Tag Archive | "sag harbor schools"

Katy Graves Named Sag Harbor School District Superintendent

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

By Tessa Raebeck & Kathryn G. Menu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Fantasticks” Premieres as Pierson’s First Student-Directed Musical

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The cast/production team of "The Fantasticks." From left to right, front row seated: Emily Selyukova, Becca Dwoskin, Audrey Owen. Middle row: Shane Hennessy, Paul Hartman, Colleen Samot, Matthew Schiavoni. Top row: Denis Hartnett. Photo courtesy of Paula Brannon.

The cast/production team of “The Fantasticks.” From left to right, front row seated: Emily Selyukova, Becca Dwoskin, Audrey Owen. Middle row: Shane Hennessy, Paul Hartman, Colleen Samot, Matthew Schiavoni. Top row: Denis Hartnett. Photo courtesy of Paula Brannon.

By Tessa Raebeck

In its first ever musical produced and directed entirely by students, Pierson Middle/High School presents “The Fantasticks,” a comedic romance that tells the story of two neighboring fathers who pretend to feud in order to trick their children into falling in love.

First opened in 1960, “The Fantasticks” is the world’s longest running musical, after running for over 52 years in Manhattan. Tom Jones wrote the book and lyrics and Harvey Schmidt composed the music, which includes classics like “Try to Remember,” “They Were You” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”

Along with acting in the show, Pierson Senior Emily Selyukova is making her directorial debut.

“With a keen eye and natural instincts, she guides her fellow classmates through a difficult but beautiful score, iconic characters and a story that is both familiar and needed,” Paula Brannon, Pierson’s theatre director, said of her student.

Acting as both performers and production designers, Becca Dwoskin, Denis Hartnett, Paul Hartman, Shane Hennessy, Audrey Owen, Matthew Schiavoni, Colleen Samot and Zoe Vatash make up the rest of the cast.

“The Fantasticks” will run Wednesday, April 30 and Thursday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance by calling 725-5302 or emailing pbrannon@sagharborschools.org. All proceeds benefit the Pierson Theatre scholarship fund. The show, which also marks the first time Pierson High School is offering a third musical in one school year, was not budgeted for by the district and was instead funded entirely through donations by local merchants and parents.

School Board Candidacy Petitions Due Monday in Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor

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Residents interested in running for school board in the  Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor School Districts must submit their petitions for candidacy by Monday, April 21.

In Bridgehampton, there are two, three-year terms open this year. One seat is currently held by Elizabeth Kotz, a former board president whose son, Henry, is a senior at Bridgehampton High School. Ms. Kotz was first elected to the board in 2005, but resigned for personal reasons in 2011 before being brought back onto the board last summer in the wake of the resignation of then board president, Nicky Hemby. Ms. Kotz was appointed to a one-year term to fill the remainder of Ms. Hemby’s term. A second three-year term is also up for election this May. That seat is currently held by Gabriella Braia.

In Sag Harbor, three, three-year terms are open this year. Those seats are currently held by board president Theresa Samot, and board members Sandi Kruel and Mary Anne Miller.

Candidate petitions must be turned into the district clerk in both school districts by 5 p.m. on Monday. Both district budget votes and board elections will be held on Tuesday, May 20. In Sag Harbor, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson Middle-High School gymnasium. In Bridgehampton, polls will be open from 2 to 8 p.m. in the school gymnasium.

The Sag Harbor School District will host a voter registration day on Tuesday, May 6, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the district clerk’s office. On May 13, Bridgehampton School will host its own voter registration day, from 4 to 8 p.m.

Sag Harbor School Board Delays Videotaping Policy Approval

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Members and mentors of the champion Pierson Robotics team attended the Sag Harbor Board of Education's meeting Monday to ask for funding for their trip to the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis later this month. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Members and mentors of the champion Pierson Robotics team attended the Sag Harbor Board of Education’s meeting Monday to ask for funding for their trip to the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis later this month. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

While committed to rolling out a six-month trial starting July 1, the Sag Harbor Board of Education postponed the second reading of a policy aimed at allowing the board to videotape its meetings and share those sessions online. The board paused in approving the policy so it can be reworded to more accurately reflect the district’s intentions, said board members on Monday.

“One of the concerns is some of the language in the policy is really not specific to how we’re going to do this,” said board member David Diskin, a proponent of videotaping meetings, who has said the technology could improve public access to the board as well as board transparency.

Board members said they would review the policy with Thomas Volz, the district’s attorney. The targeted date for running a six-month trial, July 1 through January 1, remains on schedule.

Seth Redlus, executive director for LTV, East Hampton’s public access television station, attended Tuesday’s meeting to answer the board’s questions about video implementation.

Both LTV and SEA-TV, the public access station for Southampton, will broadcast the meetings for district residents in each town. Mr. Redlus said if a meeting was taped Monday evening, it “would be a safe bet” that video would be available to the public by Tuesday at noon on the station’s website.

“I would reach out to SEA-TV and talk to them about finding concurrent air times, so that way you don’t have to tell your East Hampton residents it’s on at that time or tell your Southampton residents it’s on at that time,” he said.

Mr. Redlus also assured the board if a meeting runs longer than the two-hour time period allotted for its broadcast—which they often do—the programs scheduled after are “not critical, so that way they can be yanked on the fly.”

LTV’s policy is generally to leave videos on demand on the website for up to three months, but still hold on to the material in case there are requests for it.

Scott Fisher, technology director for the district, said Tuesday the original estimate for the project was roughly $2,000 but “we were able to pull together some of the equipment from within.” The district still needs to purchase microphones, a camera light and a few other small items, but estimates that cost will be “well under” $1,000, said Mr. Fisher.

In other school news, the board approved $17,000 in funding for the Pierson Robotics Team to attend the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri, April 23 to 26.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more inspirational performance than I saw that night,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent, of the robotics team’s showing at the regional championship two weeks ago. “Or a better example of championship, scholarship and sportsmanship than I saw the night that this Team 28 fittingly won its Engineer Inspiration Award. Inspiration is literally the word.”

The board will cover the cost of the students’ hotel rooms and pay both the airfare and hotel rooms for four chaperones, as well as buses to and from the airport.

The board’s next meeting is Wednesday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.

Committee Recommends Scaled Down Parking Lot Option for Pierson

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The Educational Facilities Planning Committee recommended the school board pursue Option 3 for the Pierson parking renovations. Plan courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

The Educational Facilities Planning Committee recommended the school board pursue Option 3 for the Pierson parking renovations. Plan courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

By Tessa Raebeck

After hearing input from concerned residents Tuesday, members of the Sag Harbor School District’s Educational Facilities Planning Committee decided to recommend the third and smallest of three options for a new parking plan at Pierson Middle-High School to the school board.

The committee will bring its recommendation—overwhelmingly favored by the those in attendance—to the board’s April 23 meeting, when the board is expected to make the final decision on the parking lot reconfiguration.

The bond project, which the community approved in November, originally included plans for 46 parking spaces at the Jermain Avenue lot at Pierson, an increase of seven over the 39 spaces currently in place. Throughout the process, the facilities committee said all proposals were primarily focused on improving students’ safety, not on adding parking.

Just prior to the vote, a group of concerned citizens and neighbors of Pierson came forward in opposition to the plans. The group of dissenters, many of them involved in Save Sag Harbor and traffic calming efforts in the village, were critical of what they saw as unnecessary encroachment on green space and the disruption of the vista of Pierson Hill.

Those community members said they were in favor of many aspects of the bond project, but could not vote for it if their issues with the parking lots were not addressed. Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent, assured the group the plans were “conceptual schematics” that could be adapted following the vote. The district said should the bond pass, a community conversation on the parking plans would follow.

The three options, devised by the district’s architect, Larry Salvesen, with help from landscape architects in his firm, were first presented to the board and the public on March 25.

Option 3, which eight of the 11 facilities committee members voted for on Tuesday night, provides the district with a net gain of one parking spot. It expands the Jermain Avenue lot at Pierson westward, but considerably less so than the first two options. The plan has 30 total spaces in the Jermain lot, five spaces for on-street parking if permitted by the village, and an optional three spaces that could be constructed in the future.

Under this option, there is “still a slight increase in asphalt,” according to Mr. Salvesen, with the pavement growing by somewhere between 5 and 8 percent. It addresses major safety concerns of the committee by eliminating cars from backing out onto Jermain Avenue and providing safer access for emergency vehicles.

Trees that would be removed under the other plans, such as a Norway maple, would not be affected, although two others would still be relocated.

“My real observation from walking the [Pierson] hill was to discover that this is really a commemorative slope up here and the more we can save of the view shed and the hillside, the better off we are,” said Mac Griswold, a Sag Harbor resident and landscape historian. Of the dedication trees, she said, “It’s as though people understood that this part of Pierson Hill is a really good spot for commemoration for people who have passed on, for celebrations; it’s an important place. So Option 3 should be the only option we should consider in terms of that aspect for the village.”

Ms. Griswold’s comments elicited applause from the some 20 community members in attendance.

“I’d really like the people who are voting on this—whether the committee or the board—to think about legacy,” said Ken Dorph, a district parent.

“Mrs. Sage gave us this land 100 years ago with trees, with a view, with a spiritual sense of place,” he said of Pierson’s benefactor. “One hundred years later, our generation already made a huge chunk out of it for the automobile and we’re thinking of adding more parking. Our descendants will be ashamed of us. Adding parking at this stage of American history is a disgrace.”

“I’m not in favor of more parking,” said facilities committee member Ellie Janetti, a parent with kids in each of Sag Harbor’s three schools. “But I am committed to making sure that the environment our children are in is safe. When I heard that the fire and safety vehicles didn’t have proper access, that is number one.”

“I can assure you that this committee has met for three years and, if not all of us, most of us, I would say, have the same feeling you do. We’re not sitting here thinking of how to create more parking, I assure you,” she said.

The committee’s recommendation of Option 3 will be presented to the board at its April 23 meeting, at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle-High School library.

Sag Harbor School District’s Proposed Budget Won’t Pierce Tax Cap

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By Tessa Raebeck

Unlike budgets proposed in East Hampton and Bridgehampton, the Sag Harbor School District’s proposed 2014-15 budget does not pierce the state-mandated tax cap.

In a second presentation of the full budget on Monday, administrators proposed spending of $36.87 million, an increase of $1.36 million or 3.83 percent over the 2013-14 budget.

The tax cap, established by the state in 2011, prohibits school districts from raising property taxes by more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This year, that cap has been set at the rate of inflation, 1.51 percent. The district budget calls for a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, which is just below the cap.

The budget nearly doubles, to $75,500, the amount set aside for “public information” and postage. Only $38,505 was set aside for that purpose in the current fiscal year.

That increase is in part due to $30,000 being earmarked for improving online communications, whether by expanding the role of the public relations firm Syntax Communications or hiring an in-house webmaster responsible for managing the website, social media and other online tools.

A survey of over 600 students, parents and staff conducted by the district’s Communications Committee found that all parties preferred getting communications online, but the website and other portals were lacking information, disorganized and not regularly updated.

Technology spending increases by 20 percent under the proposed budget. The $95,009 would fund an ongoing initiative to replace computers and Smart Boards, upgrading the wireless network and for the purchase of iPads, Google Chromebooks and MacBooks for classroom use.

An increase of $4,000 is budgeted for the Big Brothers, Big Sisters mentoring program, recently reinstated by the national organization.

Addressing the need for increased math instruction required under the state’s Common Core Learning Standards—as well as the difficulty many students and parents have had with the new math standards—the district is considering adding a math lab. The budget draft includes $40,000 to hire a teacher who would work 60 percent of full time, to supplement a full-time staff member in the lab. “So that way the lab has a teacher all the time,” School Business Administrator John O’Keefe said Tuesday.

The board will vote on the budget at its April 23 meeting. The community budget vote and school board elections are Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson gymnasium. Applications to run for school board can be found in the district clerk’s office and must be submitted by Monday, April 21, at 5 p.m.

Pierson Robotics Team Heading to Nationals

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Students cheer on the Pierson Robotics Team at the Long Island Regional competition last weekend. Photo courtesy of Rob Coe.

Students cheer on the Pierson Robotics Team at the Long Island Regional competition last weekend. Photo courtesy of Rob Coe.

By Tessa Raebeck

The referee made the call—it was arguably questionable—and there was nothing they could do about it.

For the second year in a row, members of the Pierson Robotics team, FRC Team 28, thought they had just missed qualifying for the national championship of the FIRST Robotics Competition after finishing in second place at the Long Island Regional contest at Hofstra University last weekend.

The hopes of senior team leaders Alex Cohen and Lucas Pickering, who had fostered a team that had grown bigger, better and more united each year, had been dashed—or so they thought.

But Pierson wound up securing an automatic invitation to the national championship competition, which will be held in St. Louis from April 23 to 26, when it won the Engineering Inspiration Award, which, according to FIRST, “celebrates outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering and engineers, both within their school, as well as their community.”

The Pierson Robotics Team celebrated their spot at nationals with a parade down Main Street on Monday. Photo by Michael Heller.

The Pierson Robotics Team celebrated their spot at nationals with a parade down Main Street on Monday. Photo by Michael Heller.

“It’s mostly due to our focus this year on expanding the team and doing work outside of just building the robot,” explained Kevin Spolarich, a Pierson junior on the team’s driving squad. “We are bringing in students from East Hampton, teaching kids in Costa Rica, and showing the robot to the children at the elementary school.”

Pierson collaborates with East Hampton High School, which supplies four of the team’s student engineers and one of its mentors, shop teacher Trevor Gregory.

“We also have done some charitable work in the off-season fixing up old broken down electric scooters for people at the VFW,” Kevin added.

At last weekend’s competition, three of the FRC Team 28 members, Abi Gianis, Alex Cohen and Tiger Britt, talked to the judges, explaining their program and presenting a video they made featuring Dr. Carl Bonuso, Sag Harbor’s interim superintendent, talking about the district’s robotics program to further demonstrate community outreach.

“The kids were so phenomenal, I’m so proud of them,” said Gayle Pickering, Lucas’s mom, who mentors the team with her husband Rick, Mr. Gregory, Rob Coe and Clint Schulman.

“The way they talked about the team and knew the robot” helped secure the award, Ms. Pickering said.

The judges also recognized the team’s innovation, honoring the engineering behind the robot that may not have been able to overcome a bad call, but did turn some very important heads.

Kevin controls the robot’s arm, which picks up, puts down and throws the ball in the competition’s game, Aerial Assist. The game requires alliances of three teams that compete against another team in a game that requires the robot to throw balls that are 2 feet in diameter.

“We use two Xbox controllers hooked up to a laptop to control the robot,” Kevin explained.

Each the approximately 30 students on the team has a distinct role on one of several squads. Captain Lucas Pickering does the driving.

“Our shooting mechanism didn’t work as intended, “said Liam Rothwell-Pessino, a junior who is in his second year on the team. “We had to switch to an entirely different strategy, one where we played midfield/defense. Lucas’s insane driving skills were a big reason our entire strategy didn’t fall apart.”

“Everybody was a real important member of the team and everybody has their different jobs,” said Ms. Pickering. “It was truly teamwork at its best.”

The leader of the scouting team, Pierson junior Shane Hennessy, was tasked with leading the crew in finding teams to complete their alliance last weekend.

“Essentially,” said Liam, “we did really well in the preliminary stage. I think we placed seventh with an 8-1 record. We ended up picking two really great teams for our alliance and made it to the grand finals undefeated. In the final series, we lost 2-1 over a really stupid ref call, but hey, I don’t want to sound like a bad sport, it was still incredibly fun.”

“We were really annoyed and depressed,” he added, “but happy when we won an award that apparently qualifies us for nationals, so in a month, we’re off to St. Louis.”

The game remains the same, but the stakes are much higher.

Using their original robots, the teams compete in the same competition, Aerial Assist, but rather than one field of competition, there are five, filling the Edward Jones Dome, where the St. Louis Rams play.

“Now,” explained Ms. Pickering, “there’ll be 192 teams to scout instead of 49, so Shane Hennessy’s going to be very busy.”

Pierson traveled to the national championship, at the time in Atlanta, about 15 years ago, when the FIRST Robotics Competition was still a small, relatively unknown event. There are now over 2,000 teams competing worldwide, with regional competitions from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

“The kids are so excited,” said Ms. Pickering. “I’m so proud of all of them, they put this together. There’s so many of them that are enthusiastic and it was really teamwork. They worked together on the scouting during the competition—that was a huge part of it. They worked together programming…the fact is that it’s teamwork and they really worked together.”

“Overall,” reflected Liam, “it was a great experience. And I’m glad Lucas and Alex get to finally go to nationals for the first time in their last year on the team.”

“It feels fantastic,” said Lucas. “We’re especially looking forward to being able to participate in a group of elite teams and talking to people from those teams.”

“It’ll also be interesting for us to see teams that are older than us for the first time,” he added of the more experienced teams. Pierson’s team was established in 1995 and thus has seniority at the Long Island regional competition.

In addition to securing a spot at the national championship, earning the Engineering Innovation Award secures the team funding—by none other than NASA, which will give Pierson $5,000 to attend the competition.

The team still needs to raise more money, though. With airfare costs high this close to the trip, Ms. Pickering said she is looking to raise $500 per student, with the overall budget close to $25,000 for the entire trip, adding, “That’s a high number, I hope.”

Although the team is hopeful for some large corporate sponsors, every donation counts.

To donate to the Pierson Robotics Team’s trip to nationals, send a check with a note that indicates it is for the Pierson Robotics Team to Pierson Middle/High School, 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor. For more information on the team, visit frcteam28.com.

Pierson Robotics Team Heads to FIRST Competition with Confidence

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The 2013-2014 Pierson Whalers Robotics team. Photo courtesy of Gayle Pickering.

The Pierson Robotics Team placed second at the Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition Saturday and will head to the national championship in St. Louis in April. Photo courtesy of Gayle Pickering.

By Tessa Raebeck

After coming in second place last year—and losing the championship on a technicality—the Pierson High School Robotics Team is returning to the FIRST Robotics Competition this year with a vengeance—and a “very fast robot,” according to Shane Hennessy, a junior who is in his fourth season with the team.

This weekend, the 30 members of the Pierson Whalers team will attend the 2014 Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University. An international program, FIRST challenges student teams, aided by mentors, to build a 130-pound robot in six weeks using a standard “kit of parts” and common guidelines.

This year’s game, Aerial Assist, is similar to basketball. The robot must be able to lift, throw and catch a “yoga ball,” 2 feet in diameter.  Compared to previous competitions, Aerial Assist has a catch: The team must form an alliance with two other competitors, resulting in two teams of three robots each competing against each other on the court.

The competition is more challenging this year, said Abi Gianis, a junior who is in her second year on the team.

“We have to build a robot that is capable of not only completing the task, but also can cooperate and work with other robots that we will have had never worked with before,” she said. “Teamwork between different teams is really focused on this year.”

The Whalers' robot poses in the Pierson gymnasium. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

The Whalers’ robot poses in the Pierson gymnasium. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Abi said the Whalers have scouted other team’s websites and YouTube pages, but cannot form official alliances until they arrive at the competition today, Thursday, March 27

As leader of the team’s scouting division for the second year in a row, Shane is finding his role has become “much more important because of that focus.”

“Last year,” he said, “it was more to figure out strategy, but this year it is integral to our success.”

At the competition, Shane must “know everything about every team there.” He will coordinate with the 12 members of the scouting division to find out information on their opponents and potential allies.

“Since we all have to work together as teams, we need to know which teams work well with us,” Shane said. “Also, we want to be able to prep for the matches where we don’t get to choose our alliance. If we have data on them, we can work together more efficiently.”

Pierson’s robot is fast this year because it has a mecanum wheel drive train, a way the motors are connected to the wheels that allows the robot to quickly go in any direction with ease.

“But our speed also means that we can be pushed around easily,” Shane said. “This means that a good teammate would be one that could block the opposing team for us.”

The robot has pincers that enable it to pick up and throw the ball, using pneumatics to open and close the mechanical arms, which were designed by programmers Liam Rothwell-Pessino and Ben Klinghoffer, with help from Rob Coe, a former electrical engineer—a team mentor—and Lucas Pickering, who captains the team along with Alex Cohen.

Liam, who joined the team last year as a sophomore, said, “Last year, I was kind of lost—as is everyone else I’m told, their first year—but then the second year, you get the hang of it and you really start to contribute. Then it really starts to get interesting and you feel like you’re part of the team.”

“I’d say that the struggling in the first year and being taught by the seniority on the team definitely helps bring the team closer together,” he added.

“We have received a lot more community support in the last few years, and the program has become more than just building a robot, in the sense that we’re really a team and robotics has become an enriching learning experience,” said Shane. “We worked really hard this year, and I think we’ll do well.”

The Pierson Robotics Team's robot and the balls it must throw in the FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University this weekend. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

The Pierson Robotics Team’s robot and the balls it must throw in the FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University this weekend. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Pierson Middle School Student Earns First Chair in State Honor Band

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Pierson Middle School student Thomas Brooks poses with his award certificate and saxophone at the New York State Honor Band recital in March. Photo courtesy of Austin Remson.

Pierson Middle School student Thomas Brooks poses with his award certificate and saxophone at the New York State Honor Band recital in March. Photo courtesy of Austin Remson.

By Tessa Raebeck

At the beginning of each band class, Austin Remson has a dilemma. Does he tell Thomas Brooks—who is, without fail, playing music from memory on the piano—to stop playing and get to his seat, or does he let him play a little longer?

Mr. Remson, director of the seventh and eighth grade band at Pierson Middle School, has to tell Mr. Brooks to take his seat so the class can begin, but his reluctant strictness has paid off. Earlier this month, Thomas earned first chair for alto saxophone in the New York State Honor Band for middle school students.

Sponsored by the New York State Band Directors Association, the award is “a big honor,” according to Mr. Remson. “He made our school very proud.”

Students have to achieve a certain level on New York State School Music Association evaluations and earn a certain grade in music class in order to be considered. If they meet the criteria, the music teacher recommends the student and a committee of music teachers from around the state selects the best students, about 65 in total from grades six through eight who are then inducted into the Honor Band.

“He received a perfect score at NYSSMA,” Mr. Remson said of Thomas, “so that put him in qualification to be recommended for the honor band. Along with this NYSSMA score, they want to know what his extracurriculars are, whatever music things he does and how he performs in the class—and everything was very high achieving.”

Upon arriving at the symposium, held from March 7 to 9 in Syracuse, Thomas auditioned for his seat, achieving first chair. After rehearsing for two full days for seven hours straight, the honored students performed a concert.

Thomas’s music career started five years ago, when he was in third grade, with private piano lessons with Sue Daniels.

After asking to play drums but having to settle for his second choice, the saxophone, because the drum section at the Sag Harbor Elementary School was already full, Thomas could have been disappointed, but instead he was hooked.

“It just happened to be that way,” he said of how he came to play the instrument, “and then I liked it.”

“It’s just a really fun instrument. I like the sounds. I like the way our band sounds when we play a really good song. And I don’t know, it’s just lots of fun,” he added.

Thomas also plays baseball, basketball and soccer competitively and works as a camp counselor at Future Stars at SYS, but music is his true passion.

“I like to listen to all sorts,” he said. “I mean, anything that sounds nice I’ll listen to. I like playing it just as much as listening to it. On iTunes, there’s anything you can listen to, so I listen to anything.”

Thomas likes to buy songs on iTunes, listen to them and then figure out how to play the song on the piano.

“I’ll kind of just think about it and then I’ll try to play it,” said Thomas, who is now in his second year of Mr. Remson’s seventh and eighth grade ensemble.

“He has a very good ear for music,” said Mr. Remson. “He just loves music, I can see it. And as someone who loves music also, I see a lot of myself in some of my students that really love music and it’s great.”

“He’s got a real natural talent and he’s very receptive if I give him a direction in how to play something,” he added. “Two years ago, when he came into the ensemble, he had difficulty articulating the notes. Within a week, he was perfect… He just excelled and excelled and excelled.”

Besides his natural talent, Mr. Remson said, Thomas excels due to his hard work and devotion to constantly improving. NYSSMA evaluates students on levels 1 through 6 and Thomas is already preparing to perform at level 5—despite not yet being in high school.

“I did level 1 in fourth grade and then I just went on,” he said.

At NYSSMA, students prepare a piece at their respective level to perform in front of a judge. They are graded on different criteria—tone quality, intonation, musicality, rhythm—and if they do well enough they can be invited to play in honor ensembles.

Thomas was accepted into the select ensembles for the Hamptons Music Educators Association and the Suffolk County Music Educators Association, but could not attend because he was performing in the state honor band the same weekend.

If Thomas has an upcoming event, such as the state band, he practices about 14 hours a week. If he doesn’t have anything on the horizon, he still dedicates at least six hours a week to practicing.

Thomas is the first Pierson Middle School student to be named to the State Honor Band, let alone achieve a first chair position.

“It’s going to be much more difficult to get into these kinds of things because I’ll be the youngest one [in the high school division] as a freshman,” Thomas said. “But, I’ll still try for HMEA and maybe I could get into the high school honor band…it’ll be hard, I have to work on my NYSSMA solos.”

Of the honor he’s already earned, Thomas said, “I guess it looks good on a college application.”

Thomas’s future plans are up in the air. “I could do that community band in Sag Harbor,” he said.

Pierson Students Evacuated Monday Due to Strange Odor

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A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Just before the end of the school day Monday, the students and staff of Pierson High School were evacuated after administrators observed electrical problems and smelled a strange odor coming from the basement.

“We started to have some blinking lights and we smelled an odor by the motors in the basement,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, said Tuesday morning. “So, as a precautionary measure in the interest, obviously, of safety, we did evacuate the building.”

Pierson students were dismissed on schedule to buses or for parent pick up. All after-school activities were cancelled. All belongings left behind were secured in the classrooms, the district said. The Sag Harbor Elementary School was not affected.

According to PSEG Long Island, roughly 337 customers in the area, including the school, were affected at 2:02 p.m. Monday afternoon due to a down wire. The problem was corrected and full service was restored by 2:43 p.m., PSEG representative Anthony S. said Tuesday.

The Sag Harbor Fire Department and electricians investigated the problem, addressing lighting and heating concerns, and cleared the building for “safety and proper operation” at around 3:30 p.m. the district said.

“This morning we’re pretty good,” Dr. Bonuso said early Tuesday morning.

In a letter sent out to parents, students and staff shortly after 4 p.m. Monday, the district wrote, “Rest assured that teachers will be forgiving of any homework or assignments that would have been otherwise due.”

“What we wanted to make sure was if someone didn’t have their book or notes to study, not only that they didn’t need to do the homework, but that they didn’t get penalized on an assessment,” Dr. Bonuso said.

On Tuesday morning, teachers supervised the retrieval of any belongings left behind by students the afternoon before.

“I commend the students and the staff,” said Dr. Bonuso, “they were all so cooperative and we handled that glitch very well.”