Tag Archive | "sag harbor schools"

Katy Graves

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Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves.

Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves.

By Tessa Raebeck

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Local Leaders Accept Sag Harbor Express’s Ice Bucket Challenge

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

 

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

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By Tessa Raebeck 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sag Harbor School Board Appoints New Member

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Sag Harbor school board members and new School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi watch as new board member Thomas J. Schiavoni is sworn in by District Clerk Mary Adamczyk Monday in the Pierson Middle/High School library. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

Thomas J. Schiavoni was sworn in as the Sag Harbor School District's newest board member by District Clerk Mary Adamczyk on Monday, August 18. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Thomas J. Schiavoni was sworn in as the Sag Harbor School District’s newest board member by District Clerk Mary Adamczyk on Monday, August 18. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

The Sag Harbor Board of Education appointed Thomas J. Schiavoni of North Haven as its newest member on Monday, following the resignation of Daniel Hartnett mid-term last month.

Mr. Schiavoni, who teaches middle and high school social studies in the Center Moriches School District, is active in volunteer and civil service groups throughout town. He is also the newest village trustee in North Haven Village, having been elected June 17. He is a former member of the village Zoning Board of Appeals, past president and treasurer of the Bay Haven Association and an active member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department.

A lifetime resident of the village known around town as Tommy John, Mr. Schiavoni is married to Southampton Town and Sag Harbor Village Justice Andrea Schiavoni. The couple has two children in the district, Anna and Thomas Jr.

After Mr. Hartnett, was required to leave the board due to residency issues, the board had several options on how to move forward.

At its July 28 meeting, the board, citing the advice of its attorney, Thomas Volz, outlined its options as follows: Holding a full interim election to allow the community to vote for the candidate; not filling the empty seat, which could allow the New York State Education Commissioner Roger King to fill the position for the board if he chose to do so; and screening applicants to choose a candidate who would serve until the next election, on May 18, 2015.

Following the precedent of similar situations in the past, both in Sag Harbor and at neighboring districts like East Hampton, the board chose to solicit the community for interested parties, screen applicants and appoint its newest member.

In a press release issued on July 30, the board announced it would accept applications and appoint a community member to fill the position. The deadline for applications was Monday, August 11, with the goal of presenting a candidate at the next scheduled meeting August 18, a deadline that was met today.

The school board said Monday that, after screening four interested candidates, its decision to appoint Mr. Schiavoni was unanimous.

“It was an unwelcome task to have to fill the vacancy of Dan Hartnett, whose insight and input was universally valued by this body and the community at large,” board member David Diskin, who was not in attendance, said in a statement read aloud by Theresa Samot, president of the board. “However, because of legal advice we were obligated to fill this spot.”

“Tommy John Schiavoni,” he continued, “is a man of character and integrity and has relevant and valuable experience for our school district. I am sure the board will be well-served by his presence as a trustee.”

Mr. Diskin added he is hopeful Mr. Schiavoni will seek re-election to a standard three-year term in the annual community-wide elections in May 2015.

Diana Kolhoff, a new board member who also did not attend Monday’s meeting, said in a statement she was pleased with the candidates who came forward. She said she hopes the candidates, who all “have a lot to offer to the school and to the board,” will be willing to serve on committees and find other ways to be involved.

Ms. Kolhoff added she is in “total agreement” with her fellow board members and that Mr. Schiavoni’s commitment to education is clear.

“We were very fortunate to have four people in the community that were so qualified to step up,” added Chris Tice, vice president of the board, who also reiterated Ms. Kolhoff’s sentiments on how she hoped the candidates who were not selected would seek other ways to be involved.

“I am delighted that you are going to be joining the board,” Ms. Tice told Mr. Schiavoni. She said the board really valued Mr. Hartnett’s participation as a colleague due to his experience working in the East Hampton School District and that she is “very confident that Tommy John will continue to help us with that as well.”

“It’s an honor to have you serve with us,” added board member Sandi Kruel, “to have you serve with us, to bring what you’re going to bring to the table—which is definitely an educational piece, which is what Dan [brought]. Those are really big shoes to fill, but I don’t think for one minute you’re going to have any problem filling those shoes.”

After the board unanimously passed the resolution to appoint Mr. Schiavoni, District Clerk Mary Adamczyk swore in the new trustee, who took his seat at the table behind a shiny new name plaque.

Sag Harbor School District’s New Business Administrator Excited About Small Town Possibilities

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Jennifer-Buscemi

Jennifer Buscemi.

By Tessa Raebeck

After managing a budget of just under $100 million, a staff of about 900 and seven separate school buildings, school business official Jennifer Buscemi is grateful to be coming to Sag Harbor.

The Sag Harbor Board of Education wasted little time in appointing Ms. Buscemi on July 28 to the school business administrator position vacated by John O’Keefe in early July. She comes to Sag Harbor from the West Babylon School District, where she served as executive director for finance and operations for nearly three years.

“I was basically looking for a change,” Ms. Buscemi said in a phone interview on Tuesday, August 5.

With about 4,200 students, a $99.3 million budget and a payroll of about 900 full- and part-time employees, West Babylon is a “fairly large school district,” she said—and monstrous when compared to those on the East End.

Sag Harbor, in turn, has about 1,000 students and, at $36.8 million, this year’s operating budget is slightly over a third of the size of West Babylon’s.

“There were many projects and many things that I wanted to accomplish over the years at my other school district that I just couldn’t move forward on, because there was just so much to do… I spent a lot of time constantly putting out fires,” Ms. Buscemi said of her previous position. “So, I was really looking for something on a smaller scale, so that I would be able to go ahead and move forward on those projects that I’ve always been thinking of doing.”

Once settled in Sag Harbor, Ms. Buscemi hopes to spend time looking at programs and doing “a lot of cost-benefit analysis,” as well as finding new sources of revenue.

“These are all the things that I want to sort of delve into, but I could never do that in such a large school district. So, I’m hoping to be able to get to do that here in Sag Harbor,” she said.

Attracted to the village’s “small town feel” and the options it affords her professionally, she plans on moving to the East End once her husband, Frank, retires, which he’s planning on doing sometime in the next one to three years.

Ms. Buscemi received her bachelor’s degree, with a major in accounting and a minor in economics, from Queens College in Flushing. She went on to Dowling College in Oakdale, where she earned a master of business administration degree in Public Management, and advanced certificates in Human Resource Management and School District Business Administration.

Prior to joining the West Babylon School District in 2011, she worked as an intern in the business office of the Commack Union Free School District for a year in order to fulfill advanced certificate requirements.

This past May in West Babylon, the district attempted to pierce the state-mandated 2-percent tax levy cap.

“We tried to pierce the tax cap because we didn’t want to make drastic cuts to programs and that’s what we were faced with,” Ms. Buscemi said of the decision. “The board wanted to move forward with trying to pierce it, but because of the property tax rate this year, I think a lot of voters came out and, unfortunately, the budget got voted down.”

With 51.3-percent voter approval, the district was shy of the 60-percent supermajority required to pierce the cap.

“So, what we did,” she explained, “was we revised the budget. We did end up reducing some programs, but from out of nowhere [State Senator Phil Boyle] was able to find $125,000 for us to restore those programs. So, we were able to go into the June 17 vote with a reduced budget that was within the cap and everyone was eligible for their property tax rebate check at that point.

On its second go-round, West Babylon’s budget passed with over 70-percent voter approval.

Although Sag Harbor has not yet had to ask voters to pierce the cap, Ms. Buscemi believes the tax cap will continue to be a challenge for all of New York’s school districts.

“I think every district is just going to have to rethink the way they’re providing programs at this point. [Governor Andrew Cuomo] wants us to find efficiencies and cost savings and be able to share services. So, eventually…we’re going to have to move in that direction,” she said.

Aside from size, another significant difference between Sag Harbor and West Babylon is the extent of state aid given to the districts.

“In my previous district, we relied very heavily on state aid, so whenever the governor’s budget came out, whenever the governor’s proposal came out, it was a real defining moment for us during the budget process, because if we did not get a decent increase in state aid, we were done,” Ms. Buscemi said.

“So, I have to say,” she continued, “in Sag Harbor, what is unique is that we don’t rely on state aid as much; I think less than 5 percent of our budget is funded through state aid… It’s a real community school, because the funding comes 100 percent pretty much—95 percent—from the tax levy.”

Unlike most school districts, especially those up-island (East End school districts have historically received less state aid than others on Long Island because of their high property values), Sag Harbor taxpayers bear most of the financial burden. Although this can be tough on residents, it means the district doesn’t have to deal with the unpredictability of being supported primarily by the state.

“They have to deal with fluctuations in state aid and when state aid does go down, that could mean drastic reductions,” explained Ms. Buscemi.

A self-described “numbers person,” Ms. Buscemi first gained administrative and financial management experience in state government. She was part of the management team at the New York State Comptroller’s Office and worked as a tax auditor for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

“I’m very, very analytical, so I love the fact that I’m doing something that is very rewarding,” she said. “Because, ultimately, we’re benefitting students; we’re providing really great educational opportunities and programs, and I know that whatever I do in all of my work on a daily basis is contributing to that.”

“When I worked as a state auditor,” she continued, “the job just was not as rewarding as [working in schools]. It was sort of like a thankless job. No one ever liked us coming in, no one ever liked us leaving, no one was happy to hear from us.”

“But when you work for a school district as a business official,” she continued, “every single thing you do is contributing to the benefit of the students, which is really great. So, at the end of the day, you feel like you actually did something wonderful and accomplished something.”

Sag Harbor School District Hires New School Business Administrator

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Jennifer Buscemi will be the new School Business Administrator for Sag Harbor.

Jennifer Buscemi is the new School Business Administrator for Sag Harbor.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Sag Harbor School District on Monday, July 28, appointed a new school business administrator to fill the position left open by John O’Keefe’s departure earlier this month.

The new administrator, Jennifer Buscemi, will start work on Monday, August 4, and serve a three-year probationary term ending August 3, 2017.

“I am very excited to get started in my new role,” Ms. Buscemi said in an email Wednesday, July 30.

Ms. Buscemi, who lives in Brentwood, is leaving her post as executive director for finance and operations at the West Babylon School District. She has held that position since November 1, 2011.

“I feel that my background and work experience will enable me to support the educational and fiscal goals of the superintendent and the board of education,” she continued. “I will work hard to maintain all the wonderful programs the district currently offers, while also working to expand educational opportunities for all students. In the coming weeks, I look forward to meeting and working in partnership with my new colleagues and all the members of the Sag Harbor community.”

Mr. O’Keefe started as business administrator in 2012 and left the district on July 16 for a position as assistant superintendent for business and operations in the West Hempstead School District.

At Monday’s board meeting, school board member David Diskin congratulated the superintendent and those involved in hiring Ms. Buscemi.

“That’s a very difficult thing to walk into and to do it so quickly and successfully—great,” Mr. Diskin said to Ms. Graves, who started in the district this month.

“This was someone with exceptional skills,” Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said of Ms. Buscemi, adding that she “comes with a wealth of fabulous experience.”

“We’re very fortunate,” agreed board president Theresa Samot.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Ms. Graves outlined her entry plan, saying her focus, especially in the beginning months, would be on listening to and learning from all the various stakeholders in the community.

In her decision making, Ms. Graves said she simply asks herself, “What is best for students, fair for adults and what the community can sustain?”

Ms. Graves outlined a timeline starting in July 2014 that will begin collecting “evidence and documentation of the district’s strengths, challenges and needs.”

She said the remainder of the summer would be spent conducting interviews, reviewing documents and implementing surveys to learn more about her new district.

Ms. Graves also presented a timeline of interviews she hopes to conduct with a number of groups and individuals across the community, ranging from bus drivers and student leaders to the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and local real estate agents.

During October, with the help of the school board, she will analyze that data and prepare a report to reflect the findings, then share that report and solicit feedback from administrators, faculty and staff, and school committees.

By mid-November, Ms. Graves said she will have created a work action plan for the year with “vision, goals, objectives and measurement indicators,” and present a draft of that plan to the district’s stakeholders.

The next meeting of the board of education will be held Monday, August 18, in the Pierson library.

Sag Harbor Elementary School Teacher Travels to Malawi to Visit School for Orphans

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Students at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi. Photo courtesy Jacaranda School.

Students at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi. Photo courtesy Jacaranda School.

By Tessa Raebeck

Hundreds of art supplies, dozens of books and one Sag Harbor Elementary School teacher are on their way to a school for orphans in Malawi Thursday, July 17.

Science teacher Kryn Olson will spend three weeks at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in the village of Che Mboma, near the city of Limbe in the south of Malawi, a small, landlocked country in southeast Africa.

Sag Harbor Elementary School science teacher Kryn Olson.

Sag Harbor Elementary School science teacher Kryn Olson.

Ms. Olson, who pioneered the outdoor gardening program at the elementary school, is visiting Jacaranda to work with the children there on a gardening program they’ve started. She’s been researching the types of greens that would be successful in Malawi’s tropical climate and could flourish in African soil.

“It’s going to be an experiment, but exciting,” Ms. Olson said in a recent interview. “They have a very successful program they’ve been working with on gardening and so, they want to have me come and just see how we can join forces and work together on learning and developing what they have.”

The family of a young girl Ms. Olson has been mentoring over the last several years is friends with the owner and developer of the Jacaranda School, Marie Da Silva.

“They invited her to come out and see what I do here,” Ms. Olson said. After Ms. Da Silva visited Sag Harbor, she and Ms. Olson decided to work together in expanding Jacaranda’s garden—and uniting their students as pen pals.

Ms. Olson said Sag Harbor children wrote letters to the kids in Malawi she will carry with her on her trip, and then she will bring the Jacaranda students’ letters back to Sag Harbor. After the first exchange, the students will begin emailing back and forth regularly.

“They can’t stand it, they’re so excited,” Ms. Olson said of her students in Sag Harbor. “It’s really a beautiful thing. There was such a level of humility, but smart humility.”

“They were very excited about being able to write somebody in another country,” she added. “They realize that they live another life, so they were just curious. It was just kids talking to kids; it was beautiful. It wasn’t about depth, it was: Tell me what your country looks like. What animals live there? Do you have a brother or sister?”

Born and raised in Malawi, Ms. Da Silva, who has lost 15 members of her family to the AIDS pandemic, including her father and two of her brothers, came to the United States to work as a nanny and lived in New York City for 19 years. In 2002, she returned to Malawi and, after seeing how many children in her hometown were left out of school, she founded the Jacaranda School for Orphans, operating out of her family home. She used the money she earned working as a nanny to scrape together supplies and teachers’ salaries.

“When she nannied,” Ms. Olson said of Ms. Da Silva, “she really researched the schools and watched how the children were being raised here. She felt that education here was profoundly different. She wanted to expose the children to things she learned here. So she took those concepts back to Malawi with her.”

Twelve years later, the school has 400 students, its own campus and is the only entirely free primary and secondary school in the country. It provides the orphans with a free education, scholarships to high school graduates, uniforms and school supplies, clothes and shoes, daily nutrition, medical care and counseling, AIDS awareness activities, arts programs, agriculture activities and home support in the form of renovation of students’ houses, monthly financial support to the most impoverished children and construction of boarding houses for students in child-headed families.

Ms. Da Silva was recognized as a Top Ten Hero by CNN in 2008.

“It’s really an incredible thing that she did,” Ms. Olson said. “She not only feeds them, but she gives them medicine and funds their education. She has also now sent six kids to college, which is unheard of.”

In addition to bringing the pen pal letters and her school gardening expertise to Malawi, Ms. Olson is also bringing boxes of gifts to the Jacaranda School.

Sag Harbor students raised funds to donate two cases filled with art supplies—hundreds of water color tablets, reams of paper, colored markers and other materials—and “an enormous amount of books,” which will be shipped over on a boat.

“We’re trying to double the size of their library,” Ms. Olson said.

In addition to the books donated by students and their families, Ms. Olson is bringing a suitcase with all her favorites, including Eric Carl classics and “Goodnight Moon.”

Ms. Olson will also help the Jacaranda School enhance its garden, which currently grows carrots, tea and other vegetables.

“What they raise they sell to help support the orphanage,” she said. “And they also really are working at making sure the kids understand that it’s about learning how to be sustainable and how to take care of themselves and not taking things for granted.”

The produce that isn’t sold is used to feed the children.

“She wanted to teach them how to survive in the world,” Ms. Olson said of Ms. Da Silva.

Sag Harbor Teachers Accept Minimal Salary Increases in New Contract

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Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

In a surprise announcement last week, released with little fanfare, the Sag Harbor Board of Education and the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) said they had agreed on new contract.

Besides minimal fanfare, the three-year agreement also carries minimal increases. It was approved at a board meeting on Monday, July 7, and is effective from July 1 through June 30, 2017. It gives teachers salary increase of 0.7 percent for the 2013-14 school year and increases of 0.75 percent for both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

The last contract negotiations between the district and the teachers union, which concluded in December 2010, took over two years and were marked by acrimony.

The union, led by then-president Eileen Kochanasz, had initially asked for salary increases of 3.9 percent, which were comparative to those in neighboring districts. After much back and forth, they agreed on increases of 2.5, 2.65, 2.7 and 2.6 percent for the respective school years from  July 1, 2008, through July 1, 2013.

During those negotiations, teachers eventually started wearing black t-shirts to school to protest their lack of a contract.

This time around, the bargaining was “much, much easier,” Jim Kinnier, the union’s current president who was involved in both processes, said Thursday, July 10.

“I think, in general,” Mr. Kinnier said, “both the board of [education] and the teachers wanted to have a more cooperative negotiation session and we kept negotiations out of the public. That was a priority for both sides.”

The process was eased by an early, private start in the fall that gave the groups plenty of time to go back and forth, in addition to “a much more cooperative environment than was around the last time,” said Mr. Kinnier, who is a math teacher at Pierson Middle-High School.

According to his understanding, this is only the second time in 40 years that a teachers contract in Sag Harbor has been settled on time.

“This is the third contract I have done,” board member Sandi Kruel said Thursday, “and this was one of the best experiences I have had. I feel that it was a wonderful team effort between the board and the teachers.”

Having asked for a 3.9-percent increase in 2008, when the economy first crashed, accepting an increase of less than 1 percent six years into the recovery is a seemingly surprising move on the part of teachers, but Mr. Kinnier attributed their willingness to compromise to the tight financial burdens felt in schools since the 2-percent tax cap was enacted by New York State in 2011.

“There’s only so much room that the district has and that’s the major reason why the increases are a lot less than they were,” Mr. Kinnier said, adding that teachers in many districts on Long Island have had to take salary freezes and give up step increases.

For the three-year term of this contract, the teachers’ contributions to active employee medical health insurance will remain at 17.5 percent. When the contract expires on June 30, 2017, however, that contribution will go up to 20 percent.

“Actually, the healthcare costs have leveled off a little bit, but the district wanted us to contribute more,” Mr. Kinnier said. “Our argument was that we contribute more than any district on the South Fork and we have done so for a long period of time,” he said, adding that Sag Harbor was among the first in which teachers contributed to healthcare costs at all.

“So, the compromise was that there will be an increase, but not until these three years are up,” he said.

“We have what I think is a fair deal, and they think it’s a fair deal” he added. “And as a result, we get to concentrate on what it is we do best and that’s public education.”

Update: Sag Harbor School Board Approves New Teachers Contract

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Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Sag Harbor Board of Education announced at its annual reorganizational meeting on Monday that it had reached a contract agreement with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH).

With unanimous approval from the board, the contract was settled before the current one expires for the first time in recent memory and only the second time in the district’s history.

“It was a sign of all of us working together collaboratively and we’re proud to have all of you in the district teaching our children,” Theresa Samot, president of the school board, said Monday.

The last contract negotiations took over two years and became quite heated, with teachers protesting the lack of a settlement by wearing black t-shirts to school for months. After the contracts expired in August 2008, the union and the school district did not decide on a new agreement until December 2010.

The new three-year contract is in effect from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2017. The agreement between the district and the union will increase the 2013-14 salary schedule by 0.7 percent. For each of 2014-15 and 2015-16, salaries will be increased by 0.75 percent.

During the term of the three-year contract, TASH members will contribute 17.5 percent of the premium costs for employee health and dental insurance, the same amount they’ve been paying since July 1, 2010. Starting June 30, 2017, members of TASH will have to contribute 20 percent of those costs.

“I just want to say thank you and how happy we are that we have settled this contract and approved it tonight,” said Ms. Samot.

Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, added the contract is “respectable both to the needs of the district and of the employee.”

The increases are significantly lower than those in the previous contract, which retroactively gave teachers a 2.5-percent salary increase for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, a 2.65-percent increase for the 2010-11 school year, a 2.7-percent increase for 2011-12 and a 2.6-percent increase for 2012-13.

“Finalizing the contract agreement through 2017 is a very good way to begin the new school year,” the district’s new Superintendent Katy Graves, who was sworn in at the meeting Monday, said in a press release. “It clearly shows the strong relationship and common goals shared between the board, administration and teachers union.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, Ms. Graves and new school board member Diana Kolhoff took the oath of office.

Having just finished her ninth year on the board, Ms. Samot was again elected president on a motion brought by Ms. Tice and seconded by Susan Kinsella.

“I just want to thank Theresa because most people don’t realize how much time it takes to be president,” said Ms. Tice, adding, “Your dedication is very appreciated and you’ve done a great job.”

Board member David Diskin said how important it is in this period of transition—with a new superintendent and several administrative positions to fill—to have Ms. Samot return to her leadership position.

Ms. Kinsella nominated Ms. Tice to again be vice president, a motion that was seconded by Mr. Diskin.

The board meeting Monday was the first one to be filmed, although not broadcast, in the trial period of the district’s new videotaping of board meetings policy, which aims to increase transparency and public access to the goings-on of the school board. Future meetings will also be broadcast live on LTV and SEA-TV.

Ms. Graves told the small crowd gathered in the Pierson Middle/High School library that, having worked in the district for only four days, she was unable to share her entry plan just yet, but would provide a detailed plan of action at the July 28 board meeting.

The board appointed J. Wayne Shiernat as interim athletic director, filling the position left vacant by Todd Gulluscio’s resignation last month. Mr. Shiernat worked part time in the district prior to the hiring of Mr. Gulluscio two years ago.

“He’s going to be part time and he’ll be starting immediately tomorrow, because we are working without an athletic director at this time and a lot of very important scheduling items happen at this time,” Ms. Graves said.

Mr. Shiernat will work for four hours a day, five days a week at a daily rate of $325, with a maximum pay of $35,750. He will act as interim for up to 110 days from Tuesday, July 8, through December 19.

The board debated whether it is financially pertinent and necessary to have a full-time athletic director. Ms. Kolhoff suggested looking at sharing services with the Bridgehampton School District, but Ms. Graves said they had already reached out to that district but had not heard back yet.

“We have to proof sharing, we have to,” added Ms. Graves, “and maybe this is the part where we start.”

Board member Daniel Hartnett worried that having a full-time athletic director would require funds that could be used to keep the district’s 62 teams strong and intact and benefit the children more directly.

Former board member Mary Anne Miller, on the audience side of the meeting for the first time in years, and community member John Battle stressed the importance of addressing the health and wellness portion of the position.

In the end, the district decided to move forward with the applications it has received using a similar job description to that under which Mr. Gulluscio was hired, as director of Athletics, Physical Education, Health, Wellness and Personnel.

“My recommendation with my four days here is to do what’s best for kids and that is to provide as much leadership as possible,” said Ms. Graves.