Tag Archive | "sag harbor schools"

Joe Markowski Named Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor Schools

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Joseph Markowski was appointed in a temporary position as Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor on Monday, March 23. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Joseph Markowski was appointed in a temporary position as Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor on Monday, March 23. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

Joseph Markowski, a longtime employee of Sag Harbor schools who has continued to serve the district on a volunteer basis since his retirement, was appointed buildings and grounds supervisor, a new position in the district, on Monday, March 23.

In the temporary role, he will take on the duties formerly held by Montgomery Granger, who was removed from his position as plant facilities administrator last month. Mr. Markowski came out of retirement in order to return to the district for the remainder of this school year, giving the board and administration time to find a permanent replacement for Mr. Granger.

After working in the district for five years, Mr. Granger was terminated on February 23. That termination was rescinded on Monday, and the board instead approved a resignation agreement with Mr. Granger.

A school custodial supervisor in the district from 1990 until his retirement in 2005, Mr. Markowski has spent the years since filling various roles in the district and community. He helps annually with the school budget vote and elections and has worked as a substitute school monitor.

At Monday’s board meeting, Superintendent Katy Graves called Mr. Markowski, “a veteran of the district who will be helping us through the transition period.”

In addition to remaining involved in the schools, Mr. Markowski is active in the wider Sag Harbor community. He is an assistant captain and warden in the Sag Harbor Fire Department, involved in fundraising efforts for St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church in the village, a member of the Sag Harbor Historical Society, a member of the Suffolk County Bicentennial committee, and is the co-chairman of Sag Harbor’s bicentennial commission.

Mr. Markowski also earned some fame last winter for the photo he snapped of snow melting in the shape of a whale on a Sag Harbor roof, which was first shown on the Sag Harbor Express’s Facebook page and later picked up by a Scottish newspaper, The Scotsman.

“He is a true historian and his interests really include anything related to Sag Harbor,” School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said. “You can ask any question and he pretty much knows the answer.”

“Having someone on board who has the time and the experience and can give us that time to reflect and see how we’re going to reconfigure as a system I think is very important,” added Ms. Graves. “Because I think we often rush in and just fill a position to fill a position.”

The administration committed to using the interim period to finding “a more fiscal way to address our leadership needs—the smartest way to go.”

School board member Sandi Kruel told newer members of the board a story about Mr. Markowski, remembering a few evenings some years ago when he slept overnight at the school to monitor the boilers when they weren’t working properly.

Chuckling, Mr. Markowski thanked the board for his “nice vacation” of 10 years.

The next meeting of the Sag Harbor Board of Education is Tuesday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m., immediately following a budget workshop that starts at 6:45 p.m. Both meetings will be held in the library at Pierson Middle/High School, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.

First Full Draft of Sag Harbor School District Proposed Budget Presented

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the first review of the entire proposed budget for the 2015-16 school year, Sag Harbor School District officials unveiled over $37.4 million in spending, the bulk of which will go to employee benefits and salaries.

While some numbers have yet to be disclosed, School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi made projections for several budget lines, including state aid and taxable assessed values for properties in the Towns of Southampton and East Hampton, based on last year’s figures.

Ms. Buscemi projected $1.7 million in state aid, although “this number is subject to change” as Governor Andrew Cuomo has still not released the final state aid numbers to districts, she said. That number represents an increase of 3.85 percent, or $63,027, from the 2014-15 budget.

The budget’s largest proposed increase is in instruction, in part due to a new in-house special education program “that’s going to allow a lot of our students coming in to stay in the district and receive services in the district,” Ms. Buscemi said. But those increases are expected to be offset savings in things like transportation and tuition fees. Total Instruction, which accounts for 57 percent of all expenses, is projected to increase by 3.14 percent, or $641,128 from this year’s budget, for a projected total of $21.06 million.

While instruction costs, which includes appropriations for all regular instruction at both the Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School, as well as expenditures for special education programs, extracurricular activities and athletics, is increasing, employee benefits are expected to decrease.

“We did receive an increase to our health insurance lines,” Ms. Buscemi said, “but [with the] decrease in our pension costs, we were able to show a decline for next year…that’s probably the first time in many, many years where you see a decline in employee benefits.”

Employee benefits, which represent almost a quarter of the entire budget, are expected to decline by 1.56 percent.

Salaries and benefits, largely contractual costs, together make up nearly 80 percent of the total budget.

Tuition revenues are expected to decrease by $147,000, because children who have been coming to the district from the Springs School District will now be going to East Hampton after a new agreement was made between those districts. Sag Harbor collected $550,000 in out-of-district tuition and transportation costs in 2014-15, and expects that revenue to decrease to $430,000 next year.

Ms. Buscemi again proposed that the district purchase a new bus. It would ease transportation scheduling and ultimately show cost savings, she said. Contracting out one bus run costs about $50,000 for the year, Ms. Buscemi said, “So it makes sense for us to go out and purchase a new bus” because the cost of $102,000 could be made up in just two years.

“We’re just under the cap right now at 2.65” percent, Ms. Buscemi said of the state-mandated tax cap on how much the property tax levy can increase year to year, “but in order to close our budget gap, we did need to use some of our reserve funds.”

As projected, the tax levy limit for Sag Harbor is above $34.1 million, or 2.68 percent. The percentage is not the same as the increase to an individual property owner’s tax rate. The tax levy is determined by the budget minus revenues and other funding sources, such as state aid. The tax rate, on the other hand, “is based not only on the levy, but also on the assessed value of your home,” Ms. Buscemi explained.

For the first time since the 2010-11 school year, the taxable assessed values for both the Town of Southampton and the Town of East Hampton increased from the prior year. Although the school district’s voters approved a budget last year that allowed for a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value actually decreased by 0.56 to 0.63 percent, depending on home value and town, because of the growth in taxable assessed value.

“Just because the tax levy is increasing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your tax rate is going to increase,” added Ms. Buscemi. “If the current year’s assessed value goes up these increases are going to decline and vice versa.”

The 2015-16 projected tax levy is about $34.1 million, which represents a tax levy increase of 2.65 percent and a projected tax rate increase of 2.5 percent.

That projected tax rate increase of 2.5 percent would translate to an increase of $130.26 for a home in Southampton valued at $1 million and $130.40 for a home of the same value in East Hampton, based on the 2014-15 assessed values.

A second review of the entire budget will be held on Tuesday, April 14, at 6:45 p.m. in the library of Pierson Middle/High School, located at 201 Jermain Street in Sag Harbor. The school board plans to adopt the 2015-16 budget on April 22 and hold a public hearing on May 5. The annual budget vote and school board elections are on May 19.

Sorry Kids, Sag Harbor Spring Break Affected by Snow Days Again this Year

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As his friends look on, Philip Miller catches air on Pierson Hill following the Blizzard of 2015 on Tuesday, 1/27/15

Making the best of the biggest blizzard in years, Philip Miller shreds a buried bench on Pierson Hill as his friends look on on Tuesday, January 27. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

After Sag Harbor students enjoyed their fourth snow day off this school year on Thursday, March 5, Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves announced they would have to make up for the loss of one day of instructional time. As a result, students will lose the last week day of their scheduled spring break and will be required to attend school on Friday, April 10.

“We encourage you to have your children come to school on April 10, but we are understanding if your family has made other plans. Our parents are our children’s finest teachers; time spent with your children is never wasted,” Ms. Graves said in an email to the school community.

Required by law to have 180 full days of instruction each year, school districts are faced with the tricky task of balancing breaks with preparation for inclement weather, which has become a more pressing concern with the extreme storms and conditions in recent years. Extra snow days cut into the scheduled spring break last year, as did Hurricane Sandy the year before.

“I am hopeful that the adage is true that when March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb,” Ms. Graves said in her email. “We certainly have seen March’s winter claws, but we have also enjoyed the beauty of Pierson Hill deep in snow.”

Dr. Lois Favre, the superintendent of the Bridgehampton School District, said it had 180 school days scheduled and would not have to make up any lost days unless school is canceled again.

Ms. Graves said on Tuesday that if the district were to need another snow day, which could occur along with the forecasts of inclement weather for this coming weekend, “we’ll continue to carve away at that vacation time, but we’re really hoping that that’s not going to be the case.”

The next vacation day to be turned into a school day would be Thursday, April 9, also during the spring recess.

In its contract with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH), the district pledged to never start school before Labor Day, “which is good for our families and our district and it works also for our teachers… we have to respect that,” Ms. Graves said.

The provision is intended to protect members of the community and staff who work second jobs during the summer months and rent their homes out during Sag Harbor’s busy resort season.

Planning for the upcoming 2015-16 school year poses extra challenges because Labor Day is late this year, falling on Monday, September 7. That means the window for the school year is narrower than it normal is. Because Labor Day is always celebrated on the first Monday in September, the district faces such a situation once every seven years.

“We’re adopting a calendar that right now only has two snow days built in, so we’re probably going to have to continue to be thoughtful about this,” said Ms. Graves. “We’re going to have to continue sitting down with our teachers association, PTA [Parent Teachers Association] and the Board of Education and probably coming up with a contingency plan.”

One option she mentioned is adding flex dates during the summer, when children have a day off but faculty and staff come in for training.

“I don’t know what those other options look like right now, but the New York State Department of Education gives us just a tiny little bit of latitude and that’s what we might need to bring to the table—is just a little bit of latitude and to see what we can do for next year,” Ms. Graves said.

Sag Harbor School District Facilities Director Terminated

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By Tessa Raebeck

web-Monty-Granger-8-3-09_2380

After working in the Sag Harbor School District for five years, Plant Facilities Administrator Montgomery Granger was fired in February.

In a rare mid-school year firing, the Sag Harbor Board of Education terminated its director of facilities on February 23. Montgomery “Monty” Granger was let go after five years of working for the school district.

Mr. Granger started working in the district in a dual role as director of health, physical education and athletics and director of buildings and grounds in August 2009. Three years later, when Todd Gulluscio was hired as athletics director, Mr. Granger’s position changed to plant facilities administrator, where he focused primarily on buildings and grounds since August 2012. Donnelly McGovern is the district’s current athletic director.

Superintendent Katy Graves would not comment specifically on why Mr. Granger was let go. “We just continue to do what’s best for the district, so all of our decisions are what’s best for children, fair for adults, and what the community can sustain,” she said on Tuesday. “And that was absolutely a personnel matter.”

Mr. Granger presented his proposed buildings and grounds budget to the board on January 23, which included a suggested salary of $102,304 for himself. The board held a special meeting, closed to the public, to discuss the employment of  staff member without providing details on February 9, and Mr. Granger was escorted out of the Sag Harbor Elementary School that week.

Prior to working with the Sag Harbor School District, Mr. Granger was district administrator for operations for the Comsewogue School District from 2004 to 2009, and that district’s director of health, physical education and athletics from 2000 to 2004.

Mr. Granger was mobilized three times as a field medical assistant in the United States Army Reserves, a position he held from 1986 until he retired as a major in 2008. During his tours, Mr. Granger worked in such facilities as the Abu Ghraib Prison outside of Baghdad and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He was charged with making sure “medical, preventive medical, environmental and other aspects of detention operations were in compliance with U.S. Army, Department of Defense, and Geneva Convention regulations and laws,” he told the Sag Harbor Express in 2009.

Mr. Granger could not be reached for comment.

Niche Ranking Names Pierson 49th Best Public High School in New York State

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Pierson seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

Pierson seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Sag Harbor’s Pierson Middle/High School was ranked the 49th best public high school in New York State in the Niche list, a national rating determined not just by statistics, but also alumni, parent and student survey responses. Pierson’s grade, of which academics account for 50 percent, was an “A+” overall.

“A high ranking indicates that the school is an exceptional academic institution with a diverse set of high-achieving students who rate their experience very highly,” Niche said of its annual list, which looked at statistics and survey results at 14,431 high schools nationwide. Magnet, charter and online schools are not eligible for ranking.

In 35th place in New York, Westhampton Beach Senior High School was the top high school on the East End, followed by Pierson at 49, East Hampton at 58, Southampton at 65, Shelter Island at 213 and Greenport at 236.

On Monday, Sag Harbor Superintendent Katy Graves attributed Pierson’s strong showing to its “strength of schedule,” strong course offerings like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. The school started offering IB in September 2012 and Pierson’s first diploma candidates in the program graduated last year.

“This reinforces again that our overall rankings keep coming out clearly—our students are doing such an outstanding job,” said Ms. Graves, comparing the Niche grade to Pierson’s strong test scores.

Government and other public data, Niche’s data and over 4 million surveys, which asked parents, alumni and students to rate their schools, determined the rankings.

“They feel like the academics, the administration, the policies and our educational outcomes are really outstanding,” Ms. Graves said of the survey respondents, adding that Pierson was given a top score of A+ for the quality of Sag Harbor teachers. “That resonates. I think that really sends a great message out to keep doing what we’re doing and to continue doing our personal best to give that Sag Harbor experience to all of our students,” she said.

Half of a school’s score is based on academics, 10 percent each on health and safety, student culture and diversity, survey responses and the teachers’ grades, 5 percent on resources and facilities, and 2.5 percent each for sports and extracurricular activities.

Pierson was given a top score of A+ for teachers and resources and facilities and A’s in academics and health and safety. Extracurriculars and activities received a B+, sports and fitness a B-.

Pierson’s lowest score was in student culture and diversity, which received a C+. Eighty-two percent of Pierson students are white, 14 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent are black, according to Niche.

Much of the data came from statistics reported by the schools to the U.S. Department of Education from 2011 to 2012. Some schools that scored well did not qualify for an official ranking due to insufficient data.

Many of the schools on the list are science and technical institutes. High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey, came in first in the country, followed by Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and two New York schools, Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and Staten Island Technical High School.

i-Tri Girls Find Self-Empowerment Through Triathlons

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Guadalupe Rojas mentally prepares for the race in i-tri. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.

Guadalupe Rojas mentally prepares for the race in i-tri. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.

By Tessa Raebeck 

Theresa Roden’s motivation to run a triathlon came from a somewhat surprising source of inspiration: sitting on the beach. While visiting Block Island, Ms. Roden, who lives in Springs, saw a group of jubilant runners dart by, turned to her family and said, quite simply, “I’m going to do this next year.”

“They all looked at me like I had 25 heads,” said Ms. Roden, who not only ran, swam and biked across Block Island the following year, but also encouraged a group of some 20 East Enders to do the same. In 2010, she founded i-tri, a six-month program that uses training for a triathlon to teach local girls about health and nutrition, self-empowerment, and camaraderie.

“For me, it was the first time in my entire life that I cut myself some slack,” Ms. Roden said of her training. “I changed that inner dialogue. We all have that negative self-talk that we do to ourselves and I, for the first time, discovered I didn’t have to be so critical and if I was just a little kinder to myself, things were a lot easier. I just totally changed the way that I felt about myself and I talked about myself and to myself—and everything started to change.”

(L to R) Marissa Harry, Kaya Mulligan, Alicia Benis  finish the i-tri race. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.

(L to R) Marissa Harry, Kaya Mulligan, Alicia Benis finish the i-tri race. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.

Lamenting that she hadn’t changed her self-talk 20 years earlier, when her daughter Abby entered the sixth grade, Ms. Roden created i-tri for Abby and seven other girls in her class at Springs School. I-tri expanded to the Montauk School in 2012 and to Southampton last year, and on Monday, January 26, the Sag Harbor Board of Education will vote on whether to adopt the program at Pierson Middle School.

Offered free of charge to every participant, i-tri consists of triathlon-specific training of swimming, biking or running on Saturdays, weekly group lessons focused on self-esteem building and leadership skills, after-school fitness classes such as yoga and spinning, and hands-on nutrition classes, which families are welcome to attend.

The school district is asked to provide a space for i-tri to hold the in-school sessions and possibly the nighttime nutrition sessions, for support from relevant personnel such as guidance counselors, and possibly also for transportation to certain meetings. Training and classes start in March, culminating with the race in mid-July.

While training is limited to sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls, i-tri graduates often remain involved through mentorship. The eight girls who took part the first year are now juniors at East Hampton High School, and several of them started an i-tri-inspired empowerment club that meets periodically and invites successful, local women to come speak to students.

Although crossing the finish line is the most tangible reward, i-tri is at its core about empowering the girls in all aspects of their lives.

“It’s not all about training for the race,” said Maria Chavez, a freshman at East Hampton High School who started the program as a sixth grader in Springs and plans to race again this year, adding that i-tri encouraged the girls and “made us feel confident about ourselves…and we weren’t afraid to tell each other anything; we had so much support.”

“It’s all about feeling good,” said Ms. Roden. “There’s nothing more important than that I feel good, because when I feel good I have more to give the world and when I give to the world, I get back.”

Sag Harbor School District Presents First Draft of $1.5 Million Support Services Budget

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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

To start the Sag Harbor School District’s five-month budget season, Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi presented the first draft of a nearly $1.5 million support services budget, which covers the board of education, central administration, legal services, public information services, and insurance components of the district’s overall budget.

This school year’s $36.8 million budget, which easily passed last May by a 72-percent margin, had an increase of $1.36 million, or 3.83 percent, in spending from the previous school year. The district’s tax levy increase of 1.48 percent came in below the state’s 1.51 percent property tax levy cap for the district, which was determined by calculations specific to last year.

“We are looking at every single line individually,” Ms. Buscemi told the board at the workshop on Monday, January 12. “We’re trying to stay very, very conservative,” she said, adding that once health insurance and pension increases are applied, diligence will be demanded in other areas. Those costs take up a significant portion of the budget each year; salaries and benefits generally account for more than 80 percent of the overall budget. The last 20 percent of the budget must account for programs, technology, facilities and maintenance.

The support services budget was not yet complete, with several lines requiring further edits or information. Much of the data needed to finalize this year’s budget, such as insurance rates, BOCES rates, and clerical salaries, is not yet available. Superintendent Katy Graves’s salary has also not yet been determined, and is listed at $215,000, her current salary.

Some potential savings also remain undetermined. Several of the capital projects afforded by the bond referendum voters passed in 2013, such as floor replacements, the new turf field, and other safety measures, could save the district money by lowering the cost of student accident insurance, which is budgeted for $50,000.

“In some instances,” added Ms. Graves, “you actually save because insurance companies feel [more secure].”

This year the district joined a new purchasing cooperative, Educational Data Basic and T&M Services, to issue bids for the district.

“This $5,000 will save us a lot of time and money with bidding,” said Ms. Buscemi, adding that it will save the district money in advertising and time in manpower by doing bids through the cooperative, rather than through the business office.

“We’re going to get a better quality product at a lower cost,” Ms. Graves added.

Rather than putting out bids as a single entity, being part of the cooperative enables the district to go through an agency and have many units purchase at the same time, and save money by banding together with other districts on the East End.

The public information line, which has been up for much debate as the district grapples with how best to increase communications—particularly online—with parents and the wider public in a digital age, is projected to decrease by 4.64 percent, going from $75,500 budgeted for this year to $72,000 for 2014-15. While postage fees will remain steady, the district will be allocating $40,000 it had been paying a private firm to BOCES for public information services.

The district will host workshops on the remaining portions of the budget before the first draft is unveiled on March 23. Athletics, capital project work, and buildings and grounds will be covered at the January 26 workshop. Technology, special education, debt service, employee benefits and transportation will be on February 23, and on March 9 the elementary, middle and high schools, and BOCES administration and services sections will be presented. All workshops are at 6 p.m. in the Pierson library.

A second review of the entire budget will be held April 13, and the budget adoption is scheduled for April 22, followed by another review on April 27. The budget hearing will be May 5 and the districtwide vote is on May 19, as are school board elections.

With No Clear Option for Later Start Times, School District Asks Community for Help

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Sag Harbor Elementary School Student Beckham LaRose told the Sag Harbor School District Tuesday.

“I need more sleep,” Sag Harbor Elementary School student Beckham LaRose told the Sag Harbor Board of Education Tuesday, as School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and District Clerk Mary Adamczyk listened. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

After hosting seven workshops in less than two months, the Sag Harbor School District has made headway on researching ways to move school start times later, but remains far from ready to implement a change.

A later start to the school day, especially for high school students, has been advocated by health and education experts nationwide, after research has shown a later start time is better for students’ overall health and safety, behavior and academic performance. Despite the indisputable benefits to children, however, implementation faces practical challenges: established schedules for classes, bus routes and classes; faculty and staff contracts, parents’ work requirements, and cultural behaviors that are in many cases deeply ingrained.

Although Sag Harbor parents have individually advocated for later starts at various times—and to various superintendents—over the past decade, national momentum toward a change surged in August, when the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report calling chronic sleep deprivation in adolescents a national health crisis and recommending no American high school start before 8:30 a.m.

Human sleep cycles change during adolescence; teenagers naturally feel alert later at night and have difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m. Teenagers also need more sleep, requiring at least 8.5 hours, a mere pipe dream for those who have to get on the bus at 6:45 a.m.

Mirroring the national conversation, the movement has gained significant traction in Sag Harbor, which, like many other schools on Long Island, has one of the earliest start times in the country. The Pierson Middle/High School schedule runs from 7:25 a.m. to 2:26 p.m., with many students waiting for the bus in the dark to make it to first period on time. Sag Harbor Elementary School starts the day with morning program at 8:35 a.m. and goes to 3:10 p.m.

Spectators are rare at school board meetings, perhaps not surprisingly, but on Tuesday some 30 parents, students and teachers filled the Pierson Library to hear the board discuss its options. The district’s administrative team compiled extensive data on various aspects and costs of a potential switch, including the effect on athletics schedules and bus routes, the two primary challenges of a change (data available at sagharborschools.org). The plans would range in cost and effectiveness, but none was selected by the board or highly favored by those in attendance. Some options come with significant price tags, while others do little to solve the problem.

Several options would continue operating separate bus runs for the elementary school and Pierson, which are “what saves us the most money,” Jennifer Buscemi, the school business administrator, said. Under other plans, however, the bus runs would have to be combined, which would require significant costs and the potentially problematic situation of 5-year-olds riding the bus alongside teenagers.

The probable annual costs for the first three options, which start both schools after 8 a.m., could range from $401,986 to $625,799, Ms. Buscemi projected. Options 4 and 5 have no additional costs, but Option 4 simply swaps the schools’ times, starting the elementary school early instead, and Option 5 starts Pierson at 7:35 a.m., a mere 10-minute improvement, but a possible starting point, Ms. Graves said.

The sixth option gives Pierson a 7:45 a.m. start time, with 9 a.m. at the elementary school, and would have a much lower cost of $75,000 for contracting out additional sports runs, which Ms. Buscemi said would “not be a very large impact on our tax cap,” whereas that of options 1, 2, and 3 is substantial.

“My general feeling,” said school board member David Diskin “on this is that to make a significant change, it’s obviously a huge amount of money.” Although Mr. Diskin said he saw the benefits of a change, he added he “would hate to see us reduce programs because we made the switch.”

But advocates of later times maintain its better to be roughing it in the beginning of a change than catching up at the tail end, and the momentum is definitely growing. Parents in Southampton, which starts its high school at 7:30, have also urged the board to adopt later times. While Sag Harbor was debating Tuesday, a school district in Dorchester, South Carolina, voted to move its start time later next year.

Switching times is difficult, but not impossible. Schools in Pierson’s athletic conference, the Ross School and Shelter Island High School, both start at 8 a.m.

“I don’t think we have found the right solution—the right option—yet,” said school board vice president Chris Tice. “I think we needed to go through this process to say what are the big rocks, what is the data—I’m not convinced that all the options that are potentially viable are on the table yet…the average district that has made a change takes six months to two years to explore this, we took a month.”

The board spoke in favor of putting the issue on the back burner for now, with hopes of reconvening with better preparation after the budget season. They urged community members to use the extensive data and information compiled by the administration to research more cost-effective, sustainable options.

The community appeared ready and willing to take the reins.

Jackson LaRose, a sixth grader at Pierson, asked the board to consider moving the elementary school schedule from 9 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. and Pierson from 7:50 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., “So the buses have enough time and I don’t think it would cost anymore money,” he said. His little brother, 8-year-old Beckham, agreed, saying, “I need more sleep.”

Laurie Marsden, a parent, said after transitioning to middle school this year, her daughter is “struggling still and it’s December. She’s never had a headache in her life and she had headaches the first two weeks of school straight.”

“I know that every single parent that I speak to says they wish the school was later and they talk about how they’re struggling. They talk about how difficult it is not just for their children, but for their whole family,” said Ms. Marsden.

Jean Cowen, the mother of a seventh grader and a former teacher, suggested moving the academic support to beginning of the day, rather than at the end as it stands now, and making it optional. The teachers’ school day—and contracts—would not be affected, nor would bus routes. School would start at 8:05 a.m. for students whose parents can drive them later, with students who need academic support or to be at school earlier so their parents can get to work riding the bus at the regular times.

“Asking kids to get up and perform at the 7 a.m. hour is equivalent to asking an adult to get up and perform at the 4 a.m. hour,” said Susan LaMontagne, adding there are ways to make the change with very little or no costs, and she and other parents are willing to find out how to make it work in Sag Harbor.

Updated Communications Plan for Sag Harbor School District

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By Tessa Raebeck

Seven months after the Sag Harbor School District Communications Committee presented its recommendations to the school board for better communications, Superintendent Katy Graves on Monday, November 17, offered her view of how to best move forward.

In early April, the committee presented a report to the board, in response to feedback from a survey of various stakeholders that found the district needed to improve its communication with all parties, which is now a board goal for the 2014-15 school year. The district had worked with Syntax Communications, a Long Island marketing firm that specializes in public relations for public school districts, in the past, but has not had a contract with any communications company since July 1.

The main recommendations made by the committee were: to improve and expand the district website; to develop a communication manual for employees and establish expectations for constituents; and to hire a communications specialist to “facilitate better communication to all district stakeholders;” as well as to continually assess the success of those recommendations and adjust for ongoing improvements. The committee included five options for hiring a communications specialist, which range in projected costs from $23,690 for a part-time assistant to $74,688 for a full-time communications specialist.

Since July 1, the administration has been gathering information and deciding whether to hire a staff member, as recommended by the committee, contract out services with an outside company, or use a company through BOCES, Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said on Wednesday.

At Monday’s board meeting, Ms. Graves said the district would use Syntax through BOCES for the rest of the school year, which she and Ms. Buscemi agreed is the most cost-effective option.

“I’m doing it as fiscally and in as sustainable a model as possible, so my recommendation is to go with the BOCES service, which is service through Syntax,” said the superintendent.

The BOCES contract with Syntax Communications, would, at a prorated amount, cost $26,085 for the rest of the school year, which ends on June 30, 2015.

Ms. Graves said if the district continues with that model in the future, Syntax would hire a specialist locally who would work more directly with several East End school districts, but “this late in the year, that isn’t something we’re going to get.” For this year, Syntax will aid the district on putting out a board of education newsletter, the annual budget newsletter and improving the website.

“Syntax was really gracious enough to give us a prorated rate when they will be providing almost the same exact services they were going to provide” had the contract started in July, said Ms. Buscemi.

The agreement, Ms. Graves said, would also “free up [Director of Technology Scott Fisher] to be doing more with and for students when it comes to technology.”

While the district will work with BOCES for the rest of this school year, the board plans to evaluate communications again during budget deliberations in the spring, and implement a long-range plan. In the meantime, administrators remain cognizant of the ongoing need to improve outreach to school stakeholders.

“We’ve been getting better and better about email blasts, about what goes on the website and, even at board meetings, I think we’ve done a much better job at not only getting information out to parents, but also letting them know the positive things that are happening with their children and for their children in the district,” said Ms. Graves.

Those “positive things” were on full display at Monday’s meeting.

Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, an audit partner at R.S. Abrams & Co., shared the results of the district’s annual audit.

“We issued an unmodified opinion, which is the best opinion you can have; that means it’s a clean opinion, we call it in the audit world. We did note that the reserves did increase this year. We’re very happy to see that the district has come a long way in building that fund balance,” Ms. Battaglia said.

“This is my fifth year on the board and this was by far the strongest, most positive results of the audit, so I just want to thank all the employees,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the school board. “That doesn’t happen overnight—it’s happened, I’d say, five, six, seven years—there’s been an enormous amount of effort and energy…. We’re in the strongest financial position we’ve been in in a long time.”

More good news came from Pierson Middle School Vice Principal Brittany Miaritis, who said the eighth grade’s book drive to help students at the Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Louisiana has inspired other local schools to join the cause. The middle school was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and, 10 years later, has a brand new building but hardly any books, materials or supplies to fill it. Since hearing about Sag Harbor’s initiative, students in Hampton Bays have donated some 100 books to the southern school.

“Just from one little implementation here, now it’s all over the East End,” said Ms. Miaritis. “It’s pretty rad and cool that our students are involved in it.”

In other school board news, the board decided to explore the notions of allowing in-season varsity athletes to opt out of gym class to allow for more time for academics, and of eliminating class rank and instead marking students by 25-point percentiles, which many Long Island schools have opted to do in order to encourage colleges to look at students in more depth.

Sag Harbor School District to Consider Six Options for Later Start Times at Pierson

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By Tessa Raebeck Start Times Sidebar copy

Striving to be leaders in the national trend toward later high school starting times, Sag Harbor administrators have outlined six options of potential time changes for the school district.

In early October, in response to concerns expressed by parents and students and a growing body of research that supports moving start times later for students’ overall health and success, the Board of Education created an ad-hoc committee, to explore possibilities and develop plans to present to the board. The committee is in the midst of eight scheduled meetings, with each meeting designed to tackle a specific challenge, such as after-school program scheduling at the elementary school, transportation and budget challenges and athletics schedules.

The decision to pursue a schedule change came shortly after the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report in late August that called insufficient sleep in teenagers “an important public health issue” and recommended all high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The report, and others, showed that teenagers’ circadian rhythms make it nearly impossible for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. and wake before 8 a.m., and that growing adolescents have less ability to focus in the early morning than younger children and adults.

The school board voiced its support of making a change for students’ benefit as early as last spring, but remained wary of the challenges of altering the long-ingrained schedules of school buses, interscholastic athletics and extra-curricular activities.

As it stands, the day at Pierson Middle/High School starts at 7:25 a.m.—which is on the earlier side of national start times—and ends at 2:26 p.m. After a 45-minute route, Pierson buses drop students off between 7:10 and 7:15 a.m. The Sag Harbor Elementary School day begins with morning program at 8:35 a.m. and ends at 3:10 p.m. Elementary school buses also have a 45-minute route, and students are dropped off at the school between 8:20 and 8:25 a.m.

The school district, which owns all of its buses and runs transportation itself to save money, has seven large buses, five mini-buses and one van, and 13 bus drivers and two substitute drivers. There are 750 students who are eligible to ride the bus.

The committee has come up with six possible options (see sidebar) to change the high school start time, which will be presented when the board meets on December 1.

Under the first option, the morning bus runs would remain separate, but the afternoon runs would be combined, meaning that students in kindergarten through 12th grade would ride the bus together. Both the morning and afternoon runs would be combined under options two and three. For those three options, administrators project that five additional buses would be needed. Purchasing two buses and contracting out three buses would cost an estimated $690,799, or $511,769 if the two buses were leased instead of bought. That cost includes an additional parking lot to store the new buses, as the current lots are at maximum capacity.

“Economically,” Superintendent Katy Graves said Monday, “it’s such a challenge to combine the bus routes.” The committee also expressed concerns over having five-year-olds ride the bus alongside teenagers.

“The combined bus runs—again, I always think we can work through issues and we would—but initially, that would pose some obvious difficulties and challenges,” said Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone.

“We’re always aware of the goal of trying our best, within reason, to keep these little kids young as long as we can…that’s something that we’re very cognizant of, so [sharing buses] would be something that we’d have to really talk through and work through,” he added.

Under options four and five, the district would keep the separate bus runs and thus need no additional buses or funding, administrators said. Option six was just added last Thursday and hasn’t been thoroughly vetted yet, but Superintendent Katy Graves said the plan, which is a less ambitious option with a still early start time of 7:45 a.m., “could possibly increase our busing to athletics.”

Ms. Graves said the fourth option, “flipping” the elementary and high school start times, is a popular choice in districts that have successfully implemented a change, but “culturally, the way we built our district with the morning program and everything—I would be very concerned about that.”

Another concern, which was echoed by Mr. Malone and Donna Denon, the elementary school vice principal, is the potential loss of the time allotted for after-school programs, if there was a later dismissal time at the elementary school.

“There’s no way to do this without some kind of effect and a compromise,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, who has been vocal in her support of moving high school start times later.

“Unequivocally,” she continued, “it is so much healthier for kids to go to school later…. Every piece of research documents that this is a worthwhile process to go through, but we have to acknowledge that, I think, almost every choice or recommendation that’s made—it’s going to have some pain associated with it…. That’s going to be the conversation—what is most beneficial with the least negative impact on children?”

The administrators are creating a survey about the potential changes to get feedback from parents, students and staff.

Representatives from Section XI will discuss the impact a change would have on athletics at the committee’s next meeting, on Wednesday, November 19, at 7 p.m. in the Pierson library. The committee will draft final plans on Thursday, November 20, also at 7 p.m., and present those plans when the school board meets on December 1 at 6 p.m. in the Pierson library.