Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor School District"

Sag Harbor School District Administrators Make Recommendations on Pre-K, IB Expansion

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By Tessa Raebeck

In back-to-back workshops before parents, teachers and members of the Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Monday night, administrators voiced their recommendations on how to progress with the potential expansion of the district’s Pre-Kindergarten and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.

Pre-K

Sag Harbor Elementary School principal Matt Malone and vice principal Donna Denon updated the board on the pre-K program, currently in its third year, and discussed the possibility of extending the program to a full day of five and a half hours.

Through SCOPE, a not-for-profit organization chartered by the New York State Board of Regents to provide services to school districts on Long Island, Sag Harbor currently offers a fully funded two and a half hour pre-K program for any eligible four year old in the district. Ms. Denon noted it is an option for parents that is “very rare.” The district pays SCOPE tuition costs to run its pre-K program.

If that program extends to a longer day (considered to be anything over three hours), there are additional requirements the district would need to meet, including limiting class size to 14 students, providing a bathroom for each classroom, ensuring both a certified teacher and teaching assistant is in each classroom, scheduling a 40-minute recreation period, as well as designated lunch and snack times.

The extension would increase the tuition paid to SCOPE from $2,750 to $3,150 per child for the half day, or $10,150 for the full day, although the numbers are approximate because they dependent on enrollment, Mr. Malone said.

“Each year, we’ve been making sure we have monies to accommodate 60 students, so clearly that would be a significant increase in what we would have to budget for for an extended day program,” Mr. Malone said.

This school year, 2013-2014, the pre-K program has 32 students and a budget of $88,000. The district is using only one classroom, which has its own bathroom, for both the morning and the afternoon sessions. The reduced class size of a full-day program would mandate more classrooms, and thus more teachers and teaching assistants.

“It’s a great model, but it’s a big undertaking,” said Ms. Denon, voicing concern over how they would find empty classrooms that could be designated solely for pre-K. Parents dropping off and picking up students would also “be a bit problematic,” she said, as more pre-K parents would be coming and going at the same time as the parents of older students, rather than in the middle of the day.

With space and logistical concerns, as well as fiscal limitations due to the lack of state aid for pre-K and the state-imposed tax cap on the district budget, the administrators’ suggestion to the board was to keep the program the way it is for now.

“We have a very strong program right now,” said Mr. Malone. “The entire school district and community are behind it and let’s keep that solid.”

Mr. Malone and Ms. Denon had several conversations with George Duffy, the director of SCOPE, on the pros and cons of pursuing an extended day program. His advice, according to Mr. Malone, was, “You don’t want to hinder the greatness of what you have. In other words, you don’t want to sacrifice something good to say you have an extended day. Keep your eye on what’s important.”

 

IB

In its second year of offering an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program for 11th and 12th grade students, Pierson High School is considering extending the curriculum to students in grades six through 10.

The program offers students the option to be diploma candidates, who complete the full IB program for diploma credit, or certificate candidates, who do not receive a diploma but can take individual courses where they have an interest in that subject matter. It has grown steadily each year; in 2012-2013, there were 11 diploma candidates and 47 students enrolled in at least one course. This year, there are 21 diploma candidates and 83 students enrolled in at least one course. Selection is still ongoing for next year, but there are an estimated 31 diploma candidates.

“For the last five years,” said Gary Kalish, Pierson High School vice principal and the IB diploma coordinator, “we’ve been making the kinds of changes and trying to do the kind of development to help students achieve at a higher level.”

The Middle Years Program (MYP), he said, offers curriculum alignment across the grade levels and opens the program to all students, rather than the self-selecting, open enrollment of the upper level program.

After working with IB for the past couple years, “We’ve recognized the rigor and the level of difficulty,” Mr. Kalish said, adding that in the end, “it really is just good teaching and good learning.”

IB is designed to give students a global perspective, with more group discussion, problem solving and abstract thinking than traditional lecture-style classrooms. With an interdisciplinary focus, the MYP has eight subject groups: mathematics, language A (the “mother tongue,” or English for Sag Harbor students), language B, humanities, arts, sciences, physical education and technology. At the end of the five years, MYP students complete personal projects and compile portfolios of all their work. Administrators said the Common Core curriculum, with its similar focus on collaborative planning and interdisciplinary work, could be embedded within the IB framework.

The district can choose to extend the program to just the 9th and 10th grades or to grades six through 10. The administrators’ recommendation to the board, Mr. Nichols said, is to extend the IB program to grades six through 10, “because we see value in what the IB does for our students.”

Districts must apply to be authorized to offer IB, with the candidacy process expected to last about two years. After initial application and candidate fees of around $13,500, there would be an annual school fee of about $8,000. Staff development costing as much as $20,000 is also required, although Pierson has already sent its three administrators, Mr. Nichols, Mr. Kalish and Ms. Brittany Miaritis, along with some seven teachers, to training on MYP.

Pending board approval, the program could be offered for the 2015-2016 school year at the earliest. A resolution to extend the program will be voted on at the board’s March 25 meeting.

 

 

Citing Exhausted High Schoolers, Sag Harbor Parents Ask for Later Start Times at Pierson

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Susan LaMontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

Susan Lamontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

By Tessa Raebeck

By 7:25 a.m. when many adults are either still asleep or just getting up, Sag Harbor teenagers are in class, solving math problems, writing chemistry equations, and, some say, struggling to stay awake.

Since the mid-1990s, school districts across the country have taken measures to push back morning start times for high school students, citing research that says early times interfere with the natural circadian rhythms of growing adolescents, who require more sleep than adults and naturally have more energy at night and less in the early morning.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has voiced his support for later start times, posting on his Twitter account in August, “Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later.”

Despite the research and growing public support, however, many school administrators are wary about changing start times due to potentially detrimental effects on student athletes, who practice and play games after school. Administrators also cite the logistical concerns of having enough sunlight for outdoor games and the inherent difficulties of competing against schools with different hourly schedules. Later times would also require transportation schedules to change, an obstacle with undetermined costs.

At the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday night, several parents showed up to advocate for later start times, present the board with supporting research and offer their help in determining how such a change could be implemented in Sag Harbor.

As it stands, the bell rings for first period at Pierson Middle/High School at 7:25 a.m. The sixth grade eats lunch at 10:17 a.m., seventh and eighth grade students eat at 11 a.m. and high school students eat at 11:43 a.m. The last class ends at 1:49 p.m. and students have academic support, an optional period they can use as a study hall or to get extra help from teachers, until 2:26 p.m., when the academic day ends.

The Sag Harbor Elementary School starts at 8:35 a.m. and gets out at 3:10 p.m.

A parent of two children in the district, Susan Lamontagne founded the Long Island Chapter of Start School Later, a nonprofit coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and others “working to ensure that all public schools can set hours compatible with health, safety, equity, and learning.”

Addressing the board Monday, Ms. Lamontagne cited sleep research that has found teenagers’ changing hormones make it difficult for them to go to sleep earlier than 11 p.m. and wake up before 8 a.m. Some Pierson students wake as early as 6 a.m. to get ready, catch their bus and get to class in time.

Ms. Lamontagne referenced schools across the country that saw increases in attendance and test scores and decreases in failing grades, depression, sports-related injuries and teen-driving related accidents once later start times were implemented.

At Nauset High School in Massachusetts, after the start time was moved more than an hour later, to 8:35 a.m., the number of days students were suspended for disciplinary reasons decreased from 166 days in the first two months of the 2010-2011 school year to 19 days in the first two months of the 2011-2012 school year.

In 2011, the Glen Falls City School District BOE voted to change the high school start time from 7:45 to 8:26 a.m. effective September 2012. In an interview with PostStar, Principal Mark Stratton stood by the board’s decision, although he admitted some students, particularly those who play sports, were unhappy about getting home from school later.

According to Mr. Stratton, after a year of the later start time, by September 2013 the percentage of students who were late to school dropped by almost 30 percent. The number of students failing courses also decreased, from 13.6 percent to 8.6 percent.

Glens Falls City School District does not provide transportation for its students, removing one obstacle cited by administrators considering earlier school start times.

“We want to offer our help,” Ms. Lamontagne told the board Monday, adding that she and others are willing to walk the administration through the experiences at other districts, the logistics of changing times and “the full body of research.”

“All of the research that I’ve read indicates that there’s only benefit to the students’ health and performance,” replied Chris Tice, the board’s vice president, saying she would like to “at least put it on the table and hear back from the administrators on their thinking that—if that was going to be the will of the board—what would it take to make that happen.”

BOE member Susan Kinsella said, while other districts have lights on their athletic fields, Sag Harbor has no such means of finishing games in the dark.

“We have problems as it is finishing games in the fall,” agreed Todd Gulluscio, the district’s athletic director, adding that Sag Harbor students have longer travel times to and from games than other districts that have implemented later start times.

“For me,” added Mr. Gulluscio, “from an academic standpoint, if the kid’s going to miss something, I’d rather it be academic support than a class.”

Ms. Tice asked Mr. Gulluscio whether the district would be able to play schools that are closer.

He said no, “we can’t control where small schools are in Suffolk County.”

BOE member Sandi Kruel said that with the overwhelming amount of research in support of later start times, “the pendulum’s swinging backwards for us instead of forward.”

“I too have read and understand the research and it makes a lot of sense,” said elementary principal Matt Malone. “But there’s many, many factors that go into it.” He pointed to families who have structured their work schedules around the schools’ current times.

“We have to think about what’s doable,” agreed Pierson Middle-High School principal Jeff Nichols. He said the issue has been “brought up for years here” and it may be realistic to move the start time by 10 minutes or so, but in terms of athletics, the school cannot simply choose to only play schools with the same schedule.

Mr. Nichols said such a change might work with a larger school district, but not one as small as Sag Harbor.

“It would be a challenge,” agreed vice principal Gary Kalish.

Parent Diana Kolhoff said if she had to choose between having bus service and school starting later, she would choose the later time, but Ms. Tice informed her cancelling transportation is not a legal option for the district.

BOE member David Diskin said later start times “obviously” make sense in terms of the benefits.

“My personal transition—having my kids go from elementary school to [high school] time—it’s torture. I mean it’s so early, it’s crazy,” he added.

Board member Mary Anne Miller asked Ms. Lamontagne, “if there’s a roadmap or some sort of a guideline that you could provide the board and the district with so we could keep talking about it, rather than closing the door and saying it’s too difficult, because most things in municipalities have many hurdles and obstacles.”

Ms. Lamontagne proposed the board put together a small group to go through the barriers and provide the board with recommendations.

“I’m comfortable with that,” said Mr. Nichols.

No decision was made and a group was not officially formed, but Ms. Lamontagne committed to continually updating the board.

Contract for Teaching Assistants

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board approved a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Teaching Assistants Association of Sag Harbor, which has been without a contract for three years.

The contract is from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2016. It provides for 0-percent salary increases in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, a .5-percent increase in 2012-2013 and again in 2013-2014, and 1-percent increases in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, thanked the negotiating team, calling them “respectful, caring, very clear with their perspective [and] willing to listen to all perspectives.”

The board also granted the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) the right to include the title “Occupational Therapist” within their bargaining unit.

Sag Harbor School District Announces Preliminary Budget for Buildings and Grounds, Athletics

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By Tessa Raebeck

With no audience members but a captive board of education, on Monday Sag Harbor School District administrators presented an update on the athletics and buildings and grounds portions of the district budget for the 2014-2015 school year.

John O’Keefe, school business administrator, outlined Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2014-2015 executive budget, which was publically released January 21.

The executive budget is $21.88 billion for 2014-2015, up from $21.07 billion this year. It represents a 3.83 percent, or $806.98 million, total increase statewide.

There is a 2.6 percent, or $58 million, increase in aid for Long Island school districts overall. The average change on the East End is 3.54 percent, but for Sag Harbor the increase in aid is 1.16 percent, which amounts to an increase of less than $18,000.

“So obviously, not even close to the percentage statewide,” O’Keefe said Monday.

O’Keefe estimates the district will receive $1,563,504 in state aid for the 2014-2015 budget, compared to $1,545,583 last year.

Another factor in state aid is the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was adopted by the state in 2009. The GEA calculates an amount that is deducted from a district’s state aid in order to fill a “gap” in the state budget.

According to the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), school districts have lost more than $8 billion in state aid since the GEA was started four years ago.

In 2013-2014, the GEA removed $241,395 in state aid from Sag Harbor. For 2014-2015, it is estimated to eliminate $235,361, or $6,034 less.

O’Keefe reminded the board that this is an original draft of the executive budget and that local legislators are “going to go to bat for Long Island and see what else they can get.”

“Last year,” he added, “we did end up in a slightly better position. But even if they do good by us, it doesn’t amount to a lot because we don’t get that much of our budget from state aid.”

The district budget is primarily funded by property taxes, yet under the tax cap legislation enacted by the state in 2011, school districts cannot increase property taxes on a year-to-year basis by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The consumer price index for 2013 — and thus the allowable growth factor — is 1.4648 percent, not two percent.

According to O’Keefe, a rollover budget for the school district for 2014-2015 is $37,408,672, a $1,900,050 or 5.35 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget.

O’Keefe and other district administrators are going through the budget line by line in an effort to reduce expenses.

Todd Gulluscio, director of athletics, presented to the board on the athletics budget. Approximately 350 Sag Harbor students participate in 60 teams, 34 of which are hosted at Pierson.

For the 2014-2015 school year, the entire girls tennis program will merge with East Hampton. Currently, the middle school girls play at Bridgehampton, the JV program is at Pierson and the varsity girls go to East Hampton. According to Gulluscio, about five Sag Harbor players are on the varsity team and some 13 are on JV. The East Hampton teams would include players from East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton.

Sending all programs to East Hampton will be “certainly less expensive,” Gulluscio said.

“You also,” said BOE vice president Chris Tice, “have a start to finish program that can be led and grow all together.”

“It’s a good example of short term reasonable consolidation,” she added.

Gulluscio also said the athletic program would be eliminating the “goalie” coach positions for the soccer and field hockey teams next year, amounting to a cost savings of roughly $12,000.

Gulluscio recommended the potential addition of a Fitness Room Monitor position for after school to allow all middle and high school students to use the facilities to work out. The cost of such a position is yet undetermined.

The 2014-2015 proposed budget for athletics is $772,417, a $15,088 or 1.99 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget. Most of those increases come from contractual salaries; there is no projected change in expenses for equipment or supplies.

O’Keefe also presented the facilities budget prepared by plant facilities administrator Montgomery Granger, who was not at Monday’s meeting.

The buildings and grounds proposed budget for 2014-2015 is $2,210,901, a $19,703 or 0.88 percent decrease from 2013-2014.

“Monty’s been on a pretty good campaign to replace equipment as it’s needed,” O’Keefe said Monday of the factors that helped Granger arrive at a lower number.

“There’s a reason,” added Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent, “why all these budgets look so consistent — and I do want to congratulate John O’Keefe.”

$15,500 in “Public Information” Funding Projected for Sag Harbor School District’s 2014-2015 Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the first budget workshop of the school year, the Sag Harbor School District outlined its projected 2014–2015 budget for support services.

Presenting prior to Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, school Business Administrator John O’Keefe showed the board tentative numbers on the BOE, central administration, legal services, public information services and insurance components.

The BOE is attempting to keep the 2014-2015 budget below the state-mandated two percent property tax levy cap. Quite unpopular at BOE meetings, the tax cap is a legislative limit that prohibits districts from increasing the levy, or the amount of funding the district must raise through property taxes, by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

The support services component of the budget is at present projected to increase by 1.55 percent. According to a budget worksheet prepared by O’Keefe and interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso, a rollover budget for 2014-2015 is $37,408,672, a $1,900,050 or 5.35 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget.

The tentative budget projects $15,500 in funding for “public information,” primarily referring to the district’s consultant agreement with Syntax Communication, a public relations firm in Bohemia.

The BOE adopted two contracts with Syntax this year, one valued at $6,500 for work on the bond proposition and another for $9,500 for PR work from January 1 to June 30.

The district also used Syntax as a vendor for printing services for bond related work, at a cost of $2,025 for the bond newsletter and $1,130 for the post card mailer. In 2012-13, the district expended $1,738 on public information. In 2011-12, the district spent $2,072.

The projected expense for “public information” for next year’s budget, which could include renewed contracts with Syntax, is $15,500.

At Monday’s meeting, Syntax President Kathy Beatty told the board what that money buys.

“We take the burden off you dealing with the media,” she said, adding the firm never speaks on the district’s behalf without approval from the BOE or superintendent.

Sag Harbor Residents Talk Parking, Turf at School District Bond Workshops

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By Tessa Raebeck

Residents joined Sag Harbor School District personnel January 8 for a series of workshops reviewing plans for the district’s capital improvement projects, which were approved at the polls by the community on November 13 as part of a nearly $9 million bond.

The day included seven workshops dedicated to specific areas of the bond and culminated with a meeting of the Educational Facilities Planning Committee (EFPC).

At that meeting, Rob Calvert, a Sag Harbor resident with school site planning experience, questioned the validity of the parking lot plans for the Jermain Avenue lot at Pierson Middle/High School and the Hampton Street lot at the Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES), asking whether the plans sufficiently accommodate large vehicles.

District architect Larry Salvesen said all parking lot plans are at this point still conceptual, as survey work has not yet been done. Surveying could not begin until the passing of the bond funded the work. At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, a bid for surveying services in the amount of $22,650 was awarded to L.K. McLean Associates in Brookhaven. Salvesen said the survey work will be completed in March.

“We used the best information we have to get to where we are,” said Salvesen. “But we need true accurate survey information to make the next steps.”

School personnel who use the respective spaces provided feedback during the workshops and will meet with administrators to give more input in the coming weeks.

“The key meetings at the school level will be with the school personnel who are affiliated with certain aspects of the bond,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, said Monday.

The custodial staff at SHES suggested adding outdoor access to the storage room addition in the gymnasium and teachers at Pierson asked whether a projector screen could be installed behind the stage to ease set construction.

The renovations to the Pierson basement, which houses the shop/technology curriculum, will take into account the growing robotics program.

“We’re talking about improving the area so it fits into the curriculum now,” said Dr. Bonuso, who will host in-depth meetings with Salvesen and members of the staff who use each space on a daily basis in the coming weeks.

The district had originally planned to send different components of the bond, i.e. the field or the auditorium renovations, to the State Education Department for approval separately, with the intention of speeding the review process, which can last up to 26 weeks. Those plans have been revised and the district now plans to send all components as part of one package in September.

At Monday’s board meeting, Sag Harbor resident Diane Hewett asked whether the turf field “could be scaled back at this point.” The installation of a turf field and two-lane walking track behind Pierson was a separate proposition of the bond that narrowly earned voter approval this fall.

“We have already made the decision,” responded Dr. Bonuso, “to turf the field in the manner we’ve described. So it’s going from corner to corner, that’s a decision that has been made.”

Hewett asked why the parking plans could be revised, while the turf proposal was seemingly set in stone.

The administrators responded that the bond proposition specified the extent of the turf and the community voted on that plan, whereas the parking lot plans were presented as conceptual.

Board member and parent Sandi Kruel added the proposed revisions to the parking plans had been discussed prior to the vote.

“The notion that was presented to the voters,” said David Diskin, a member of the BOE, “was we were going to put a turf field from one part to the other and the voters agreed.”

BOE Member Mary Anne Miller told the administrators the public had voiced concerns that the type of turf material being used may be poisonous or dangerous for kids.

Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio assured, “there are multiple grades of turf” and the materials the district chooses to use will not be harmful.

The next EFPC meetings are scheduled for January 30 and February 25 at 5:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.

Two-Hour Delay for Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton Schools Tuesday Due to Extreme Cold

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A woman endures the cold on a dock in Sag Harbor Village Monday evening. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

A woman endures the cold on a dock in Sag Harbor Village Monday evening. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

In anticipation of bitter cold, freezing rain and icy roads, the Sag Harbor School District has announced all schools will be operating on a two-hour delay on Tuesday, January 7. The morning Pre-K session is cancelled.

The Bridgehampton School District will also be having a two-hour delayed opening Tuesday, according to Dr. Lois Favre, superintendent for the district.

A bitter cold wind chill advisory is in effect from midnight Monday to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The temperature Tuesday is expected to be well below freezing, with a high of 16 degrees and wind chill values as low as -8 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Suffolk County residents who are without shelter during the extreme cold can contact the Temporary Housing Assistance Unit at (631) 854-9517 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. At all other times, please call the Emergency Services Unit at (631) 854-9100.

If you are in need of home heating fuel or an emergency burner repair, call the Suffolk County Department of Social Services Home Energy Assistance Program at (631) 853-8820 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. or the Suffolk County Department of Social Services Emergency Services Unit at (631) 854-9100 at all other times.

Sag Harbor Residents Call on School District to Reexamine Bond Parking Lot Projects

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Projected view of the asphalt impact on Pierson Middle/High School in 2014, if the group's suggestions to scale back the size are not made. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

Projected view of the asphalt impact on Pierson Middle/High School in 2014, if the group’s suggestions to scale back the size are not made. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

By Tessa Raebeck

Prior to the November 13 vote when the community passed two bond propositions set forth by the Sag Harbor School District, school officials promised voters all capital project plans were “conceptual schematics” and the community would have ample opportunities for input concerning the final design plans before construction started.

At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of schools, made good on that promise, inviting members of the community to attend a bond implementation project designs group meeting on January 8, 2014.

Overwhelmingly approved by voters, the first proposition includes renovations and enhancements to the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium, reconfiguration of the Pierson shop and kitchen areas, construction of additional gymnasium storage at Sag Harbor Elementary School and the reconstruction of the Hampton Street parking lot at the elementary school and the Jermain Avenue and bus parking lots at Pierson. It also covers repairs and improvements to the air conditioning, heating, ventilation and plumbing and drainage systems.

The second proposition includes the installation of a synthetic turf athletic field and two-lane walking track behind Pierson, as well as a new scoreboard and concrete seating pavilion.

Interested parties can attend any or all of seven scheduled 45 minute workshops during the course of the school day, from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Residents will have an opportunity to review the plans, provide input and ask questions. Larry Salvesen, the district architect, and other representatives from the construction projects will be on hand, as will Dr. Bonuso and school administrators.

Each session will take place on site in the area it is covering, i.e. the auditorium conversation will take place in the auditorium.  The complete schedule is available on the district website, sagharborschools.org.

“Whether we agree or disagree,” Dr. Bonuso said Monday, “people who love their community inevitably come up with what is right for everybody because they’re so driven to do the right thing.”

Mary Anne Miller, a member of the BOE, expressed the need for school administrators to be involved in the final design conversations.

“We’ve been communicating constantly back and forth,” Dr. Bonuso replied. “None of this would be headlines or new to our administration…literally [the bond projects are] a product of touching base with the administration and staff. All we’re saying is our effort is going to be in having an inclusive conversation — and that includes the staff without a doubt and our administration very pointedly.”

A group of village residents concerned about preserving green space and encouraging alternative modes of transportation aside from cars came forward prior to the bond vote with concerns regarding the proposed parking lot reconfigurations.

Parent Ken Dorph said the group was unhappy with the 2009 bond proposal, which did not pass — in large part, Dorph thinks, because of the parking plans.

The original parking plans included in the 2013 propositions were exactly the same as those proposed in 2009. Upon realizing this similarity, Dorph and others raised their concerns at a bond presentation October 21. Following that meeting, Dr. Bonuso — who was “amazing,” according to Dorph — reached out to the group and promised they would work together in finalizing the parking plans. Dr. Bonuso repeatedly said the parking lot reconfigurations were about improving health and safety, not creating more parking spaces.

At Monday’s meeting, Carol Williams presented photos to the board outlining, “what the hill looked like in 2001, what it looks like now and what it would look like unless we’re careful.”

An aerial view of Pierson Hill in 2001. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

An aerial view of Pierson Hill in 2001. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

In the aerial view of Pierson Hill from 2001, the parking lot along Division Street is significantly smaller. In the proposed plans from 2009 and 2013, originally, the Jermain Street parking lot is also expanded, which if enacted would result in significant loss of green space from 2001 to 2014.

“In Sag Harbor,” Dorph said, “we have fallen behind Riverhead, East Hampton and Tuckahoe in getting people out of their cars. We have fewer kids walking, biking than when I started [as a district parent] — which is so depressing to me.”

“There’s lots of fine-tuning things we can do,” said community member John Shaka. “I look forward to doing them with you.”

 

At Sag Harbor School Board Meeting, Questions Arise Regarding Lack of Newspaper at Pierson High School

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Sag Harbor Board of Education Vice President Chris Tice, President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district's interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Vice President Chris Tice, BOE President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

By Tessa Raebeck

Although less than 10 community members stayed for the full duration of Monday’s Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) meeting, those in attendance – most of them regulars – were passionate about the needs of village schools.

One need, according to parents in attendance and many who are active on the Facebook group “Sag Harbor School District Parents Connect,” is for an active student newspaper at Pierson High School.

A newspaper for the Pierson Middle School was officially created on Monday with the board’s appointment of Jason LaBatti, a math teacher, as advisor to the new club.

According to Gary Kalish, vice principal for Pierson High School, the middle school newspaper club has been dormant for “a few years.” A literary magazine, “sort of a compilation of students’ artwork and stories,” ran in the meantime, said Barbara Bekermus, director of pupil personnel services for the district.

“It’s a position that’s been available to middle school students but [there] hasn’t been a lot of interest,” Kalish said Monday. “So, recently, I guess a group of students got together and approached [Jeff Nichols, the principal of Pierson Middle/High School] and asked if they could have a middle school program.”

Kalish said the high school newspaper is no longer running because “there wasn’t a significant interest this year.”

The high school newspaper, The Leviathan, ran from October 2011 to May 2013. The May 2013 issue had seven contributors, at least three of which are still attending Pierson High School.

Each edition of The Leviathan was both published in hard copy and posted to the district website, which describes the paper as “a club designed to provide students with an authentic experience in journalism and publishing. Members of the Newspaper Club are editors, photographers, reporters and graphic designers for the school newspaper.”

The paper’s contents included reviews of movies, books and school plays, a sports page, a photo spread, interviews with teachers and department representatives, a “whale quote,” and such thorough political examinations as a May 2013 piece by Mari Chavez titled “The Dreamers: The Complex Issue of Immigration and Pierson Students.”

Prior to The Leviathan was Folio, a student-run publication that was printed for free in The Sag Harbor Express. Led by advisor Peter Solow, an art teacher at Pierson, the full-page spread included editorials, articles, photos and information concerning the district, all written and designed by students. The last printed issue, from early May 2010, outlined possible contingency budget cuts and news on the school board elections and budget votes, as well as district announcements and upcoming events.

At Monday’s board meeting, BOE member Daniel Hartnett recalled Folio, mentioned a neighboring district similarly utilizes its local paper and wondered whether such collaboration might be available for the middle school.

“Instead of something going home in kids’ backpacks or lost on the bus or whatever, it actually gets printed in the paper,” Hartnett said.

“Yeah,” replied Kalish, “I remember the high school would partner up and it was really kind of amazing, so I’ll talk to the advisor about that.”

In other school board news, the board defended their decision to hire the public relations firm Syntax Communication Group for “communication services.” Syntax, which worked for the board in communications regarding the capital bond project propositions passed in November, is a Bohemia-based firm that provides marketing communication consulting services and specializes in working with school districts.

At the December 2 BOE meeting, the board approved an agreement between the district and Syntax, effective January 1, 2014 through June 30, 2014 for $9,500. At Monday’s meeting, community member John Battle asked the board to explain its intent in hiring the PR firm.

“They will do everything from press releases to touching base with the media representatives to crisis management,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of schools, responded, adding the firm will work on the school calendar, write articles, cover various events, write budget newsletters and press releases and communicate with “various constituents.”

“We’re going to take a look at how it works out for the rest of the year,” said Dr. Bonuso, “and see whether or not – you know, we’re always evaluating the bang for the buck – we’re going to see…whether it’s cost effective and whether we have the dollars to do so.”

Hartnett said “most districts” use PR firms and Sag Harbor has employed a similar firm in the past.

“It’s an issue that the Communications Committee has been talking about,” added Theresa Samot, president of the school board. “There’s a lot of great things happening at the school and the community doesn’t always know about them.”

Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said with changes in technology, the type of communication has changed and many schools have hired “in house communication managers.”

The BOE will hold a budget workshop and educational meeting on January 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle/High School library.

Suffolk County Demands Action from State Education Commissioner at Common Core Forum

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State Education Commissioner Dr. John King, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Regent Roger Tilles listen to speakers at the forum November 26.

State Education Commissioner Dr. John King, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Regent Roger Tilles listen to speakers at the forum November 26. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

Tests with a sole purpose to judge teachers; educators of 40 years who must submit lesson plans to the state; children crying to their parents every night that they are “stupid”— this is the picture of New York’s public education system painted by the students, teachers, administrators, parents and even public officials who attended a forum with New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King on November 26.

Dr. King sat on stage overlooking the auditorium at Eastport South Manor Junior-Senior High School — filled to capacity at 1,000 — with Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Roger Tilles, a regent who represents Long Island.

During the forum, Long Islanders questioned and even heckled the state officials who appeared at times to be distressed, annoyed or un-phased.

A sign held by many read, “We Are All More Than a Score” on one side and “Parents, Teachers, Students, Principals — United” on the reverse.

One man had a poster with photos of his children and the words, “These are my special interests.”

Gary Karlson, a parent, third grade teacher and union vice president in the Riverhead school district, held a sign saying, “If you want to wage war on public education, keep my children out of it.”

When asked why he was there, Karlson said, “I don’t like feeling like a substitute teacher every day.”

Rocky Point High School students question state education officials.

Rocky Point High School students question state education officials.

Questions were submitted prior to the forum and about 30 speakers were permitted to address the commissioner directly from podiums below the state officials. All but two of the speakers were overtly critical about the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards, the testing of students, the APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) teacher evaluation system, the use of a for-profit data warehousing company to store information on students and alleged corruption in the state’s decision to use educational publishing giant Pearson in implementing Common Core.

Sag Harbor’s interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and Bridgehampton superintendent/principal Dr. Lois Favre have expressed their support of a letter drafted by Suffolk County superintendents asking the state to stop over-testing and slow down Common Core implementation.

“The relevance and developmental significance of the new curriculum for our more accomplished students is questionable,” said Jan Achilich, director of special education in the Remsenburg-Speonk School District, “and that concern is amplified tenfold for our students with cognitive and developmental challenges and our English language learners.”

Several speakers asked the commissioner why he refused to admit the flaws of the implementation, which educators across the state have said was haphazard and harmful to children because they were assessed on things they had not yet learned proficiently. Although many admitted benefits in the educational philosophy of the Common Core, critics have maintained these were eradicated by the mismanaged rollout.

Dr. King replied the state has asked the US Department of Education for permission to curb some of the testing by allowing accelerated eighth grade math students to opt out of the state test in favor of the regents exam and to allow for two percent of students to take tests at their instructional level, as opposed to the one percent currently permitted.

“Get the feds out of it!” a heckler yelled. Another said that by no longer accepting federal Race to the Top funding, “we could do what New York does well for New York.”

Bill McGrath, a Shoreham Wading River trustee and president of the district’s school board, quoted Dr. King’s position on how the state is unable to slow down implementation and the importance of the new curriculum.

“If all this is true,” McGrath asked, “how can it be that you — as well as every regent but one — send his or her children to private schools? If these reforms are so vital to every student’s future, why shouldn’t the regents and the commissioner want their own children to experience them?”

Westhampton Beach school superintendent Mike Radday said it is misguided to believe a student who has always learned under the old standards should be given an exam aligned to the new standards immediately.

“It is even more misguided,” said Radday, “to then take the results of those exams and tie them to a teacher’s evaluation.”

Less than a third of students statewide met the new standards in the tests administered last spring.

Connor Sick, a senior at Rocky Point High School, asked the commissioner, “If you have anything to say about why failure is being used as a weapon to motivate these students?”

The NYS United Teachers Union has asked for a three-year moratorium on the use of students’ test scores in

Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) President Jim Kinnear returns to a supportive crowd after addressing state education officials.

Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) President Jim Kinnear returns to a supportive crowd after addressing state education officials.

teacher and principal evaluations.

Jim Kinnear, president of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor, asked the commissioner if he would commit to having three teachers, two principals and one superintendent on the body that makes decisions on educational curriculum.

“Of those that are on the board that are making these decisions, including the commissioner, none have teaching experience,” Sag Harbor school board vice president Chris Tice, who also spoke at the forum, said at Monday’s school board meeting. “My impression was that very little was heard and very little constructive feedback was provided back, unfortunately.”

During the forum with Dr. King, Tice and others questioned the use of a third party data warehousing company, In Bloom, to house students’ scores and private information. Of the nine states that originally hired for-profit data companies, New York is the only one that does not offer parents the ability to opt out.

“New York has usurped my parental authority,” said Mount Sinai’s Candice Donin. “These are my children, not property of the state.”

A group of New York principals sent the state a letter of concern regarding APPR regulations, which has been signed by over 8,000 New Yorkers.

Chris Tice, vice president of the Sag Harbor Board of Education, addresses the commissioner.

Chris Tice, vice president of the Sag Harbor Board of Education, addresses the commissioner.

In addition to outlining extensive educational research showing student test scores are not a strong predictor of quality teaching, the letter says vital tax dollars are being redirected from schools to testing companies, trainers (the state recommends administrators undergo up to 17 days of training, with sessions typically costing $120 per day per person) and other vendors.

Michael Friscia, president of the Rocky Point Teachers Association, said corruptness is at the core of the new curriculum’s existence.

“Besiege our last hope — our lawmakers — to force the change necessary to save public education,” said Brian Snow of the Port Jefferson Teachers Association, calling the regents’ reforms “the privatization of education for their own profit.”

Cyndi McNamara, a mother of two children at East Quogue Elementary School, pointed to substantial teacher layoffs and program cuts across Long Island.

“We didn’t need it, we didn’t ask for it, but we’re going to pay for it,” McNamara said of the reforms. “We don’t need more testing … we simply need you to return the programs, teachers and supplies that have been taken from our schools and let our teachers teach.”

At the forum, some residents also criticized the state’s relationship with Pearson Publishing.

As the world’s largest for-profit education business and the largest educational publisher in the country, Pearson sells tests, curriculums, textbooks, training and other programs. New York State signed a five-year $32 million contract with Pearson to produce standardized tests in 2011.

That same year, Pearson reported North American education was its largest business, with sales of nearly $4.3 billion and an operating profit of about $800 million.

Following several allegations that Pearson financed lavish international trips for education commissioners whose states do business with the company, in December 2011 New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued subpoenas to the Manhattan offices of Pearson Education and the Pearson Foundation, the corporation’s nonprofit arm.

New York’s $32 million contract with Pearson was awarded after former state education commissioner David Steiner attended a conference in London in June 2010 underwritten by the Pearson Foundation.

The inquiry is ongoing.

“I can’t say calm down because I agree with you,” Regent Tilles told the riled up crowd at the forum. “But I can say you might be more effective if you work within the system, work with your legislators, work with the government.”

Dr. King said the department has made some adjustments and will continue to make others, adding, “Disagreeing isn’t the same as not listening.”

“I hope,” State Senator Kenneth LaValle told the commissioner, “that within a very short period of time you can reinstate the hope and faith that people have in our government system – that their input counts and that they can make a difference.”

Yes on Both School Propositions 11.07.13

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Next Wednesday, November 13, residents of the Sag Harbor School District will be asked to weigh in on two propositions aimed at maintaining, and improving, facilities at both the Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School.

We believe both propositions deserve community support.

The first bond, which totals $7,357,132 in spending, will cost a resident who owns a home with a market value of $1 million less than $9 a month. For that price, the school district will be able to completely renovate the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium, which will not only increase safety, but also give the school adequate seating for assemblies, and allow the district’s performing arts curriculum to thrive. Shop and technology classroom spaces will also be improved, as will the elementary school gymnasium. A partial roof replacement at the elementary school, bringing the Pierson Middle/High School kitchen up to health department safety standards, reconfiguring parking at both schools.

The second proposition, which calls for $1,620,000 in funding, will allow for the creation of a turf field at Pierson Middle/High School, which would include a track, a baseball diamond, softball diamond and a small plaza for spectators. For a homeowner with a residence that has a market value of $1 million, it would cost a little more than $1 per month to fund.

The first proposition is a no brainer. It allows for significant upgrades to both schools that will improve health, safety and curriculum. The second proposition, while it may seem extravagant, would increase safety, save in annual maintenance costs, give the athletic program facilities on par with schools throughout the county and give community members a safe outdoor track to exercise on.

Ultimately we believe bonding for projects like this at a time of low interest rates allows our school district to move long overdue projects forward without placing too large a burden on the shoulders of taxpayers. Which is why we encourage people to support both propositions next Wednesday, November 13.