thing on me,” he said. “For me, we’re all in this together — one big team.”

“I’m really looking forward to being here,” he added. “In January, I’m ready to hit the ground running.”

Common Core Becomes Common Standard for Students

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By Amanda Wyatt

As local schools contend with a host of new mandates from New York State this year, they are keeping in mind what may be the mother of all current educational reform — Common Core Learning Standards.

This school year, school districts are charging ahead in the implementation of New York State pre-kindergarten through 12th grade Common Core Learning Standards. Designed to help get students “college and career-ready,” these new standards involve a number of educational shifts in English Language Arts (ELA) & Literacy, as well as in mathematics and pre-school education.

New York is one of 45 states that have formally adopted the standards put forth by the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS). The CCSS, led by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, developed the standards in 2010.

While Common Core has been somewhat controversial, local educators were optimistic about the initiative.

“Anytime you’re teaching skills that are going to be worthwhile to students when they leave here — whether it’s in college or in the workplace — I think that’s a positive move,” said Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso of Sag Harbor agreed, calling the standards “one of the more positive and productive reforms that have come down the pike.”

“[The standards] have been shown to be valuable goals and set valuable objectives for what should happen in the 21st century classroom,” he added.

One of the major changes advocated by Common Core is the inclusion of more nonfiction into the curriculum. While some classes have focused heavily on fiction in the past, Common Core requires students work closely with challenging informational texts, drawing conclusions and making evidence-based decisions from the reading.

“In the real world, that’s what you have to do,” said Dr. Bonuso. “People need to be able to look at nonfiction works and make some decisions…[and] to look for the evidence in the text instead of just taking an opinion without supporting it.”

Being able to write from informational sources and building vocabulary are also key components of the new ELA & Literacy standards. These standards will be adopted not only in English classes, but also in history, social studies, science and other subjects that require students to engage with informational texts.

In mathematics, there is an added focus on problem solving and real world application. Perhaps most important, however, is an emphasis on depth, rather than breadth. By studying fewer units but in greater detail, students are expected to gain a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts.

According to Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre, “In mathematics, the shifts seem to be to digging deeper into skill areas at each grade level, assuring that basic skills are brought to mastery for all students. With these basic skills in place, there is a belief that students will be able to master more complex tasks.”

For Sag Harbor Elementary Principal Matthew Malone, this is a major plus.

“In math, one of the struggles that teachers have had for a very long time is our past curriculum asked for so many different topics to be covered within the course of a year. Too much was being addressed, so there wasn’t enough time to really dig into the content,” he said.

While Malone was “pleased” with certain reforms, he was concerned about the pace of implementing the Common Core Learning standards, especially at a time when schools are dealing with other government initiatives and mandates.

“Change is always hard, no matter what, but it feels like we’re juggling a lot of balls in the air,” he said.

Dr. Favre agreed.

“My concern is the speed at which all of this is coming at us,” she said. “This is a major shift from teacher-directed learning to student-centered learning and inquiry that will require professional development, practice, and a commitment to fidelity to implement.”

“Whenever there’s a new educational initiative, there are financial implications related to staff development and the resources you need to provide to teachers and to kids to make sure they’re successful,” Nichols said.

Since last year, Sag Harbor has been bringing in outside consultants and sending staff to conferences to learn about Common Core, along with other new mandates and programs. Funding for training comes from monies set aside every year for professional development, Nichols explained.

According to Dr. Favre, faculty members in Bridgehampton have been developing curriculum maps based on Common Core and teachers have been attending special workshops on the new standards to prepare themselves. At the same time, they are also contending with state mandates that require their own outside training and curriculum writing — all of which cost the district.

“These costs are coming at a time when budgets are extremely tight, so we will send teachers to training who will come back and turnkey the training for others,” said Dr. Favre.

But, she added, “I am confident that our teachers will embrace and support the changes, provided they have the time and the training to adjust their curriculum and their strategies.”

While curriculum shifts are being implemented in schools, Nichols suggested the speed of such changes may not be as noticeable until new state assessments enter the picture.

“The speed at which change happens will somewhat be tied to when those assessments come down the pike,” he explained. “Until that assessment changes, [teachers] are going to focus on what the old one asked students to do.”

When asked about the format of the upcoming Common Core-aligned student testing, Malone said, “I think you’ll see more open-ended type questions, even in mathematics.”

In the meantime, even classroom exams and quizzes in Sag Harbor will start to “reflect some of the new strands that are in the Common Core,” Nichols said.

He added that even with the challenges posed by Common Core, he hopes the school can “go above and beyond what the state asks our students to do.”

“The playing field in the United States is such that in order to access the best colleges and universities, you have to go above and beyond what the state offers,” he said.

Springs and Sagaponack Eye a Move to Pierson

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By Marissa Maier

A visitor to Sagaponack Village might believe the one-room schoolhouse on Main Street has remained untouched since it was built in 1885. Pint-sized students sit on old-fashioned wooden desks with inkwells and a cast-iron stove located at the front of the classroom keeps them warm. Though everything seems sleepy enough, changes are afoot in this small school district.

In January, Sag Harbor Schools Superintendent Dr. John Gratto and Pierson School Principal Jeff Nichols pitched the merits of a Pierson education to a group of almost a dozen Sagaponack parents. For the past year, said Sagaponack School Board President Charles Barbour, Sagaponack parents asked the board to explore the curriculum at neighboring school districts beginning with middle school. The village’s educational program runs from first through fourth grade only, at which point students have traditionally moved on to the East Hampton School District.

With the state poised to cut close to $200,000 in aid next school year, Pierson is looking for a much needed boost on the revenue side of their ledger and tuitioning-in Sagaponack students could help sustain programming, noted Dr. Gratto in a later interview.

“The fiscal condition of the state is restrictive and we are looking at ways to bring in revenue,” Dr. Gratto further explained.

When asked if the school would need to increase the academic staff, he remarked, “It depends on how many students there are in each subject. There is high enrollment in Spanish and science in some areas … [But] the cost of additional teachers would be offset by the revenue.”

For the 2010-2011 school year, Sag Harbor will charge out-of-district students $16,217 annually to attend grades kindergarten through sixth and $21,080 for grades seventh through twelfth. Full day tuition for special education students is $44,196 per year for the elementary school and $50,808 for middle and high school. The sending school district, however, must provide transportation for their students.

“We are also looking at the side of the cost to the taxpayer. Sag Harbor is definitely a little bit cheaper,” said Barbour, based on his preliminary research of the school’s contract with East Hampton. He noted though that East Hampton is in the midst of crafting next year’s school budget and their tuition rates are subject to change. East Hampton’s Business Administrator Isabel Madison couldn’t be reached for comment.

In exploring other districts, Barbour noted the board is seeking a well-rounded program with a host of extra-curricular activities and excellent test scores. At the presentation Dr. Gratto and Nichols highlighted the school’s class sizes, which boasts an average of 20 students per academic class, curricula focal points, including the Intel science projects, young playwrights program and the model United Nations, the selection of arts programs, athletics, the credentials of the faculty, and students’ regents and advanced placement test scores.

Sagaponack is currently in the midst of a five-year contract with the East Hampton School District. Dr. Gratto explained that school’s superintendent Lee Ellwood seems assured the school may end this agreement before the start of a new academic year. The Sagaponack school is presently comprised of 21 students. Four children are enrolled in the fourth grade. School clerk Jeannette Krempler confirmed one student plans to attend East Hampton in the fall of 2010. Barbour pointed out parents may decide where to send their children for middle and high school. Sagaponack, he noted, isn’t required to commit all of their funds to one school district.

“The kids who are in East Hampton, we want to keep them in East Hampton. We wouldn’t want them to have to change schools,” said Barbour. “We want to leave this as an option for parents and to make sure there is a choice for them.”

The Sagaponack school board is slated to discuss tuitioning-in their students to Sag Harbor at their next board of education meeting on March 4.

Springs School District

Last Thursday, on February 11, Dr. Gratto and Nichols made the same presentation to a group of around 15 parents at the Springs School in East Hampton. The Springs program spans from pre -kindergarten through eighth grade with a student population of around 550. After middle school, students have customarily passed on to East Hampton, but it appears many parents are rethinking this arrangement. Dr. Gratto reported that several parents appeared willing to sign their children up for Pierson that evening. He added that the Sag Harbor School will schedule a tour for prospective Springs students in the near future.

Following the presentation, the Springs School Board reportedly decided to put a referendum to a vote in May. The referendum, piggybacking on the budget vote, would give parents the choice of sending their children to Pierson or Bridgehampton, as well as East Hampton after the Springs program ends in eighth grade.

Sag Harbor Parent Launches Special Education PTA

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By Marissa Maier

In 1597, Sir Francis Bacon wrote in the Religious Meditation of Heresies, “Knowledge is power.” Nearly four centuries later, the ubiquitous quote is applied to many different situations including the formation of the Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) of the East End. For Cynthia McKelvey, co-founder of SEPTA and a Sag Harbor parent, the goal of the newly-formed organization is to educate parents on the special education process and empower them to play an active role in their children’s Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.

Navigating the world of special education services can often be confusing and overwhelming, reported McKelvey, who speaks from personal experience. McKelvey’s daughter, who is now seven-years-old, was diagnosed with a form of autism at a young age.

“All I knew about autism was [from the movie] ‘Rain Man.’ I drove home and said ‘what is autism,’” recalled McKelvey after her daughter was initially diagnosed. She then embarked on a journey of not only learning about autism, but finding a correct and more specific diagnosis for her child.

“Sometimes it is easy to just take someone’s word for it. If you go with the process and aren’t really taking the time to learn more you miss really important parts of the process,” said McKelvey. “Once a parent is more educated and understands the process they can understand their child’s IEP better. It is less intimidating.”

McKelvey explains that after a diagnosis is made the school arranges a committee for special education to plan that particular student’s IEP. The committee is comprised of the pupil services director, the people who evaluated the student, the parents, a parent advocate, and in some cases a teacher.

During the meeting, noted McKelvey, “You are talking about your child’s weaknesses and that is hard to hear.”

McKelvey further pointed out that IEPs are often filled with professional special education lingo and concepts that are often foreign to the layman, especially when discussing a student’s test scores.

At the first SEPTA meeting in January, McKelvey recalled that when she mentioned IEPs it appeared everyone shook their heads. The first meeting was attended by close to 38 people, proving to McKelvey that there is a need for this type of organization on the East End. Whereas in larger school districts, noted Dr. Lisa Scheffer, the Director of Pupil Personnel Services, SEPTAs are the norm. McKelvey pointed out the East End SEPTA chapter is the first of its kind in the area. SEPTA is open to the whole East End community, and McKelvey hopes it will attract attendance from residents in other school districts.

In addition to educating parents on IEPs, McKelvey says the organization will act as a kind of forum for parents to exchange information and lend emotional support to one another. She explained that a parent could come to the group to report, for example, on how a gluten-free diet is helping their child. Since both Dr. Scheffer and special education teachers will attend the meetings, McKelvey noted it would be the perfect opportunity for teachers in other districts to show how teaching aids are working in their classroom before Sag Harbor makes an investment in these tools or services.

SEPTA will host their next meeting on Wednesday, February 24, at 7 p.m. in the Pierson High School Library. In order to nominate the SEPTA board and accept the chapter’s by-laws, at least 25 SEPTA members must be present at this meeting. Membership costs $10.

“I cannot wait to see how many people come to the second meeting,” said McKelvey.

Racing to the Top

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In the past week, both Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor school districts signed off on a program that may yield the districts thousands of dollars in grant money, but will require them to comply with a set of criteria. This competitive government grant is referred to as the “Race to the Top” (RTTT), and is part of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus package of which $4.35 billion dollars are earmarked for educational reform. If enough schools sign on, New York will be able to receive up to $700 million in federal grant money, which would be distributed to the state’s eligible schools.

In order for school districts to get a piece of this grant they were asked to sign off on a memorandum of understanding (MOU). Thereafter, money would be allotted to states and then to districts based on how much initial support they showed for the grant. Each district will be judged on a 500-point system of which 138 points are linked to teacher performance, and 45 points are linked to whether teachers’ unions or other school organizations are signing off on the MOU, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. A loss in points means a potential loss of grant money to area school districts.

The criteria include the adoption of global standards and assessments, improvement in professional development of teachers and principals, the linking of student performance with teacher’s evaluations and advancement and the improvement of low performing school districts.

“There is quite a bit of controversy about these assurances, especially concerning the fourth one,” said Bridgehampton School Superintendent Dr. Diane Youngblood at last Wednesday’s school board meeting. “How will they measure low performance? And also teachers fear and are worried that their performance will be judged by student performance.”

Bridgehampton may stand to receive about $30,000 in grant money, which would account for about 30 percent of its title 1 budget, according to board member Lillian Tyree.

The MOU was sent out to all district superintendents in late December with a January 8 deadline, which was later extended to January 13. As of yesterday, 846 school districts had signed on to the MOU, of which 146 are charter schools, representing around 94 percent of all districts in the state.

According to the state department of education, as of last Friday, Bridgehampton, Montauk, Southampton, Springs and Shelter Island Schools had sent in their MOU applications. A state representative added that East Hampton’s application hadn’t been received yet.

According to Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, school board president Walter Wilcoxen and he signed and faxed the MOU to the state department of education on Friday, January 8. Dr. Gratto said they signed the MOU in order to be eligible to receive the grant funds, but added the details of the program itself are yet to be refined by the state. Of the four main criteria of the program, he noted the school already has standards in place that comply with these proposed regulations.

Dr. Gratto added that Sag Harbor is a high achieving district but would most likely qualify for extra funds for its title I program. This is a federal program aimed at students who need extra help in reading and math. Around 40 students are currently enrolled in the program, added Dr. Gratto. If approved for funding, the district could receive between $6,000 to $7,000 for this specific program. ?

He pointed out, however, “the state hasn’t set up any accountability … they have set general parameters. I don’t know if they will accept the verification of what we are already doing.”

Dr. Gratto added that because the school is a high performing and relatively wealthy school district, Pierson often isn’t awarded additional grant monies besides those the school is already entitled to. ?Although there was a slot on the memorandum of understanding for the union president to sign, TASH leader Eileen Kochanasz refrained from lending her signature to the application. Dr. Gratto said the school first learned of the application on December 30 and that it was due by Friday, January 8. Kochanasz maintains she didn’t receive the application until January 7. In an email Kochanasz sent to a local parent, she explained the document regarding the grant was extensive and she reached out to NYSUT, TASH’s state union representatives, to “gather some information about the grant in a much quicker fashion.” ?

Kochanasz wrote that she learned, “Only the superintendent must sign for the district to participate in the state application … [and] before signing the application the president needed to meet with the officers of the association to carefully study the document in order to weigh the pros and cons as it pertains to our local association.”

Kochanasz said she felt there wasn’t enough time to vet all the details of the grant before signing the application.

In Bridgehampton, Dr. Youngblood eventually signed on with the board’s approval, noting, “I spoke with several area superintendents and several are not signing. One district is worried about lifting the cap on charter schools. Another is not signing because they fear it will force them to open up their teacher negotiations because it will require things of them that are not currently written into their contract. Even the state is being cautious about this.”

Bridgehampton School Board President Elizabeth Kotz commented, “I think this is the start of a conversation that needs to happen. I think it is the first part of stepping away from ‘No Child Left Behind.’ This is my sense of it anyway.”

The winners of phase one of this grant will be notified in April and are expected to comply with the initiatives outlined in the MOU within 90 days as stated in the NYSED website.

Enrollment Skyrockets at Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor

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On the first day of school at Bridgehampton, superintendent Dr. Dianne Youngblood remembers seeing several new faces in the bleachers and watching as principal Jack Pryor introduced each one to the student body. Over in the neighboring Sag Harbor School District, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto was preparing to add another biology class for the children who recently joined the district.

This September, both the Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor School Districts noticed a sizable uptake in enrollment. The Sag Harbor School District welcomed 70 new students, while Bridgehampton received 27 additional pupils.

“Over the past three years there has been an increase, but this is statistically significant over the other years,” explained Pryor. Both Dr. Gratto and Pryor believe the recession and changing perceptions of the school districts impacted this trend.

“This [increase] is rare, but I think it is reflective of the economic times and indicates the quality of education kids will get here,” reported Dr. Gratto.

At Bridgehampton, Pryor noted that a large portion of the incoming students transferred from private schools. Of the 70 additional Sag Harbor students, about 18 formerly attended the Ross School which raised tuition to $30,000 this past year. However, Pryor and Dr.Gratto added that several other children moved to the area from New York City and many were pulled from private schools in the city, added Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone.

For Bridgehampton resident Chris Hoyt, transferring her children from a local private school to Bridgehampton Elementary had more to do with academics than economics. Her elder daughter was diagnosed with a learning disability and after touring all of the area public schools Hoyt felt Bridgehampton was the best match. The school, she said, appeared better equipped to handle her child’s needs. One family, said Pryor, moved to the East End from Indonesia, while other students were from out of state.

“We went to Bridgehampton and fell in love with it that day. My daughters started two weeks ago and it has been a smooth transition. They are completely embraced and treated like members of a family,” remarked Hoyt.

Other families who live out of district are choosing to pay to attend Bridgehampton or Sag Harbor. Dr. Youngblood reported that there are at least five new students paying tuition this year and in Sag Harbor two Bridgehampton residents have opted to enroll in the Sag Harbor School District.

At the Ross School, however, there has been a seven percent decrease in enrollment, though head of school Michele Claeys expects mid-year admissions. Students hailing from Sag Harbor account for one-fifth of the Ross student body, but this year that figure also decreased by seven percent. However, the school is noticing a significant increase in the number of boarding students.

“Our boarders have added a wonderful new dimension to Ross School. They represent ten countries and are a natural part of our global

mission. The boarding program is a terrific opportunity for both our boarding and day students to engage with peers who have a wide variety of life experiences and points of view,” said Claeys.

As yet, the increases in the student populations haven’t forced the schools to hire additional staff. The change has only slightly affected programming in Sag Harbor, specifically with the biology program taught in tenth grade. Dr. Gratto explained that the school has only 22 seats in the lab station of the science classrooms, but some classes had already filled up with between 24 to 28 students. The school opted to create an additional class for 14 students. Instead of teaching five classes, the biology teacher will now instruct six classes plus a lab resulting in an additional cost of $13,000 to $14,000.

At an extremely small school like Bridgehampton, the increase in students was welcomed as a way to diversify the classroom discourse.

“It made our classes more robust in terms of discussion. There are more students to interact with one another,” said Dr. Youngblood. “That has been one of our delights … and not having to increase teaching staff.”

Hoyt can testify to her daughter’s positive transition experience, although she wasn’t always keen on the Bridgehampton School District.

“I was apprehensive about the school because you heard so much about people trying to close it down,” recalled Hoyt. “[But now] I am confident in my daughter’s education and I am confident in the district.”

School Maps Out Future

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The first year John Gratto served as a principal, in 1984 at an Upstate New York school, a young teaching assistant told him she had made a grave mistake by going into education. The woman was a senior in college, on the verge of graduation, when she discovered teaching didn’t suit her.
“What a terrible time to find out she didn’t want to be a teacher . . . People ought to have a good handle on what they want to do. Seventeen and 18-year-olds make the best decisions they can, but we can help them make better decisions,” opined Gratto, current superintendent of the Sag Harbor School District.
Gratto floated the idea of establishing a senior internship program at a long range-planning meeting held with the school board and administrators two weeks ago. This idea was one of many presented to the board as a way to improve academic rigor. The board meets several times throughout the summer to construct their goals for the upcoming school year and beyond.
According to school board president Walter Wilcoxen, this year the board called upon the school’s administration to formulate its long-term goals, whereas in previous years it was the board’s responsibility to compile the list of school goals.
“John is bringing what he has done in the past and the board has accepted this . . . [The administrators] are the professionals and we are happy with what they have come up with,” explained Wilcoxen.
The list of goals includes everything from implementing an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program in 2011 to establishing a list of financial reports the board should receive periodically and a schedule for distribution.
The premise of the senior student internship program is to link graduating seniors with professionals in the field of their choice.
“Sometimes a senior thinks they want to pursue something as a career but they may not have enough information. Our intent is that we would like to facilitate an internship to get their feet wet in their intended career,” clarified Gratto.
In addition, establishing a pre-kindergarten, an issue that has been discussed for several years, is also on the list and the board hopes to implement a program by the 2010-2011 school year. According to Gratto, the board asked administrators to present a more detailed analysis of the cost of a pre-kindergarten program. Wilcoxen added that he believed the federal Universal Pre-Kindergarten funds, to establish a program of this kind, were already exhausted and UPK would only cover pre-k programs already in operation.
“The question is, ‘can we afford to do this?’ I don’t think we will be able to know until we see the full expenses [associated with establishing pre-k],” explained Gratto. “After our budget deliberations for 2010, we will be able to decide if it is something we can afford.”
At the other end of the education spectrum, Pierson Middle and High School Principal Jeff Nichols presented the idea of implementing an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program in 2011.
“The Regents Exam is to New York State, what the International Baccalaureate Diploma is to the world,” remarked Gratto. The International Baccalaureate Diploma program is a curriculum which is broken down into six different subjects: native language, second language, individuals and societies, experimental sciences, mathematics and computer science and the arts. Gratto added that the curriculum emphasizes project-based learning, instead of test taking.
The school board is also eyeing a redesign of the district’s website to make it a more accessible communication tool between teachers and their students, as well as parents and administrators. Wilcoxen noted the board will most likely have to contract the services of on outside website designer and a preliminary figure for the website redesign is around $20,000, said Wilcoxen.
These goals, along with several others, will be further discussed and refined at a special meeting on Tuesday, August 4.

Locals Outraged Over New MTA Tax

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“Isn’t this taxation without representation? I thought we already went through this,” said Sag Harbor Variety Store owner Lisa Field when asked what she thought of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new payroll tax.

The tax, signed into law earlier this month, will require local businesses, including hospitals, schools and governments, to pay a 34 cent tax for every $100 of payroll. Suffolk County is set to pump millions of dollars into the MTA to help shore up the authority’s $1.8 million deficit. From the halls of the state assembly to the sidewalks of Main Street, people are saying the MTA is unfairly taxing Suffolk County residents for a service they rarely use and the county is in essence funding the New York City transportation system.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele contends the MTA package was made “behind closed doors” with officials, hailing from the New York Metropolitan area, leading the negotiations.

Back in March, Thiele seemed certain the tax wouldn’t be voted through, but the state legislature indeed passed it on May 6, after state senator Brian Foley of Long Island swayed the vote, allowing the package to pass by two votes in the senate.

“Between March and now a lot of arm twisting went on,” explained Thiele.

“I thought we were pretty effective in putting up a unified decision,” stated Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman of the efforts made by local officials to oppose the payroll tax. “We have lost the power, and all of this money is leaving Long Island and going to New York City.”

Schneiderman maintains the East End is underserved by the MTA. Although the county contributed $250 million to the transit authority last year, the MTA currently runs just three trains on weekdays from the East End to New York City.

Geoff Lynch of the Hampton Jitney said the transit system works well in New York City because the authority services a small geographic area with a high density population. But on the East End, he added, a smaller population is spread out over a wide geographic area.

According to a press release from Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine, the county will pay around $520 million when the new MTA taxes and fees are enacted or about $347 per resident per year — on top of the taxes residents already pay toward the MTA. Schneiderman believes only 10 percent of Suffolk’s population, or 150,000 people, ride the LIRR.

“The county will pay around $3,000 to $4,000 per rider. We could lease each of them a car and we could forget about the trains,” argued Schneiderman.

When asked if East End residents will get more LIRR service in exchange for their contribution to the MTA payroll tax, Sam Zambuto of the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) said no.

“[The Payroll Tax] allows the LIRR to maintain the existing level of service and eliminates the service reductions that were slated for implementation,” Zambuto reported. “It also reduces the fare increase from an average of 26 percent to an average of 10 percent.”

MTA representative Kevin Ortiz said even with $1.8 billion in funds procured from the payroll tax and other fees, the MTA will still face a small deficit in the upcoming year. Ortiz argued that the new funds would bring additional wages to the county because the MTA uses the services of  subcontractors in Deer Park, and other Suffolk locations. He added the MTA’s capital plan would create $11.8 billion in wages and salaries in the 12 counties it services.

“They have to look at the big picture,” said Ortiz of Suffolk residents.

But local residents, from hospital administrators to business owners, say they are having a hard time seeing the “big picture.”

“Everybody that is in business out here will be subject to this new tax,” asserted Sag Harbor Village Mayor Greg Ferraris. He added that the tax will cost the village administration upwards of $10,000.

Southampton Hospital faces an even steeper tax burden because of its large payroll. Marsha Kenny, the director of public affairs, said the hospital had already closed its books for the 2009 budget when they learned of the tax. The hospital expects to pay $140,000 to the MTA this year.

Len Bernard, the Sag Harbor School District Business Manager, estimated the school will pay between $46,000 to $50,000 for the tax, though the state has promised to reimburse school districts.

“I am not at all confident the state will give funds to reimburse the school districts,” remarked school superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “I am concerned that if they do reimburse the school district for the tax it will come at the expense of general state aid.”

“I can point to every single line item on the budget and tell you how it benefits someone in the community, but I can’t with this,” continued Gratto. “We are just subsidizing New York City.”

Responding to the outrage of local communities over the payroll tax, the Suffolk County Legislature voted on Tuesday, May 12, to create a commission to conduct a feasibility study on Long Island seceding from the State of New York.

“We want it to be on the ballot next year as a non-binding referendum to create the State of Long Island,” said Schneiderman. “Every year we give the state about $8 billion but we only receive around $5 billion in services.”

Schneiderman conceded, however, that a state hasn’t successfully seceded since the 1860s, when West Virginia split from Virginia.

“I think this is more symbolic,” said Schneiderman. “We want to send a message to Albany that the present situation is unacceptable.”

Thiele believes Suffolk County constituents are feeling increasingly overburdened by state taxes, especially in light of the economic downturn.

“I have never seen a recession end by taxing people more,” he declared.

It may be that the MTA payroll tax will have a trickle down effect, with implications not just for business owners but patrons of Long Island restaurants and retail establishments as well.

“A lot of businesses in the area increase their prices in the summer and decrease their prices in the winter,” said Tora Matsuoka, co-owner of Sen and Phao Thai Kitchen. “Prior to finding out about this tax, [and a new beer and wine tax] my feelings were that we wouldn’t readjust our prices, but it is something we are considering … taxes in New York are stringent and I think it is driving people out of the state.”

‘Tis the Flu Season

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Mary Schiavoni rarely gets sick, but on Thursday, February 5, she had a dry cough. The following day, Schiavoni, a teaching assistant at Sag Harbor Elementary school, “started feeling like garbage,” and was plagued with congestion and fever. That evening she mustered up the strength to attend a performance of “The Wizard of Oz” at the Pierson Middle School and High School, but soon felt like leaving.

“I just thought, ‘I have to get out of here’,” said Schiavoni.

By Saturday, Schiavoni was feeling so lousy her husband Ted drove her to Dr. Mark Kot in Southampton. After completing a swab test, Dr. Kot confirmed that Schiavoni had a bad case of influenza. Oddly enough, Schiavoni had visited Dr. Kot weeks before to get a flu shot.

“After Dr. Kot gave me the test, he told me I was the third person who had had a flu shot, but later got the flu,” said Schiavoni.

Dr. Kot put Schiavoni on a battery of medications, including Tamiflu, the classic influenza medicine prescribed in the first 48 hours of initial symptoms, and several antibiotics.

Schiavoni spent the next week holed up in her bedroom, weak with fatigue. On the rare occasions that she left her bed and moved around the house, she would start sweating and feel ill in a matter of minutes. It took nearly a week for Schiavoni to recuperate, and even now, she still has a cough.

Although Schiavoni isn’t certain where she contracted the flu, it is likely that she was exposed to it at the school. According to Pierson nurse Barbara Schmitz, a record number of schoolchildren have confirmed cases of influenza, or reported experiencing flu-like symptoms. In the past month and a half, said Schmitz, nearly eight middleschoolers where diagnosed with the flu by their doctors, and scores of children also have bronchitis and pneumonia.

“I think [the number of sick students] is definitely up from last year. We sent a lot of kids home. I haven’t seen so many sick students ever,” said Schmitz, who added that the elementary school was experiencing a similar situation.

Local physicians have also taken note of this medical phenomena. Dr. John Oppenheimer, who practices in Sag Harbor, believes the number of cases of influenza in the village is more than usual.

“[In the winter] there is always something going around. There was a coughing bug and then a vomiting bug, but the flu is now surfacing,” said Oppenheimer. “The flu hasn’t really hit out here in a long time, but now we are seeing it.”

On Friday, Oppenheimer had diagnosed five patients with the flu within 24 hours. By the time these patients saw Oppenheimer, their illnesses had become pretty debilitating. One female patient told Oppenheimer that she felt as if she had walked into a brick wall. In addition to her overall body ache, the patient displayed all the classic symptoms of influenza, like a high fever, runny nose, cough and extreme fatigue.

Pediatrician Gail Schonfeld, who heads East End Pediatrics in East Hampton, started seeing patients test positive for the flu two weeks ago, but says many who are sick simply stay at home to wait out the illness. Three of her patients contracted the ‘b’ strain of the flu, which is the rarer type, although they had gotten flu shots before becoming sick. Marsha Kenny, of Southampton Hospital, added that the influenza shot doesn’t fight against every strain of the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), influenza has been widespread in New York State for the past two weeks. Every year, it’s estimated that five to twenty percent of the population contract influenza, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from influenza complications and 36,000 people die from the flu, reported the CDCP. However, young children, pregnant women, seniors and people with chronic conditions are more likely to contract the flu.

Schonfeld believes it will soon be mandatory for all school age children to get an annual flu shot. This policy has already been enacted in New Jersey. She added that a new way of administering the vaccination, through a nose spray, will help make this a reality in New York State.

As the sniffles, cough and general sickness seem to spread throughout the village, local doctors recommend residents wash their hands frequently, steer clear of those who are already ill and still get a flu shot, if they haven’t already become ill.

Propose Changes to Music Program

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A music consultant hired last fall by the Sag Harbor School District gave his report and recommendations for both the elementary and middle/high school music programs on Monday.

Although he worked in many music departments of various schools across Long Island and the state, this was the first time Craig Von Bargen has acted as a music consultant, upon recommendation of district superintendent Dr. John Gratto. Von Bargen studied both the elementary school and high school for approximately four months. He complimented the district on many things related to their music program, but also gave some suggestions for the community to consider.

While Von Bargen said that he was “impressed by the professionalism of staff and administrators,” and thought the morning program was a “joy to behold,” he did make some recommendations including prohibiting the use of a tablature for the elementary guitar class.

The tablature is quicker and easier to understand than traditional note reading. Von Bargen argued that the children should be exposed solely to note reading, because if given the option, “they will most likely always choose tablature.”

Another of Von Bargen’s recommendations was to have both the music department of the elementary school and the music department of the middle/high school meet regularly to increase communication between the schools.

Von Bargen also had some recommendations about the Suzuki violin program, which is offered at the elementary school for students in kindergarten through third grade.

The consultant said that the program should not be called Suzuki, to avoid confusion, because that program is usually a one-on-one lesson. He added that the class sizes for violinists in the elementary school should be reduced from 18 to nine.

Elementary School Principal Joan Frisicano explained that while the teachers attended training for violin, the program was developed to not only teach the instrument, but for the “benefits that playing has on other areas of learning and brain development.”

When the students reach fourth grade, she said, they can select an instrument of choice.

Currently only the elementary school has an orchestra and Von Bargen would like to see the orchestra continue into the middle and high school. Other suggestions for Pierson include adding music everyday, instead of every other day, and the creation of a guitar club.

After his presentation, board of education member Susan Kinsella asked if the district should consider combining the band and the orchestra to have a symphony. Von Bargen argued that it is unusual, because those students that play string instruments will most likely get frustrated by the overpowering sound of the band instruments. Further, he said that, “musically there is nothing that is written for a whole band with a lot of strings.”

In a document that he gave to board members, Von Bargen suggested that the district implement changes that would have no additional cost to the district right away. Other changes that would impact the budget could be added over a two-year time period.