Tag Archive | "sag harbor schools"

Sag Harbor School Board Will Move Forward With Smallest Parking Lot Option for Pierson

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At its April 23 meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted to pursue option 3, the smallest of the parking lot reconfiguration choices, and to fill in the tree wells on the Division Street lot with 10 parking spaces. Plan courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

At its April 23 meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted to pursue option 3, the smallest of the parking lot reconfiguration choices, and to fill in the tree wells on the Division Street lot with 10 parking spaces. Plan courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

By Tessa Raebeck

After a contentious April 23 meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted to move forward with the smallest of the parking lot reconfiguration options for Pierson Middle-High School. Their choice, option 3, will add 11 spaces, one in the Jermain Avenue lot and 10 by filling in the Division Street lot tree wells.

Since a bond proposition for capital projects that enabled the district to redesign the lots was passed in November, the board has spent several months listening to concerns and demands of Sag Harbor residents, district architects and even the village police department.

Many residents who voiced concern, predominantly members of the group Save Sag Harbor and neighbors of Pierson Middle-High School, worried the parking plans would discourage walking and alternative modes of transportation, encroach on the green space of Pierson Hill and fail to meet the primary goal of ensuring students’ safety.

The original parking lot proposal approved in November called for an increase of seven parking spaces at the Jermain Avenue lot, which would have resulted in 46 spaces total.

When residents came forward to protest the parking plans just prior to the vote, the district assured them the plans were “conceptual schematics” that could be altered after the bond was passed.

Larry Salvesen, the district architect in charge of crafting the capital project plans, devised three alternative options and presented them to the board and public March 25.

Option 1, closest to the original plan, proposed a total of 44 lined parking spaces at the Jermain lot, an increase of five spaces. Option 2 was slightly smaller with 38 total spaces.

At an April meeting, the Educational Facilities Planning Committee voted to recommend option 3, the smallest option, to the board.

Eight of the 11 committee members in attendance were in favor of option 3, which provides the district with a net gain of just one parking spot.

The plan has 30 total spaces in the Jermain lot, three spaces that could be constructed in the future and five spaces for on-street parking if permitted by the village. Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano made it clear at last week’s meeting that he would not support using the five on-street spaces, which are on village property.

“I’m totally against that,” Chief Fabiano told the board. “If you’re looking for additional parking on the street, that will not happen.”

Mr. Salvesen said the asphalt presence would increase by about 5 to 8-percent under option 3 and that two trees would need to be relocated. The plan addresses safety concerns by eliminating the backup of cars onto Jermain Avenue and providing safer access for emergency vehicles. Like the other options, it would add a sidewalk on Jermain Avenue along the length of the hill with crosswalks at the entry points.

Community members Carol Williams, Rob Calvert, Gigi Morris and Caroline Fell, all vocal throughout the parking lot process, voiced their support of option 3 at the board meeting.

“It’s safe and it preserves the hill and the history and the ecology,” Ms. Morris said.

“I’m not going to argue about the parking lot ’cause everybody wants number three,” Chief Fabiano said. “I’m just kind of disappointed in the whole process.”

“It was my impression when I voted on this that we would get some increase in parking spaces,” he added, saying the community is “spending a lot of money” for a parking lot redesign that won’t actually solve the need for more spaces.

Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols said there is a need for more staff parking, but the district needs to be “very, very sensitive…to the front hill.” Option 3, he said, appears to be the best choice in finding that balance.

For the vote, the board divided option 3 into two choices: one that would gain an additional 10 spots by filling in the tree wells at the Division Street lot and one that wouldn’t.

“My concern,” Ms. Morris said, “is, assuming you go with lot 3, there’s been talk of kind of in exchange, we’ll take out all the tree wells. I would just urge you to be cautious about that, I think it will be dramatic.”

The tree wells have no living trees; the ones that were originally planted there died after their roots hit the nearby asphalt.

“I am strongly for option 1 and strongly against option 3,” said board member Susan Kinsella. “I was on the board in 2006 when Chief Fabiano told us we needed to address the parking in the district.”

“I think there’s a small segment of the community that doesn’t want it, but I think there’s a large segment of the community that does. I would never have voted on spending money on parking to not get more parking,” she added.

Longtime board member Sandi Kruel agreed with Ms. Kinsella and both voted for option 1.

“I’m not in favor of making the smaller lot and then just paving over somewhere else,” said board member Mary Anne Miller, voting to pursue option 3 without filling in the tree wells.

Board members Theresa Samot, Chris Tice, David Diskin and Daniel Hartnett voted to go with option 3 and fill in the tree wells to add a total of 11 spots.

In other school news, the board approved a new policy to videotape its meetings and will implement a six-month trial run July 1 through December 31.

Pierson Places 49th out of 100 in Division at FIRST Robotics Championship

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Member of the Pierson Robotics Team on their way to the closing ceremony of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri Saturday, April 26. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Member of the Pierson Robotics Team on their way to the closing ceremony of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri Saturday, April 26. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

By Tessa Raebeck

After months of preparation and four days of intense competition, the Pierson Robotics Team placed 49th among the 100 teams in its division at the finals of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship Saturday.

The Pierson Robotics Team arrives in St. Louis for the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

The Pierson Robotics Team arrives in St. Louis for the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Pierson’s Robotics Team, also known as FRC Team 28 and the “Beasts from the East,” spent six weeks designing, building and programming a robot—among myriad other competition-related tasks such as networking, marketing and fundraising—starting in January.

At the end of March, the team competed in the Long Island Regional competition at Hofstra University, earning second place and the Engineering Inspiration Award, which qualified it for the national competition.

The successful season culminated Saturday with Sag Harbor earning a position among the top teams in the world—and lots of ammo for next year.

“Everyone seems very motivated to have a great off-season,” said Liam Rothwell-Pessino, a junior at Pierson in his second year on the team. “Plus, everyone had a lot of fun,” he added.

After arriving in St. Louis on April 23, the team kept busy attending conferences, meetings and matches—and enjoying some special celebrity appearances. A total of 400 teams from across the world competed in four divisions: Pierson competed in the Curie Division.

Pierson Robotics teammates at the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Pierson Robotics teammates at the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Team captains Lucas Pickering and Alex Cohen, who are both seniors at Pierson and have led the team for the past two years, are passing on the “reins of leadership,” as Liam called them, to junior Kevin Spolarich, who started on the team in 2012 as a freshman.

Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Photo by Zoe Vatash.

“I’m happy about where I’m leaving the team, but I’m not quite done yet,” Lucas said Sunday. “We’ve got a lot of plans for the rest of the year to prepare for next season. I’m really glad Kevin is here to take the team over. I know for sure that it’s in good hands.”

“I definitely have some big shoes to fill, but I’m determined to keep our momentum going,” Kevin said of his new position. “We’re going to be recruiting, learning and practicing all through the off-season so we can do even better next year.”

“It was a really great learning experience for us to see all of the amazing robots sponsored by companies like Boeing and NASA and now we know what to expect from competition at that level, which will help us next year,” he continued. “We also were inspired by a lot of interesting designs [at the championship] and we’re planning to experiment with some new systems during the off-season, like the ability to switch between two types of wheels during a match.”

The Engineering Inspiration Award that qualified Pierson for the international championship was given to the team for its work to expand the team’s role in the community. Team 28 did robotics-related charitable work around town, brought in students from East Hampton High School, showed the robot to students at the Sag Harbor Elementary School and taught Costa Rican children about robotics, among other initiatives.

Such awards demonstrate the FIRST competition’s commitment to not just robotics and technology, but also to using the camaraderie and innovation required by a robotics program to further altruistic initiatives and enhance education.

The arena of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

The arena of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

“FIRST really tries to put focus on spreading the message and helping others outside the competition,” Lucas said. “The Hall of Fame is made up of the Chairman’s [Award] winners, which shows that the most important part of FIRST is actually about teamwork and helping others, rather than just robots.”

“When NASA paid for our entry fee to St. Louis because we won the Engineering Inspiration Award—something they didn’t do for competition winners—it showed us how much focus there is on going outside the robot to spread the message of FIRST,” he added.

In the closing ceremony Saturday, the 2014 Chairman’s Award was presented to Team 27, from Clarkston High School in Clarkston, Michigan, for its work helping to advance education. The team flew to Washington, D.C. to lobby for legislation involving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education for underprivileged children.

“It made me really want to give back to a community that’s been so supportive of us,” Lucas said of the inspirational closing ceremonies.

Robotics mentor Clint Schulman and team leaders Lucas Pickering, Kevin Spolarich and Alex Cohen prepare for competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Robotics mentor Clint Schulman and team leaders Lucas Pickering, Kevin Spolarich and Alex Cohen prepare for competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

The closing ceremonies also involved a guest performance by musician and seven-time Grammy Award winner will.i.am, famed as the front man for the Black Eyed Peas and his music videos supporting President Obama’s 2008 run for office.

Throughout the competitive season, in addition to the networking and the fundraising, the technological innovation and community outreach, the lobbying at school board meetings and celebrating at their parade, Team 28 has always appeared dedicated first and foremost to one key component: having fun.

“The closing ceremonies were very fun,” said Liam. “Will.i.am played, but he was pretty mediocre. We had fun throwing paper airplanes from six stories up down at the president of FIRST. One almost hit him.”

The Pierson Robotics Team at the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Pierson Robotics Team at the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Katy Graves Named Sag Harbor School District Superintendent

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

By Tessa Raebeck & Kathryn G. Menu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Board Candidacy Petitions Due Monday in Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor

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

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

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

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

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

Sag Harbor School Board Delays Videotaping Policy Approval

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Recommends Scaled Down Parking Lot Option for Pierson

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pierson Robotics Team Heading to Nationals

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pierson Robotics Team Heads to FIRST Competition with Confidence

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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