Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor School District"

Partners in Print Teaches Sag Harbor Parents How to be Good Teachers

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A mother guides her son through a new book at last year's Partners in Print program. Courtesy Sag Harbor Elementary School.

A mother guides her son through a new book at last year’s Partners in Print program. Courtesy Sag Harbor Elementary School.

By Tessa Raebeck 

Whether your reading consists of scientific journals or one-word road signs, it’s hard to remember when letters were simply abstract shapes in strings of confusing sentences. Through its Partners in Print program, the Sag Harbor Elementary School aims to help parents remember by teaching them how to guide their children through the learning process and effectively supplement what teachers are doing in the classroom.

Aimed for non-reading students in kindergarten and first grade and their parents, the program began in the elementary school 15 years ago. Today, Partners in Print “is kind of like a rite of passage for our kindergarten and first grade parents and kids,” said Sag Harbor Elementary School Assistant Principal Donna Denon.

“The purpose of the program is to acquaint parents with reading behaviors and ways they can support what the teachers are doing in school and what they can do at home when they’re reading with their children,” she added.

At tonight’s introduction for parents only, which starts at 7 p.m., teachers will show parents what it’s like to be a beginning reader, what strategies can be used to figure out print, what kind of books to select for which age levels and what they can expect over the four sessions, which begin next Thursday, October 23, and will run from 6 to 7:15 pm. Each week.

Each night’s session will explore a different topic, with children and parents rotating through three 15-minute sessions, visiting different teachers who lead separate but connected activities. After the short lessons on reading strategies, the students practice what they learned with their parents.

“It’s a really special time for parents and children to be together doing this kind of learning in a place where their kids spend their whole day,” said Ms. Denon.

For more information, call the Sag Harbor Elementary School at (631) 725-5301.

Technology Expands in Sag Harbor Classrooms

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sag Harbor School District Will Look Into Later Start Times

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By Tessa Raebeck 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katy Graves

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Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves.

Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves.

By Tessa Raebeck

The first week in September brings drastic changes to the East End, but one of the more standard of the season’s transitions is when children head back to school. Katy Graves, who started her first school year as Superintendent of the Sag Harbor School District last week, discusses her excitement about coming to Sag Harbor and her visions for her new role in the community.

 

What is your favorite part about the beginning of the school year?

It’s just exciting, at least for me, I think that we have the greatest job in the world—we’re preparing the new generation of children, and every year, it’s a brand new crew of kindergarteners all the way through 12th graders.

 

Have you had the chance to meet many of Sag Harbor’s teachers, parents and students?

I really consider everyone—from our administrative assistants to our bus drivers to our security staff—everybody’s a teacher, and I said that to them the first day; each one of them plays a role teaching children, teaching our family. They all play a role teaching what’s best for children and helping everyone be successful here.

I feel very fortunate, because that first day and our first conversation started other conversations…and they’ve come right up and introduced themselves and are very warm and welcoming, both faculty and staff.

[The families are] so warm and welcoming…. you really feel like their children are in a really special place and this is a very special school district.

 

With the continued implementation of Common Core and the expansion of the International Baccalaureate, Sag Harbor’s academics are undergoing a lot of changes. How do you hope to support students and staff during these changes and what do you see as their respective benefits and/or disadvantages?

We’re so successful when we put our district in the context of New York State, of Nassau County, of Suffolk County and even our surrounding school districts. Sag Harbor schools are a very bright and shining place as far as our student performance and how well our students are doing. Even with the challenges of the fast implementation of the Common Core, even with the challenging curriculum of the IB, even with the burden New York State has placed on our teachers, our students have scored well above New York State averages in their performance in every single arena.

It’s only one measure, and assessment scores should never be the only way we look at our children—we look at how happy they are to come to school, how much they love their day, how much they connect with their teachers and our staff, but for one measurement, our students are really shining and that’s a nice indication that we’re moving in the right direction and we need to continue to support our students. But we also need to support our students in the arts, in the athletics, so that they love coming to school every day.

 

When we spoke in May, you were very excited about coming to another small town and tight-knit community. Has Sag Harbor met your expectations?

I was excited about coming to Sag Harbor, but I think it’s exceeded my expectations. Everyone I meet tells me their history of Sag Harbor, either that their family goes back 300 years or how they first fell in love with Sag Harbor, be it five years ago, 10 years ago, or even two decades ago. Everyone seems to have their story of their romance with Sag Harbor and it really is a romance, it’s funny. Every story seems to be so different, but so much the same about why they love this place so much.

They have so many historical references that they really want to share and they really want to talk about—and Pierson is always embedded in that. Even if they didn’t have children who went here, [they say] how important they think Pierson Hill is and how important they think the school district is as far as being a center of the community…. they want it to be successful and they think it’s very important.

In some communities, it’s just where the kids go to school, but this is absolutely a part of our culture here—Sag Harbor schools.

Tommy John Schiavoni

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Tommy John Schiavoni, a social studies teacher at Center Moriches High School, who was elected North Haven Village Trustee in June and appointed to the Sag Harbor Board of Education last month, talks about his reasons for entering public service and the goals he hopes to achieve.

By Stephen J. Kotz

You were elected to the North Haven Village Board and then appointed to the Sag Harbor School Board in the space of two months. Why this surge in civic involvement?

With the retirement of [Trustee] George Butts I saw an opportunity to step into local government and try to effect some changes, but I do see them separately.

I had been considering the school board for some time. I liked the fact that there was an educator [Dan Hartnett, who resigned after selling his house in the district] on the board, and I was hoping an educator should step up. Then it became clear to me that maybe I should be the one to step, after being an educator myself for 25 years.

What are your chief goals as a member of the North Haven Village Board?

I am very concerned about tick-borne diseases. One of the first things I did was try to see what the numbers are. I wanted to have kind of baseline information in the village so we’d have what we need to move forward, so I went door to door. I surveyed 10 percent of the households, and I found that in 43 percent of those households someone had contracted some kind of tick-borne illness.

I would like the state health department to make North Haven a tick testing area, where they would do random sample surveys and tick drags in the spring and fall and test the ticks for disease. Whatever we do, hopefully we have a way of measuring the good or the bad.

 Have you had Lyme disease?

I had Rocky Mountain spotted fever when I was a kid and ehrlichiosis last summer, but never Lyme. My mom had babeciosis. I don’t think my family is different than any other family

What are some of the other issues affecting the village?

We just passed a resolution on helicopter noise, and I’m proud of that particularly. We have been showing up at the meetings, and Mayor [Jeff] Sander did a great job last week [at a public forum in East Hampton.] We’ve seen how the FAA works and we believe the airport would be best controlled by the East Hampton Town Board. We know there are a significant number of people in East Hampton who are not happy about the noise.

What are your plans for the school board?

I want to approach it from a teacher’s point of view. I don’t have an agenda. We have some real challenges with the tax cap and how to maintain and improve our programs when other things—fuel, insurance—aren’t capped.

I think it is a great school district, academically speaking. It’s on an upward trajectory. We’ve had a number of people who pay tuition to send their children to our schools. There have also been a number of people who move into the district to send their kids to Sag Harbor schools.

Will your new role in government help you in the classroom?

I teach participation in government and economics. There are going to be so many different ways that I can bring my experience to the classroom. I can help my students learn how to navigate the bureaucracies and become aware of the government that affects them most, which is their local government.

Your family runs G.F. Schiavoni Plumbing and Heating? How is it that you didn’t join your brothers in the family business?

Gettysburg. My parents took us to Gettysburg when I was about 10 years old. I was just enamored of it. It sparked something in me. My dad got one of the U.S. Parks Service guides to show us around. That experience with the Civil War was my first love of history—which by the way was a conflict over government—and that’s why I went into history.

Local Leaders Accept Sag Harbor Express’s Ice Bucket Challenge

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County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves accepted an ice bucket challenge issued by the Sag Harbor Express, which was dutifully administered by School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols on Friday, August 22. Photos courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves accepted an ice bucket challenge issued by the Sag Harbor Express, which was dutifully administered by School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols on Friday, August 22. Photos courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

By Tessa Raebeck

After being issued an ALS ice bucket challenge by the Times Review, Sag Harbor Express co-publishers Kathryn and Gavin Menu and consultant and publisher emeritus Bryan Boyhan boldly accepted the challenge on Thursday, August 21. View the video here.

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Mr. Thiele, who was allegedly out of town Friday, accepted the challenge in Marine Park on a beautiful morning Wednesday, August 27. Photo by Mara Certic.

While trying to hide their fear awaiting the buckets–aptly distributed by our intern, Sam Mason-Jones–the publishers challenged some local heavy-hitters: Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves and New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

At the top of Pierson Hill on Friday, August 22, Mr. Schneiderman and Ms. Graves were doused with buckets of ice water–much to the delight of their respective staffs. In the district less than a month, new School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi selflessly accepted the opportunity to dump ice on Mr. Schneiderman, while Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols soaked Ms. Graves with a smile on his face. A full video recording of that endeavor is available here.

 

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Toshi Shiga

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Toshi Shiga, at the Sag Harbor Fire Department Carnival at Havens Beach in August, is excited for Kindergarten.

Toshi Shiga, at the Sag Harbor Fire Department Carnival at Havens Beach in August, is excited for Kindergarten. Photo by EJ Shiga.

By Tessa Raebeck

A graduate of Sag Harbor’s prekindergarten program, Toshi Shiga is on the verge of entering kindergarten at Sag Harbor Elementary School on Wednesday, September 3. A lover of the Ninja Turtles, video games and girls, Toshi grew up in Sag Harbor—and some would argue that he’s still growing. He discusses his plans for the first day of school, kindergarten and looming adulthood.

 

Now that you’re going into kindergarten, you’re going to learn to read and write, meet new classmates and be in a new building. What makes you most excited about entering elementary school?

I think I’m going to get a Power Rangers backpack. Or a Ninja Turtles one and a bunch of pencils, pens and crayons to go in it. On the first day, I want to wear my skeleton shirt. I have two, but I’m going to wear the one that glows in the dark.

 

Entering grade school also means a lot of monumental life changes. Anything you’re nervous about?

Making friends. It’s kind of hard, but if I want to be friends with somebody in my class, I would have to ask them if they want to be my friend. Or say please. Maybe I would ask them to play a game with me. If it were a girl, maybe I would kiss her.

 

At the Sag Harbor Elementary School, where you’ll be starting next week, there is a green playground. Are you familiar with it? 

I love the school park because I like the slides. That’s the school I’m going to? Oh my gosh, I’m so jealous. That’s the one we always go to with my friend Antonio; I’m jealous that I’m going to that school with the big, cool playground. I’m jealous of myself.

 

What did you learn in pre-k that’s prepared you for kindergarten?

I learned about insects, tweeters [birds], swings, choo-choo horns [steam engine whistles] and how to make friends. I learned that a bully is someone who’s naughty and not nice. If you meet one, you should tell your teacher they’re being mean to you and try not to play with them.

 

Between the sciences, technology, counting, shapes and all the other things you’ve learned about, what’s your favorite thing to do at school?

Free play.

 

What do you want to learn about in kindergarten?

I want to learn how games are made and about the iPads and computers. If I could read, that would help me make and play video games, so I’m excited to learn reading. Stampy [a video game creator I admire] learned Minecraft and other games in school, so I could do that too. When I visited a class last year [during kindergarten orientation], they had a mailroom. It was a toy mailroom. You could play with the mail and that was really cool.

 

Show-and-Tell is a pivotal part of kindergarten. Have you brainstormed ideas of what you want to bring in to show your teacher and class?

I love show-and-tell. I would bring in my awesome Ninja Turtles thing I have. It’s a comic book. It’s the first comic book I ever had; I loved it.

 

Kindergarten is a big step from pre-k. It’s the first time you’ll be in a school with older kids and more classes like gym, math and science. Do you feel this is a big life transition for you?

Yeah, pre-k is for big boys, but kindergarten is for bigger boys. I’m on level five [years old] and might level up to six in kindergarten. I don’t really feel like I’m five yet—I still feel like I’m four—but when I get to kindergarten I think I’ll feel older. I used to just eat grilled cheese, noodles and white macaroni and cheesy shells for lunch, but now that I’m in kindergarten, I’m going to have a chicken sandwich for lunch. I was too young before, but now that I’m going to be a big boy in kindergarten, I’m going to have a chicken sandwich—and a freeze-pop.

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

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By Tessa Raebeck 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drone Spotted Flying Over Sag Harbor

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An aerial view of Sag Harbor taken by Pierson Middle/High School students with the school's new drone, donated by the Reutershan Educational Trust. Photo courtesy Peter Solow.

An aerial view of Sag Harbor taken by Pierson Middle/High School students with the school’s new drone, donated by the Reutershan Educational Trust. Courtesy Peter Solow.

By Tessa Raebeck 

At the signal from Theo Gray, Isabella di Russa sprinted down Pierson Hill, a streak of pink and red as a long Chinese dragon kite trailed behind her. Darting among a triangle of bright beach umbrellas held by classmates at the bottom of the hill, she weaved the dragon between them.

From Theo’s view at the top of the hill, the colorful umbrella tops were hardly visible, but he had a better vantage point. A drone, hardly noticeable except for the humming of its engine, whirred above Isabella’s head, capturing the scene below.

A small, remote-controlled aircraft with a camera attached to its base, the drone is the latest instrument of Sag Harbor’s student artists. Donated by the Reutershan Educational Trust, a privately funded art program created by Sag Harbor resident and architect Hobart “Hobie” Betts, the drone is being piloted in a weeklong workshop at Pierson High School.

On Wednesday, August 6, five students, Theo, Isabella, Danielle Schoenfeld, Joy Tagliasachhi and Zoe Vatash, two visiting artists, Francine Fleischer and Scott Sandell, both from Sag Harbor, and art teacher Peter Solow experimented with their new tool.

Mr. Sandell manned a remote control that operated the white drone, an alien-like aircraft with four propellers that move simultaneously in different directions. To capture photos and videos, students took turns controlling an iPhone connected simply by Wifi to the drone’s camera.

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Sag Harbor students took photos with their new drone on Pierson Hill on Wednesday, August 6. Photo by Theo Gray.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, were until recently used primarily for military operations and by the occasional pioneering photographer. The technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, with the once pricey gadgets (some of which still cost as much as $30,000) now available from vendors like Amazon for less than $75.

As with most new technology, drones are proliferating too fast for laws and regulations to keep up. On Sunday, August 3, Senator Charles Schumer urged the Federal Aviation Association and the U.S. Commerce Department to regulate the use of drones for both commercial and hobby purposes. New York City, the senator said, is the “Wild West for drones,” with multiple instances of the devices crashing into trees, apartment terraces and hovering outside windows reported this summer.

But on Pierson Hill Wednesday, the need was not for regulations nor drone policy, but for a way to master the new technology while also figuring out how to create art that is unique, inspiring and innovative, despite the gadgets’ soaring popularity.

“When people initially started to use computers to make artwork, they didn’t know what to do and everything they did was bad,” said Mr. Sandell, an artist and printmaker, who, like Ms. Fleischer, has worked with Sag Harbor students for years doing site-specific artwork and photography projects through the Reutershan Trust. “But now, people have learned how to use it and control it and software has caught up to the ideas and so, now you can create beautiful things with your computer.”

“So,” he added, “this is just another tool and that’s what’s really important here—taking that experience and putting it into your school of thought, your sensibilities, in terms of what’s possible.”

Pierson's new drone hovers over student Zoe Vatash on Wednesday, August 6. Courtesy Peter Solow.

Pierson’s new drone hovers over student Zoe Vatash on Wednesday, August 6. Courtesy Peter Solow.

“There’s a wow factor to the technology,” added Mr. Solow. “And this is the essential question that we’ve challenged the kids with and the thing that’s really tough—how do you take this technology and make art?”

Now that most people have cell phones with strong camera capabilities, everyone is constantly taking snapshots, Mr. Solow said, “so what’s the difference between a really great photograph and a snapshot? Everybody is going to have drones, what is the difference between what everybody will do with a drone and having some sort of artistic merit to what we’re doing?”

With just three days of drone experimentation under their belt, on Wednesday, the students appeared to have risen to the challenge. They had dozens of photographs and videos, including aerial shots of Sag Harbor Village with the harbor and North Haven in the distance, videos looking down on Zoe doing cartwheels and Isabella dribbling a soccer ball, and even a video of the drone crashing into a tree.

The drone, Theo said, allows the young artists to “do things that we really can’t do with a normal camera, with angles and views…it’s interesting just to see what we can do with photography.”

In one video, Zoe worked the camera while Danielle, Isabella, Joy and Theo rolled down the hill.

In a “self-portrait,” as Mr. Solow called it, the drone captured its own shadow reflected on the hill, a slightly eerie shot for anyone familiar with movies featuring rebellious robots.

“It’s awesome,” said Ms. Fleischer, a portrait, landscape and fine art photographer, “because you can use the ground as your canvas. So, with that in mind, it just gives you another perspective.”

A video taken in the Pierson gymnasium looks directly down onto the lines of the basketball court, with Mr. Solow and the students standing around a circle juggling and passing a soccer ball. As the drone hovers, figures move in and out of the shot. As Theo does a header, the ball comes dangerously close to the camera.

Pierson student Theo Gray and visiting artist Scott Sandell have a flight consultation on Wednesday, August 6. Photo by Peter Solow.

Pierson student Theo Gray and visiting artist Scott Sandell have a flight consultation on Wednesday, August 6. Photo by Peter Solow.

Filming indoors poses an additional challenge, as “the drone is so powerful that the propellers create a great deal of turbulence,” said Mr. Sandell. “When you’re inside, the turbulence bounces off the walls and comes back at the drone so you create a wind shear.”

When inside, the drone can be knocked around by the reflection of its own turbulence and harder to control. Outside, a gust of wind or an ill-advised bird could send it whirring away.

Despite the turbulence, the camera is generally still and focused, which is a good thing, as the students’ ideas of how to push the boundaries—and thus create innovative art—keep coming.

While brainstorming for new means of experimentation with the drone, Zoe asked, “Could we fill water balloons with paint and drop them from it?” No one denied the request.

 

More photos taken with Sag Harbor’s new drone:

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