Tag Archive | "sag harbor schools"

After More Than Six Months of Debate, Still No Decision on Taping Sag Harbor School Board Meetings

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By Tessa Raebeck

Each spring around the time of the Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) budget vote and elections, “transparency” becomes a buzzword for the district. Candidates and board members repeatedly stress the need for open communication with the public and express their commitment to ensuring the board is operating as openly as possible.

However, it appears a discussion on broadcasting school board meetings continues without gaining real traction—the concept was once again tabled after six months of debate.

BOE member David Diskin has repeatedly asked for the topic to be on the board’s agendas since he was sworn into office last July. It has been a topic of discussion at least seven times since August, but no concrete steps have been taken.

In January, a group formed to address the issue, which included BOE members Chris Tice, Mary Anne Miller and Mr. Diskin, as well as director of technology Scott Fisher, recommended the board have a “pilot program.” With no money allotted in the budget for the program this year, they recommended it be implemented during the 2014-2015 school year.

During Monday’s board meeting, it appeared at least the financing for the project had been worked out.

Community member John Battle, who has had two children in the district, recalled the group’s recommendation to “implement a six-month trial period of broadcasting.”

“The only thing standing in the way, it seemed, was the lack of funds to purchase the equipment needed to videotape and record the proceedings,” Mr. Battle said.

“On behalf of The Sag Harbor Education Best Practice Group,” he continued, “I urge the board to accept the recommendations… and I am happy to announce here in public, as I have already done to the board by e-mail, that our group is willing to provide the equipment for this trial project if the board votes to proceed with it.”

“We have reached out to our attorney to get input from him,” responded school board president Theresa Samot.

Ms. Samot said a scheduled meeting with school attorney Thomas Volz specifically about recording meetings was postponed due to inclement weather, but the board will meet with him regarding the matter in the beginning of March.

“Certainly,” she said,” it’s not our intent to hold this up, and we’re not saying we’re against this. We just need to get some more input from our attorney at this point.”

Ms. Samot added that the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) has no best practice policy on recording school board meetings that the board could use as a guideline.

The board, said Ms. Tice, needs to look at whether there would be additional personnel costs and if the potential for members of the public to request information through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) has “an indication of the amount of hours our personnel has to spend on it.”

“I was naïve on the committee,” Ms. Tice said of her prior recommendation to start a trial period, “to think that I was ready to make a recommendation, because we really hadn’t asked all the questions. I still believe that there’s a lot of merit in this, but a lot more questions have come up that I don’t really know the answer to.”

“What we’re finding is that there are certainly elements to at least be considered, even elements beyond cost,” agreed interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso.

“We have board policy that guides what you do. In terms of training, is there such a thing as training people to be able to hold a meeting that is taped?”

Dr. Bonuso said he felt questions such as where the camera would be placed, whether recording meetings would mean that everyone in the audience would also be taped, whether students in attendance would need to give permission to be on camera and whether or not tapes would be edited need to be addressed before the board can move forward.

“We want to know that when we do this we’re prepared,” he said, adding, “I know it can be frustrating waiting for this to unfold.”

“I just think more maximum transparency, more maximum access…it’s got to be a good thing,” Mr. Diskin said.

“I think the community wants it,” agreed Daniel Hartnett, a member of the board who has expressed his support of the project several times.

“The only responsible thing to do,” said Ms. Tice, “is to understand what the implications are before we vote on it.”

Unless there is a hot topic on the agenda, board meetings are typically attended by fewer than five people, aside from members of the press and the administrators and board members who are obligated to be there.

Recording meetings was discussed in-depth at the board’s October 15 session.

“We want to have a video where people can’t cut or paste,” Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said at that meeting. “We also have to be concerned about having students on video.”

Ms. Tice expressed her concern that recordings could be edited to quote people out of context and said some districts found that once meetings were available online, the public stopped showing up in person.

Scott Fisher, director of technology, told the board that once public meetings are recorded, “That’s a permanent record and can be searched through FOIL and requirements for retention of school district records.”

At the November 18 board meeting, Mr. Diskin again asked the board to discuss video recording its meetings. Board President Theresa Samot said it was a good idea to look into.

“Taping of board meeting” was on the agenda again at a December session, when Ms. Miller, Ms. Tice and Mr. Diskin agreed to meet with Mr. Fisher to take concrete steps to set up at least an audio recording. It was discussed again in January, when Mr. Diskin told the board the group had looked at a variety of possibilities and researched the different technical aspects required, the expense, time and labor involved, as well as the different ways tapes meetings could be distributed to the public.

“We basically came to the conclusion,” reported Mr. Fisher at the time, “that it might be best—if we decided to go down this road—to do a pilot program for a short period of time.”

Mr. Fisher said the best means of doing so seems to be putting the video on one of the local public access channels, either LTV in East Hampton or SEA-TV in Southampton.

Ms. Tice noted that out of 17 East End school districts Mr. Fisher had contacted about the project, only two publicly broadcast their school board meetings, East Hampton and Southampton. LTV broadcasts the meetings for East Hampton and SEA-TV does the same for Southampton.

“We haven’t made a commitment to doing anything at this point,” said Mr. Fisher in January. “But, if we are to move forward, I think we would all agree that would be the direction in which we want to proceed.”

The total cost, Mr. Fisher said, would be somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000, which Mr. Battle agreed to fund Monday.

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.

Janet Grossman

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grossman

The new president of the Youth Resource Center of Sag Harbor talks about the future and why this not-for-profit needs community support.

By Stephen J. Kotz

 You were recently named the president of the newly created Youth Resource Center of Sag Harbor, Inc. Why was the organization formed and how long have you been involved?

The Sag Harbor Youth Center and YARD (Youth Advocacy Resource Development) were merged beginning last summer and officially became the Youth Resource Center at the start of the year. County LegislatorJay Schneiderman really pushed for it. The two were competing for limited funding, and ever since the Youth Center had moved to the Old Whalers’ Church, not that many young people were using it.

I’m a retired teacher of English as a second language. I worked in the Sag Harbor School District for 24 years and retired seven and a half years ago. I’ve been involved with YARD since it was started, 15 years ago.

What is the new Youth Resource Center’s mission?

We want to have a place for the young people, the youth, of Sag Harbor to go after school where they can meet friends, play games, and socialize so they don’t have to go home to an empty house when their parents are working. We serve, in the community room at Pierson, 40 to 8 kids a day, mainly middle school kids.

We have games, we have refreshments and activities. Sometimes we have a workshop for kids, a babysitting workshop for instance. We try to offer resources so if they have a problem they can come in. We try to have trips for young people during school vacations and we have safe summer beach program that we run at Long Beach. We want to keep the kids entertained and engaged so they are not getting into trouble in town.

We also have a youth advisory board with 10 or 12 teens on it, so they can tell us what they want.

Now that the programs have been merged, do you see any advantages in funding?

We get some funding from the two villages, Sag Harbor and North Haven, a little funding from the school district, some from the county and some from the state, but we don’t know what we are going to get. A lot of people don’t know our beach program is not connected to the school, so we have to get our own insurance for that and liability insurance is $10,000 alone.

The reality is we are struggling, absolutely struggling.

What are your biggest needs at this point?

One of the most pressing things we need, even more than funding, is volunteers to join the YRC committee, which meets monthly. We know parents have a hard time getting out, but we need active members. They can be senior citizens.

I would like to be able to have more school trips. Over winter break, we took the kids to the bowling alley in Riverhead. This break they may go ice skating at Buckskill, but only about 10 have signed up, so we’ll need parents to drive them because we can’t afford a bus for only 10 kids. We have had trouble getting chaperones.

We also need people willing to work with fundraising. We used to have two or three fundraisers a year, but we only had one this year because there was not enough involvement.

We had a nice fundraiser at B Smith’s in November, but there were two other fundraisers that same night so we only came out with about $6,000 profit after a tremendous effort. We really need people to work on fundraising.

People can call me at 725-5132 if they’d like to help out.

Given the constraints you are facing, what will you focus on this year?

The main thing the kids love is the safe summer beach program that we run at Long Beach. I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to run the program through this summer. After that, I don’t know. If we can just get through this summer, I’ll be really happy.

 

Sag Harbor School District Presents Budget Draft on PPS, Transportation and Technology

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the third budget presentation before the Sag Harbor Board of Education this school year, district administrators outlined their respective draft budgets for Pupil Personnel Services, technology and transportation.

In addition to the 2-percent tax levy cap, the district must contend with state-mandated instructional training, data reporting and technology equipment to meet new educational standards.

PPS Director Barbara Bekermus presented her department budget to the board on Monday. Ms. Bekermus has included an increase of 20 percent, or $5,000, under “instructional salary tutor” because she feels the demand for at home tutoring is growing.

Overall, the PPS department asked the board to increase its funding by 3.83 percent or $184,337 for a total of  $4.81 million.

Director of Technology Scott Fisher presented his portion of the budget, saying that many of his requests stemmed from direct conversations he had with the teachers and administrators at both Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle and High School “to try and better understand what the instructional needs of the students are.”

“By and large,” Mr. Fisher told the small crowd, “what I heard from the teachers was everything’s running really well, but we need to have more computers.”

Technology equipment expenses are projected to increase by 15.63 percent, representing an increase of $125,904 from last year’s budget for a proposed total of $931,640.

The transportation budget, prepared by Head Bus Driver Maude Stevens and presented to the board by School Business Administrator John O’Keefe, asks for a 0.98 percent increase, or $7,300. If accepted, the department’s total budget would be $750,992.

During the 2014-2015 school year, with payments spread between July 2014 and June 2015, the district will pay $1.44 million in debt service for bonds issued in 2006, 2009 and 2011.

Spring Break Threatened by Snow Days in Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton

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Young Grace Gomolka tries her hand out at helping dad shovel their sidewalk following the blizzard on Wednesday, January 22. Photo by Michael Heller.

Young Grace Gomolka tries her hand out at helping dad shovel their sidewalk following the blizzard on Wednesday, January 22. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

As incredible as winter weekdays spent sledding, ice-skating and relaxing by the fire are, snow days tend to be bittersweet memories come springtime, when long past days off begin to cut into awaited vacation time.

Because they are required by law to have 180 full days of instruction each year, school districts must make difficult decisions on how to compensate when inclement weather makes it impossible—or at least ill advised—for students to come to school.

The Sag Harbor School District planned for two snow days this year, but school has already been closed for three days and, according to the infamous groundhog, the winter weather is showing no signs of letting up any time soon.

If the two snow days had not been used, the district would have been closed the Friday before Memorial Day and the Tuesday afterward. Since those days have already been used up, the holiday weekend will only include the Monday of Memorial Day weekend, May 26.

“Now,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso, Sag Harbor’s interim superintendent, “we have to go in with that third day and take what would have been a vacation day and make it a school day.”

The spring break this year was scheduled for Monday, April 14, through Friday, April 18, with students returning to school on Monday, April 21. As of press time, April 14 will now be a school day, but the rest of the vacation remains intact for now.

Dr. Bonuso said if the district has to be closed again, the next vacation day to be eliminated would likely be Tuesday, April 15.

“And if we needed another day, Wednesday and so forth,” he added.

Local school districts have had to make such adjustments the past two years. It’s been snow this year, but last year it was Hurricane Sandy that forced the closure of school more than two days.

Sag Harbor has already adopted its calendar for the 2014-15 school year and again has factored in just two snow days.

“But,” said Dr. Bonuso, “it’s something we need to keep in mind when we construct calendars, whether we build in more days up front or say what days we should use should we run into emergency days.”

“This winter was definitely a tough one,” he added. “So it’s something we have to think about.”

The Bridgehampton School District factors in three “inclement weather days” each year.  If there are no snow days during the year, those days become days off for staff and students, typically at the end of the school year. If there are snow days, the inclement weather days function as regular school days.

Bridgehampton’s inclement weather days for this year were set for March 14, May 2 and May 23, the Friday before Memorial Day. Because Bridgehampton has also used three snow days during the 2013-2014 school year thus far, each of those days will now be full days in class for students.

According to Bridgehampton Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre, if another snow day has to be called, a staff development day (when the staff comes in for training but students get to stay home) scheduled for April 11 could instead be used as a full day for both staff and students, “rather than take away the April break, as many families have already made plans,” she explained.

“Moving forward,” she added, “I am looking at the 2014-2015 calendar to see where we might build in an extra day for an inclement weather day.”

Sag Harbor Students Plea to Save Their Prom

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Image: School bus

By Tessa Raebeck

Speakers at the podium at Sag Harbor school board meetings are generally thrifty community members or concerned parents; rarely do students appear to express their views — except, of course, when the prom is threatened.

At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, members of the student council came to address the board as representatives of the Pierson High School senior class.

The students expressed their concerns over an administrative notion to ban limousines from the prom and instead make students take the school’s yellow buses to the event. The discussion came following incidents at last year’s prom where students consumed alcohol in the limousines before arriving at the school-sponsored event.

At the January 13 school board meeting, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the Nutrition/Wellness/Health and Safety Committee had “sort of endorsed” a tentative plan to have students who are attending prom meet at the school beforehand and be transported to the prom via school-sponsored buses, thus “eliminating the limousines that currently transport students to the prom.”

A significant part of the prom tradition is a group of friends renting a limo or party bus, essentially a larger limo, together to take them to and from the event. Students and their parents decide who rides in their limo and where those in the limo will meet for pre-prom photos. The limo, they argue, is as much a part of the prom as the dance itself.

The move, Nichols said, “Could be seen as an invasion of students’ rights [but] would help us to more closely monitor students on that evening.”

Speaking on behalf of her class, student council and prom committee member Olivia Bono made it clear that the students do, in fact, see the idea as an invasion of their rights.

“We just wanted to voice to you the opinions of the seniors,” Bono told the board from the podium, “because limos and party buses are part of the experience of the prom, even though we understand why you would be taking them away and we do appreciate your concern, it’s not really fair because what happened last year wasn’t necessarily our fault.”

“We just feel,” she continued, “that we would like the right to make our own impact, we would like the chance as our grade to not be punished for someone else’s choices.”

Carly Fisher, also a student council member, reminded the board that students and parents have to sign a waiver prior to the prom saying they will not partake in illegal activity, “which I assume is similar to what would be done if we were to take school buses — it’s the same idea,” she said.

“We feel it’s a rite of passage to have the limos,” said Fisher. “It also makes it easier for us after prom.”

Fisher said without designated limousines, students would have no ride home and many (who could be consuming alcohol regardless of whether the school bus rule is enacted) would have to drive later on.

After the young women left the meeting, Nichols said he had advised Bono to address the board after she came into his office with the assumption that a decision had already been made.

“That’s what we encourage in our students,” he said, “participation in government. I think it’s great that she came out tonight and expressed her views.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, BOE member Sandi Kruel was honored by the New York State School Board Association for putting in extra time and effort as a board member.

A meeting of the Educational Facilities Planning Committee to discuss the bond capital projects will be held Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.

Sag Harbor Pre-K’s Success Leads to Program Growth

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By Tessa Raebeck

Now in its third year, the Sag Harbor School District Pre-K program has seen tremendous growth — and hopes to expand further.

At Monday’s board of education meeting, Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES) principal Matt Malone and assistant principal Donna Denon hosted an educational workshop on the pre-K program, updating the board on how far it’s come and where it hopes to go, as well as the continued benefits of having an in-house program.

“As a community,” said Malone, “We’ve had a long commitment to the idea of pre-K. We all have a deep understanding of the importance and value of the pre-K experience for boys and girls. We’ve really looked at it as an investment, a sound investment.”

When looking to start a program for the 2010-2011 school year, the district decided its best option was to partner with SCOPE Education Services, a not-for-profit private organization permanently chartered by the New York State Board of Regents to provide such services to school districts.

The district signed a contract with SCOPE to provide pre-K for every eligible four year old in Sag Harbor. The program follows a 180-day school year with New York State certified teachers and teaching assistants.

In its inaugural year, the pre-K had 10 students in one class, a morning session housed at SHES. The state previously provided funding for districts that wanted to start a new pre-K program, however, that funding was cut off the year Sag Harbor started its pre-K. The first year, the program was funded by tuition paid by parents and “generous support from members of the community who actually helped with scholarships,” Malone said.

“We all knew that really one of the inherent goals of a pre-K run by a public system is that we make sure all kids, regardless of their socioeconomic status, would have this opportunity,” he added.

In 2011-2012, the district began to fund the program — which had grown to 41 students — through its annual budget at a cost of $112,750. The program currently has 32 students and a budget of $88,000 for 2013-2014. It is projected to have 20 to 35 students next year.

Housed at Pierson Middle School, the program currently has both a morning session and an afternoon session. The pre-K is increasingly connected to the district as a whole, the administrators said.

“Partnership grows every year because our school embraces the kids and what’s happening more and more,” said Denon.

Malone said an added benefit of having an in-house program is that it provides the opportunity for the school to identify students who need some form of intervention early on. If a child has a speech impediment, for example, the school has an early opportunity to bring in speech pathologists, start conversations with parents and begin helping the child.

“We’ve been able to help a lot of students who possibly might not have gotten that early intervention,” Malone said.

Board member Daniel Hartnett added that children from non-English speaking homes also benefit greatly from a public pre-K program.

He said in addition to the children benefiting from coming into an environment where English is spoken at a young age, the program is also the first point of contact for many parents who come from other countries and educational systems.

“It goes a long way to breaking down those barriers,” replied Malone. “When we look at the numbers since the inception of our program, the one group that we have seen the biggest jump in is the students that come from non-English speaking homes.”

“It’s paying off tremendously for them educationally, but also socially,” said Malone, adding, “We’re always very proud of seeing our pre-K kids and the successes that they have.”

Malone said although his evidence is anecdotal, he has observed that students who attend the district’s pre-K as opposed to outside programs are less likely to need special attention down the line, since they are identified early in-house.

The Sag Harbor pre-K program now represents roughly 40 percent of the next year’s incoming Kindergarten class, Malone said.

Denon said the next steps are increasing enrollment in the program, improving programming and exploring extending session times, perhaps to 1:30 or 2 p.m.

Annual Exhibitions Showcase the East End’s Young Artists and Their Teachers

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The opening of last year's Student Art Show at the Parrish Art Museum.

The opening of last year’s Student Art Show at the Parrish Art Museum. (Photo provided by the Parrish Art Museum).

By Tessa Raebeck

A giant beehive you can crawl into, a field guide to Sag Harbor’s ponds and the surrealism of Salvador Dali captured on a plastic plate are just some of the projects to look forward to at this winter’s student art festivals.

If you attended public school on the East End, chances are you were featured in the student shows at East Hampton’s Guild Hall or the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill. A new batch of young artists are now getting their turn; the Student Art Festival at Guild Hall opened January 18 and the Parrish will exhibit local students starting February 1.

“The annual Student Exhibition is an important tradition for the Parrish,” said Cara Conklin-Wingfield, the museum’s education director. “It’s a way we honor the work of regional art educators and connect with children and families in the community.”

The tradition started over 60 years ago, although the exact date is unknown. Conklin-Wingfield knows it’s been a long time, as her 70-something year old aunt remembers being in the show as a kid.

In addition to fostering local talent, the student shows aim to support and showcase art educators and highlight the work they’re doing in classrooms across the East End.

At the Parrish, teachers for pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade students submit group projects, as a single work or individual works assembled into a mural.

The third and fourth grades from Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES) will be featured at the Parrish.

Led by art teacher Meg Mandell, “Sag Harbor Ponds – A Child’s Field Guide” incorporates the work of the 3D, 3GK, 3K and 3SC third grade classes. The large mural includes an information key and “other fun facts about our local ponds,” Mandell said, assembled onto a 3D two by four foot replica of the guide, which is now available in the school library.

A 3rd grader hard at work on "Sag Harbor Ponds - A Child's Field Guide" in Meg Mandell's art classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School.

A 3rd grader hard at work on “Sag Harbor Ponds – A Child’s Field Guide” in Meg Mandell’s art classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. (Meg Mandell photo).

“The SHES art department,” Mandell said, “understands the importance of using art as a learning tool for other subject areas…We often collaborate with teachers to help our students understand the curriculum better and make the learning fun.”

Mandell worked with science teacher Kryn Olson and librarian Claire Viola in developing the project and visited the local ponds to collect reference materials.

The fourth grade, led by art teacher Laurie DeVito, has created a large 3D sculpture for the Parrish, made of plates inspired by various art disciplines.

DeVito taught each class about a different style of art, used a game to decide the individual subject matter (animal, vegetable, mineral, etc.), and led the group in creating mixed media pieces on plastic plates, which resemble stained glass windows when held up to the light. The plates will be displayed on pretend cardboard brake fronts supplied by Twin Forks Moving.

After learning about Van Gogh, the 4LS class made impressionistic plates. 4C read a book about Salvador Dali and created plates with surrealistic subjects like flying pigs and other “really imaginative subject matter,” DeVito said. 4S did realism plates and after looking at work by Picasso, 4R made cubist designs.

“I think it makes it more special for them,” DeVito said of the Parrish show. “It makes it more grown up and I think it applies a good kind of pressure.”

Having done a micro biotic organism last year, this year the Hayground School evolved to insects and is assembling a giant beehive on site.

“It’s a beehive that you can go in,” Conklin-Wingfield said, adding Hayground’s projects are always “really ambitious.”

One of Laurie DeVito's 4th grade classes at Sag Harbor Elementary School with their Surrealist Plate Cupboard.

One of Laurie DeVito’s 4th grade classes at Sag Harbor Elementary School with their Surrealist Plate Cupboard.

In its 22nd year, the Student Art Festival at Guild Hall is separated into two parts, high school students and those in Kindergarten through the eighth grade. Sag Harbor is only participating in the high school show.

Highlights include farmland paintings from Wainscott students, Japanese Manga drawings from Shelter Island, Cityscape Line Designs from Bridgehampton and a Monet water lilies triptych made by the Liz Paris’ Kindergarten class at Amagansett.

“That’s really exciting to see,” said Michelle Klein, the Lewis B. Cullman Associate for Museum Education at Guild Hall. “And again, because it’s Kindergarteners, it’s really amazing.”

When you first enter the show, a large 68 by 72 inch nature print made by Montauk students using leaves, sticks, bark and other natural materials is on display.

“It’s our opportunity to really give back to the community and for us to be able to exhibit our local young talent, the possible artists of the future,” said Klein.

“It’s really great,” she added, “to provide an outlet and a space for this exhibition. It’s exactly what we’re here for and why we do it.”

The 2014 Student Exhibition at the Parrish Art Museum will be on display from February 1 to March 2. For more information, call 631-283-2118 ext. 130. The Student Art Festival at Guild Hall is being shown January 18 to February 23 for younger students and March 8 to April 20 for high school students. For more information, visit guildhall.org.

The Beasts from the East, Pierson Robotics Team Starts Work on New Competitive Robot

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The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotics Team robot, competes in last year's FIRST Robotics Competition Long Island Regional Event at Stony Brook University.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotics Team robot, competes in last year’s FIRST Robotics Competition Long Island Regional Event at Stony Brook University.

By Tessa Raebeck

They design, build and program robots, fundraise for their team and build alliances for intense competition — and they do it all on free periods, during lunch and after school.

Having just received the regulations for this year’s game, the 30 students on the Pierson Robotics Team are now hard at work preparing a unique robot model for battle.

The Pierson Whalers robotics team, whose members call themselves “The Beasts from the East,” is more than an after school club; students spend hours researching and designing, building in the lab and trucking up and down Main Street in search of sponsors. They maintain active Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages and a team website and share accounts in robot chat rooms or informative forums.

“Those who are really involved are there all the time, after school, at lunch, all the time,” said Abi Gianis, a junior at Pierson who joined the team as a sophomore. “We work in our free periods as well, at least we try to.”

When the schools were closed early Tuesday afternoon due to inclement weather, team leaders Lucas Pickering and Alex Cohen were hard at work in the Pierson Middle/High School basement.

The team meets throughout the school year, but they are now in fierce preparation for April, when their finished robot will compete in the three-day Long Island Regional competition at Hofstra University. Now in its 15th year, the Long Island Regional has grown from eight teams to near 50.

The international competition, or the “Superbowl of Smarts,” has grown to over 2,000 teams, with 40 regional events from Israel to Brazil.

Established in 1995, the Pierson Robotics team won the second Long Island Regional Competition in 2000 and was a finalist in 2001, 2002 and 2004. Out of thousands of teams competing in US FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the Beasts from the East are proud to note their team number is 28, representing their veteran status

In addition to points gained in direct competition, teams are judged on excellence in design, demonstrated team spirit, professionalism and maturity, and ability to overcome obstacles. Pierson received Judges Awards in 1998 and 2000.

“Winning means building partnerships that last,” the Beasts from the East say on their team website.

FRC released the rules and framework of the competition January 4, and the students have been hard at work designing and constructing their model ever since. They have six weeks to prepare their robot, meaning the deadline is less than a month away — and this is crunch time.

FRC challenges competing teams to solve a common problem under the same rules and using the same standard “kit of parts” to build a robot that weighs around 130 pounds.

“They’re working on prototypes now and they’re starting to build it,” said Gayle Pickering, who mentors the team along with her husband Rick, Robotics Coordinator Clint Schulman and Robotics Assistant Rob Coe. Four students from East Hampton High School are also on the team and shop teacher Trevor Gregory works with the Sag Harbor mentors.

This year’s game, Aerial Assist, requires two alliances of three robots each. The three-team alliances compete against each other in a game sort of like robot basketball. The robot must be able to lift up and throw a ball that is two feet in diameter. Last year’s Pierson robot, named the “Harpoon” but also called “Mission Impossible,” shot Frisbees across a court.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotic Team's entry into last year's FIRST Robotics Competition.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotic Team’s entry into last year’s FIRST Robotics Competition.

Since the game requires an alliance this year, the Pierson team must market itself to teams from other school districts and scout out potential partners.

“We’re challenged,” said Gianis, “to make a robot that can not only pick up a ball with a two foot diameter, but also cooperate with other robots that we have never interacted with before and help assist them.”

Looking for more female engineers, Shulman encouraged Gianis and friend Clara Oppenheimer to join the team last year. Now the two are being trained to program the robot next year when the senior programmers graduate.

“It’s a game for nerds,” Pickering said, “but anybody can participate.”

$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.