Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor"

“Five Presidents” & “The Darrell Hammond Project” Added to Bay Street Mainstage Season

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Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater announced Sunday it has added two new productions to its 2015 Mainstage Season—both East Coast premieres.

“Five Presidents,” a new play by Emmy Award winning writer Rick Cleveland (“Six Feet Under,” “The West Wing,” and “House of Cards”) will be directed by Mark Clements and will run June 23 through July 12. Originally produced at the Arizona Theatre Company and by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the funny and incisive drama is about the meeting of America’s most exclusive club—the ex-presents. Obliged to gather together on the day of Richard Nixon’s funeral, the four “exes” and one current Commander in Chief vent frustrations, revisit old grievances, and reveal the toll it takes on any person foolish enough to seek the highest office in the land.


The second new production added to the Mainstage Season is “The Darrell Hammond Project,” which will have its East Coast premiere at Bay Street July 16 through July 26. Written and performed by Darrell Hammond with additional material by Elizabeth Stein and Christopher Ashley, the production will also be directed by Mr. Ashley. Originally produced at the La Jolla Playhouse, the production stars comedian Darrell Hammond, best known for spot on impressions of public figures and celebrities like Bill Clinton on “Saturday Night Live.” In “The Darrell Hammond Project” he recounts the harrowing events that gave birth to his talent, on a “detective story of his own life” as he delves into the trauma and tenacity that made him an entertainer. Full of raw emotion, humor and plenty of the impressions that made him famous, “The Darrell Hammond Project” is the story of how a brilliant star rose from the darkest corners of human experience.

The Mainstage Season will still begin with the World Premiere of “The New Sincerity,” a new comedy by Alena Smith and directed by Bob Balaban. That production will run May 26 through June 14. The season will end with “Grey Gardens: A Musical,” directed by Michael Wilson, which will run August 4 through August 30.

“Bay Street Theater is expanding and growing, and we are excited to now present four productions on the Mainstage this summer,” said Scott Schwartz, artistic director for Bay Street Theater. “Both of the plays that we are adding to our season are personal portraits of complicated men. “Five Presidents” explores not only politics, but also the humanity in our leaders. Rick Cleveland is a writer who knows Washington, and his imagining of a meeting of five of our presidents is riveting. Darrell Hammond’s intimate look at his life in his new solo show delves deep into the dark side of funny, and is a theatrical and searing portrait of how this brilliant comedian found his voice.  The artists we have added to our season in Rick, Darrell, and directors Christopher Ashley and Mark Clements are visionary voices in the American Theater and I can’t wait to share their work with our audience in the East End.”

To purchase a 2015 Mainstage Season subscription, visit baystreet.org or call (631) 725-9500. Individual ticket sales will launch May 15.

Refuse the Test Movement Growing on the East End

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Parents bring their children to the Sag Harbor Elementary School at the start of the school day. Photo by Michael Heller.

Parents bring their children to the Sag Harbor Elementary School at the start of the school day. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

A grassroots movement of parents who say the government is taking the creativity out of learning—and doing so in impractical ways that help neither students nor schools—is growing statewide and across the East End, with many parents refusing to let their children sit for the tests the state uses to judge public education.

Advocates for local control of education were outraged when Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through sweeping education reforms as part of the New York State budget last week (see related story), which include further linking teacher and school performance with student performance on tests written by a private company, Pearson, rather than educators.

The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) sent parents a letter last week clarifying its position on test refusal.

According to the letter, TASH “strongly supports a parent’s right to advocate for his/her child and refuse the New York State ELA and Mathematics assessments in grades 3-8. As a collective body, TASH believes that the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers and lifelong learners who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to live good and purpose-filled lives. We believe that the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice. TASH opposes the over-reliance on high-stakes testing that is currently being pushed by both the federal and New York State governments because this testing has not been used to further instruction, help children, or support their educational needs. These commercially prepared assessments are not transparent and teachers, parents, and students are not permitted to discuss the content or to know which questions students answered incorrectly.”

These tests are administered over the course of several weeks each spring in addition to other state-mandated tests throughout the year. Last year, the State Education Department administered the tests on the new federal Common Core curriculum before providing lesson plans or textbooks. This year, schools are more familiar with Common Core, but unions and school boards alike have expressed concern over the connection of a teacher’s or administrator’s employment with a test that doesn’t take into account outside factors such as poverty, non-English speaking students or parents, or what a teacher does in their classroom aside from drilling students for the test.

Parents can “refuse the test” by writing a letter to their child’s school requesting their child be excused from the tests. When other students are taking the test, those who have excused are provided with another space to be so as not to disturb the testing.

Shona Gawronski has had five children attend Sag Harbor’s schools, and this year she is  refusing the test for her youngest two, a son in fourth grade and a daughter in seventh grade, as a form of activism in support of strong public education.

“I’ve been a parent [in the Sag Harbor School District] for 18 years and I’ve seen such a…decline in not the quality of the teaching but the parameters in which the teachers can be creative in their teaching,” she said. “Everything is evolved around these state tests—math, science and reading—and not so much the arts and…the more creative aspects of education.”

Tim Frazier, principal at the Southampton Intermediate School, said that, as of the start of the April break last Friday, about 10 percent of his students had refused, and he expects that number to increase by test time next week.

Aside from the political message it sends Albany, the movement to refuse the tests could have big implications on the performance of teachers and schools. Often, the students refusing to take the test are those who will do the best.

“Those scores will be reflecting the performance of my school and the performance of my teachers, so it’s really not a good place to be as an administrator at a public school right now—especially if a high percentage of students refused to take the test,” he said.

“There are so many other factors that go into making a ‘highly effective’ or highly performing teacher than just how…students do on a test score,” he added. “The state minimizes it to look at just that number instead of looking at all the other factors.”

Many teachers don’t actually teach the subjects being tested and are evaluated based on students they have hardly any contact with. A special education, technology or health teacher will get a score linked to how their students do in English language arts and mathematics.

But with the bill already passed and the governor showing no signs of changing his mind, advocates for education say refusing the test as their best option.

“When Washington, D.C., linked 50 percent of teacher evaluations to standardized test scores, teacher turnover increased to 82 percent, schools in communities with high poverty rates showed large or moderate declines in student outcomes, and the combined poverty gap for D.C. expanded by 44 scale-score points, causing poor students to fall even further behind their affluent peers,” said Anthony Chase Mallia, a seventh grade mathematics teacher at Pierson Middle/High School in Sag Harbor. “It is time to begin to acknowledge that the accountability movement has failed.”


The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor is inviting those seeking more information on test refusal to attend a forum on Thursday, April 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Whalers’ Church, located at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor. For more information on test refusal and other commonly asked questions, visit the New York State Allies for Public Education website, nysape.org.

Sag Harbor Village Board Tweaks Budget

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Sag Municipal Building 

By Stephen J. Kotz

After an hour and a half of wrangling over spending, the Sag Harbor Village Board Wednesday added about $11,500 to a proposed $8.58 million budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The board expects to adopt the budget at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, April 14. Spending will increase about 1 percent, and the tax rate will go up about 2 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, to about $2.74.

At a sparsely attended hearing on the spending plan, Mayor Brian Gilbride announced that he had cut $40,000 earmarked for a new chief’s vehicle from the Sag Harbor Fire Department’s budget, but had added $10,000 to the line covering the length of service award program, which provides a minor pension payment to retired volunteers.

The mayor said he made the cut to make a proposed paid emergency services provider program for the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps more palatable to residents who live in fire protection districts outside the village. Last week, the board agreed to add $110,000 to the budget to fund that program, which will provide an on-call EMT 12 hours a day seven days a week to provide backup for the corps’ volunteers.

Tom Gardella, the fire department’s first assistant chief, protested the mayor’s decision, saying the department had worked hard to present a budget that cut department spending by 4 percent and had provided for the funding required for the vehicle by moving funds from other lines.

“To me, if you take that vehicle out, you’re taking another $40,000 away from the fire department,” he said.

“I’m just looking at the big picture here,” replied Mr. Gilbride, noting that he was concerned about how the overall increase in spending would be viewed by residents of Noyac, Bay Point, North Haven, and a sliver of East Hampton Town who are in fire protection districts. “I tried to soften the blow the best I could.”

Other board members, who have been largely silent on the budget, then chimed in. Trustee Ken O’Donnell said he was concerned that the chief’s vehicle has more than 100,000 miles on it and said at least one police car is over that limit, with two others approaching it.

Trustee Ed Deyermond, noting that the village’s insurance company frowns on using high mileage cars for emergency services, successfully lobbied for the $30,000 to be restored and another $28,000, which had been cut at a previous budget work session, to be put back in the budget so the police department can buy a new car.

Mr. Gilbride, who said he thought both departments could get by for another year without new vehicles cast the sole dissenting vote.

Trustee Sandra Schroeder said she saw a number of items that warranted a second look, and convinced her colleagues to cut $15,000 from an allotment of $20,000 for outside engineer fees and another $4,000 from technology maintenance. The board did add back $2,500 for records management to cover the cost of additional scanning work and promised to revisit some of the other items Ms. Schroeder was concerned about before voting on the final budget.

DEC Denies Sand Land Application To Expand

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Sand Land

The DEC denied a Noyac sand mining facility’s application for a 20-percent expansion after environmentalists spoke out. Photo by Mara Certic.

By Stephen J. Kotz

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, citing several major objections, last week rejected the expansion of the Sand Land mine and mulching facility in Noyac.

The operation, located on a 50-acre site off Millstone Road and Middle Line Highway and owned by Wainscott Sand and Gravel, has been the source of controversy for years, as the surrounding area has been transformed from woods to housing and the old Bridgehampton Race Circuit gave way to the exclusive Bridge
golf club.

Last year, the company sought a permit to expand the area it is mining for sand and dig another 40 deeper. The property’s current elevation is about 175 feet above sea level, and it has already dug some 65 feet below grade.

Although the regional office of the DEC originally ruled the expansion would not have serious environmental repercussions, environmentalists, neighbors, and town and county officials begged to differ and eventually convinced the DEC to hold a hearing on the application last November.

Primarily, concerns were raised that pollutants from the mulching operation would leach into the groundwater below. The area is designated as an aquifer protection district.

“This is the way the system is supposed to work,” said Elena Loreto, the president of the Noyac Civic Council, which opposed the expansion, after announcing the decision at the group’s meeting this week.  “Sand Land cannot expand. The DEC honored Governor Cuomo’s commitment to clean water, and this is why we have a DEC. It was a bipartisan effort to make sure that the DEC in Albany was notified because a lot of what we said to the Stony Brook regional office fell on deaf ears.”

Bob DeLuca, the president of the environmental organization the Group for the East End, concurred with Ms. Loreto. “I’m very happy that the Albany office had the foresight to take a closer look” at the application, he said. “If nothing else, it is a vindication of everyone who testified.”

Mr. DeLuca said it “defied logic” that the regional office focused solely on the application for the expansion of a mining permit and failed to take into consideration “the giant composting operation right on top of it.”

But John Tintle, the owner of Wainscott Sand and Gravel, who has steadfastly maintained that operation has not caused any pollution and is an important resource for the East End, said he was stunned by the DEC’s decision and suggested it implied political meddling.

“This was something that was basically approved and then was denied by the Number 2 at  the DEC,” he said of the denial letter written by Marc S. Gerstman, the DEC’s executive deputy commissioner. “It’s not very often that the Number 2 comes down and weighs in on a mining permit decision.”

Mr. Tintle has charged that Robert Rubin, the owner of the neighboring Bridge golf club, who is required to provide extensive water monitoring on his own property, has stirred up opposition to Sand Land because it abuts a number of house lots that are part of his development.

He added that the reason the regional office did not take into consideration his mulching was that it has no jurisdiction over it. And he added, the DEC considers the construction debris recycling to be a minor use that requires a simple permit application.

Mr. Tintle has 30 days to appeal the decision, but said he did not want to discuss his plans.

Besides citing environmental concerns, including both the town’s and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services’ worries about groundwater pollution, Mr. Gerstman cited the death of a worker last year at another operation Mr. Tintle owns in East Quogue as well as other safety violations.

Although Mr. Tintle insisted that he has always remedied yet any violations he has been cited for, Mr. DeLuca said the DEC was wise in denying the application because if the operation were to pollute the groundwater, taxpayers would likely be on the hook for the for cleanup.

“We’re all better served by this approach,” he said. “If there is a way to protect the groundwater, we ought to do it now instead of waiting.”

Ashram: Art & Architecture’s Lasting Gesture

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Daniel Ashram's Hooded Figure.

Daniel Ashram’s The Formless Figure

By Dawn Watson

Architecture is more than the study of blueprints and building specs for Daniel Arsham. It’s a living, breathing thing to be experienced. It’s art.

Creating site-specific sculpture directly relating to the space in which it’s erected, the artist’s aim is to transform the entire area into a visceral, yet playful, interaction with the viewer.

“When we think about architecture, it’s the most lasting gesture we can make as human beings—art too, I suppose, although one could argue that architecture is the most visible and present,” says Arsham. “Therefore its disruption can be very uncanny and powerful, and this is where I’m trying to allow the work to reside, a place where people are a little bit shaken by the disruption of the familiar and the everyday.”

He is now working to install his newest piece, “The Formless Figure,” made of fiberglass, metal and plaster, at the Watermill Center. Located in the Water Mill-based artistic laboratory’s main rehearsal studio, the “draped figure, minus the figure,” according to exhibit curator Daneyal Mahmood, will be on view starting Saturday, April 4.

“The form, generated through negative space, looks like a plaster form coming through the wall,” he said during a telephone interview on Monday morning. “Imagine if, as when you were a child, you put a sheet over your head like you were pretending to be a ghost.”

The slightly larger than life-size sculpture, blends directly into the wall, creating an interaction between the work and the building, said Watermill Center special events manager Elise Herget during Monday’s interview with Mr. Mahmood. “It shows, as Daniel’s work often does, of how we walk into a space every single day without noticing our own interaction with that space. What he’s done is to mold or melt that space around you. It’s an amazing duo.”

Arsham, a growing name on the contemporary art circuit, is well known for his work in “Snarkitecture,” a collaborative and experimental artistic expression that he and co-creator Alex Mustonen dreamed up. The name pays homage to the Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Hunting of The Snark,” which describes an “impossible voyage of an improbable crew to find an inconceivable creature.”

“Snarkitecture investigates the unknown within architecture – the indefinable moments created by manipulating and reinterpreting existing materials, structures and programs to spectacular effect,” says Arsham. “Snarkitecture makes architecture perform the unexpected.”

The work is “simply hypnotic,” said Mr. Mahmood, who described himself as a big fan. One of the things he loves most, he said, is that it’s instantly accessible to everyone, from children to art critics. “Whether you have a vocabulary about contemporary art or not, Daniel resonates with everybody.”

The busy artist is in high demand as of late. He’s currently collaborating on a film project with Watermill Founder Robert Wilson, who says he appreciates the arresting quality to Arsham’s work.

“I see in Daniel’s work something very personal, a unique visual vocabulary,” he said. “Through sculpture, drawing and performance, Arsham challenges our perceptions of physical space in order to make architecture perform the improbable. The surfaces of walls appear to melt, erode and ripple. Animals contemplate the emergence of floating shapes in nature. Sculptures from antiquity are infused with rigid, geometric forms.”

The New York-based artist recently completed a project with musician and producer Pharrell Williams. For that collaboration, Arsham recreated Williams’s first keyboard, presented as a relic, in volcanic ash. He’s also recently worked with actor James Franco on a “The Future Relic” film series based on his casts everyday objects—such as eroding laptops, cell phones, and cameras—made to resemble archaeological finds made from volcanic ash and plaster.

Current and upcoming exhibitions include:” A Special Project for Leica” at the Leica Gallery in Los Angeles, “Remember the Future” at the CAC in Cincinatti, and solo exhibits at Galerie Perrotin in Manhattan in November and at SCAD in Savannah next spring. Additionally, Arsham’s work has been shown at MoMA PS1 in New York, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, The Athens Bienniale in Greece, The New Museum In New York, Mills College Art Museum in California and Carré d’Art de Nîmes in France.

“The Formless Figure” will open with a public reception at the Watermill Center on Saturday, April 4, from 4 to 6 p.m. Arsham will give an artist’s talk at Watermill on June 6 at 4 p.m. For more information, visit watermillcenter.org

School Merger Forum

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With property taxes on the rise and tuition rates a bone of contention, the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons will hold a forum, “School Mergers: What You Need to Know,” at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 13, at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton.

The program will feature a panel of experts including New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who will speak on the state’s role in school mergers; Eastern Suffolk BOCES chief operating officer Dr. Julie Lutz, who will explain BOCES’ role; Tuckahoe Superintendent of Schools Chris Dyer, who will address the academic and extracurricular impact on students of merging or not merging; and Southampton School Board President Heather McCallion, who will cover the financial impact on budgets and taxes of merging or not.

The panel will be moderated by Judi Roth, the league’s Education Committee chairwoman, who will also field questions from the audience.

“I encourage stakeholders from all Hampton districts to attend; we plan to recognize audience members who wish to add to this on-going conversation,” said Ms. Roth.

Southampton Town’s SEA-TV, Channel 22, will tape and later air the program. For more information, contact Ms. Roth at 283-0759.

Expecting a Tax Windfall? Guess Again.

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Southampton Town assessors have valued the Bulova Watchcase property at $38.5 million, and it’s expected to drop. Photo by Michael Heller. 

By Stephen J. Kotz

As the Watchcase condominiums continue to take shape, transforming the once derelict Bulova building on Division Street in Sag Harbor into luxury housing, one might think the village’s tax base will be getting a huge boost soon.

And why not, with its 63 units being offered at prices ranging from $1 million for a small apartment to more than $10 million for one of its fourth-floor penthouses. So, when the last dab of touch-up paint is applied to the last piece of trim, will the development add $100 million, $150 million, or maybe even $200 million to the village’s $2.01 billion tax base?

Try $46 million—the amount the construction site was valued at the end of 2014—and dropping.

The preliminary assessment for 2015 has already reduced the property’s value to $38.5 million, and Southampton Assessor Lisa Goree expects the value to drop even more, to something closer to $31 million or $32 million, once all the units are sold.

“Because they are condos, they are not valued the same as residential property,” she said. “I know these units are selling for millions of dollars. However, real property law says we have to assess them as income property—what they would rent for.”

Assuming the village’s tax rate remains unchanged at about $2.79 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the Watchcase property will add only about $107,000 to the village’s coffers this year.  Similarly, at last year’s tax rate of $5.22, the development would pay about $201,000 in school taxes. Those amounts could be tripled, or even quadrupled, if the units were assessed the same way a single-family home across the street is.

“A lot of people thought it was going to be a cash cow for us—and the school district,” said Sag Harbor Village Trustee Ed Deyermond. “But it’s not.”

And Mr. Deyermond should know. He served as an assessor in East Hampton Town for years before moving to Southampton Town, where he oversaw a townwide reassessment, and served as assessor for 16 years in two separate stints.

The fly in the ointment is Chapter 581 of the New York State Real Property Law, he said.

“If you have a one-to-three-family home, it is valued using the market approach,” Mr. Deyermond said. “So if it sells for $1 million, at full assessment, you should be assessed at or near $1 million.”

But the state law requires that assessors apply a different rule of thumb to condominiums, cooperatives, townhouses,  and other similar property. “The income approach mandates—and courts have consistently upheld this—that you have to consider what those units would rent for, for the month, the year, in season and out of season,” he said.

The formula allows a condo owner to further reduce his assessment by deducting expenses for insurance, maintenance and repairs. Furthermore, it factors in the cost to the owner of tying up his money in the investment, which would typically reduce the value even more.

The same formula is applied to other condos in the village, including the Harbor Close condos on Long Island Avenue and the Villas and new Harbor’s Edge condos on West Water Street.

Don’t expect things to change soon, said State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. “There have been efforts to change the law, but they have never gotten off the ground,” he said. “Historically, the real estate lobby has lobbied really hard to keep it this way.”

Mr. Deyermond said he realizes the town’s hands were tied in how it ultimately assessed the property, but he questioned whether it could have phased in the change, from when the property was valued as a single commercial development owned by Cape Advisors to when it was divvied up into condo units last year.

“We argued that it could have been done over two to four years—until all the units are sold,” Mr. Deyermond said.

Not so, said Ms. Goree. “Once developer submits its condo plan to the state attorney general’s office and a percentage of them sell, we have to make the switch,” she said.

The $38.5 million valuation she came up with was a third higher than the amount the developer’s appraiser submitted, about $26 million, she said.

Cee Scott Brown, a broker with Corcoran Real Estate, who represents Watchcase, said this week that 72 percent of the units have been sold and he expects the rest to go fairly quickly, as the weather improves and construction nears an end.

“It has been a huge financial headache,” Mr. Deyermond said of the development, saying that construction work has left Washington, Church, and Sage Streets in serious disrepair.

But David Kronman, a partner in Cape Advisors, said the developers would repair any damage construction work caused to neighboring streets, and he pointed out that the developers had nothing to say about how the property was valued.

“I don’t think the project was approved because it would bring a windfall of tax revenue to the village,” he said. “The project was approved because it was reasonable and sensitive. We’re saving a historic building that was falling apart for years.”


Team Supreme Lives The Dream: Bridgehampton Robotics Team Headed to Nationals

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robotics kids

Bridgehampton’s Team Supreme celebrated qualifying for Nationals, last weekend, and now has the hard task of raising $15,000 in three weeks. Photo courtesy Kenny Giosi.

By Mara Certic

The East End was well represented last weekend at the Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition when Bridgehampton High School’s rookie Team Supreme surprised everyone by finishing in the top eight and qualifying for the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis. Pierson High School’s team brought home an award for creativity.

A total of 51 schools competed in the Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition last week from March 26 to 28 at Hofstra University, to fight for a place at the International Robotics Competition in St. Louis later this month.

Robotics teams that compete in the FIRST tournaments are given a specific challenge in January, and then have about a month until “Stop Build Day” to build a robot capable of completing that task.

This year, teams were given the job of building a robot that is able to stack totes on top of one other, and for even more points, to place garbage cans on top of the totes.

Members of Bridgehampton’s Team Supreme (or Team 5659) were as surprised as most onlookers when they landed themselves a spot in the top eight in their first ever FIRST competition, qualifying them to compete in St. Louis.

Team Supreme co-captains Claudio Figueroa and Dylan Breault said they definitely wouldn’t have done so well if not for the help of the Pierson Robotics Team, whose prepared them for what to expect in the competition, as well as holding practice games with them before the tournament.

“They were the most essential team to our success,” Dylan said. “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have even gotten into the competition.”

At the end of the qualifying games, each of the top eight teams was allowed to choose two teams to bring as an “ally” to the finals. So when Bridgehampton qualified, its members knew they would ask Pierson’s Team 28 to accompany them to the playoffs. The alliance from Bridgehampton, Hicksville and Sag Harbor lost out in the quarterfinals, but the Team Supreme still finished with enough points to receive an invitation to St. Louis.

The team’s mentor, Mark McLeod, provided a lot of insight and support to the team, and attended meetings of the club once a week since October, forcing the teens to program and re-program robots, until it became second nature.

His hard work, and that of staff advisors Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz and Kenny Giosi, helped Team 5659 make their dream of qualifying come true.

“Honestly, I can’t explain how euphoric the experience was,” said Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz, who added that announcers and volunteers throughout the weekend repeated how much they loved Team Supreme. An alumni organization at Hofstra liked the team so much it offered to raise money to help send the rookie team to Missouri.

pierson robotics

The Pierson High School Robotics team earned a creativity award at the Robotics First Competition. Photo courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District

“None of us could have ever imagined that our first year in robotics would be so momentous and empowering,” she said. “It was not only the toughest fun that we could ever have, in a strange way, it was the funnest fun that we could ever have.”

Pierson’s veteran First Robotics Competition Team 28 won the Xerox creativity award for its robot, parts of which were made with a 3-D printer won by team members in an essay competition earlier this year.

“It was pretty cool stuff,” said Clint Schulman, the faculty advisor to the robotics team.

East Hampton High School, which doesn’t have its own team, had three students and their tech teacher, Trevor Gregory, accompany and compete alongside Pierson’s team. Local mentors Rick Pickering, Rob Coe and Jim Ritter contributed hours of help to Pierson’s team and “were really fundamental in the mechanics aspects of the program,” according to Mr. Schulman.

“At the end of the qualifications, we finished 29th, which was a little disappointing,” Mr. Schulman said. The co-captain of team, Kevin Spolarich, nevertheless felt that “the competition went pretty well for us overall.”

“We were really impressed with how well Bridgehampton did as a rookie team,” Kevin said. “They managed to build a really good robot despite lacking the experience or resources of other teams.”

Bridgehampton’s team now has three weeks to raise $15,000, which would be enough money to send all of the team members to the competition in St. Louis which will take place from April 22 through 25.

“We have an extremely supportive school district,” Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz said, but still the team needs to work harder than ever to raise the money it needs to make the trip.

From now until then, with its robot sealed in a bag in a corner of its work room, Team Supreme has three things on its to do list: Raise money, breathe, and make it become a reality.

For more information, or to donate money to Bridgehampton’s Team Supreme, contact team5659@gmail.com or call Dr. Lois Favre at (631) 537-0271, extension 1310.

New York State Budget’s Education Reforms Draw Criticism

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Just before graduation, Jessica Warne takes one last walk down the hallway at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor. Photo by Michael Heller.

Just before graduation, Jessica Warne takes one last walk down the hallway at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

New York’s school districts have watched Albany intently since January, when Governor Andrew Cuomo promised a $1.1 billion increase in education aid on the condition that the Republican-controlled State Senate and Democratic-led State Assembly agree to his series of education reforms.

Those reforms, called a “disgrace” by the state’s teachers’ unions and denied by a growing movement of parents who are “opting out” of state tests, include linking teacher evaluations more closely with student test scores, making it harder for teachers to be hired and easier for them to be fired, and allowing state takeovers of schools whose students perform poorly on tests.

Democrats in the Assembly, members of the governor’s own party, voiced their strong opposition to the reforms as they voted on the budget on Tuesday, March 31, but conceded that passing the budget and avoiding a government shutdown was of greater priority than preventing the education overhaul. An aide  to Senator Kenneth P. LaValle confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the budget’s final language was still being worked on before the formal adoption. By Wednesday, some concessions had been made, but not enough to quiet the worries of educators across the state and the growing opposition of parents and their children.

Although legislators, educators and teachers unions opposed the bulk of the reforms, the primary standout is teachers’ evaluations, which will be taken further out of the hands of the schools themselves. The governor wanted half of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student performance on state tests, which educators and parents alike have decried, saying the system would put even more emphasis on “teaching to the test” and less on creative, engaging learning.

Administrators and school board members in Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Southampton and Bridgehampton have publicly spoken out against the governor’s reforms.

“It is ridiculous,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the Sag Harbor School Board, at a meeting last month. “It just puts more pressure on that single test being the only measure of effectiveness…it’s very unhealthy—this increased anxiety-ridden testing environment that the governor’s creating and ratcheting up.”

The new budget removes teachers evaluation planning from the legislative process and places the power of determining the weight of the various components, primarily test scores and observations, into the hands of the State Education Department, which will have to come up with a plan by June. The department gained notoriety last year for its haphazard rollout of the Common Core standards  when it administered tests to students before providing teachers and parents with basic materials like lesson plans and textbooks.

Under the new evaluation system approved Tuesday, teachers will continue to be judged on the current scale as “ineffective,” “developing,” “effective,” or “highly effective.” Those who teach math and English to third through eighth graders will be judged on their students’ performance on state tests in those subjects and high school teachers will be judged on the Regents exams. Educators whose courses don’t end in state exams, such as art or kindergarten teachers, will be evaluated based on “student learning objectives” determined by the state.

Observations conducted by a principal or administrator within the school and an “independent” observer from a different school will also play a role in a teacher’s grade. Lesson plans, student portfolios, and student and parent feedback surveys may no longer be considered in determining whether or not a teacher is doing their job.

In addition to requiring that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on tests, the governor wanted 35 percent to come from an observer from outside the district, with the remaining 15 percent determined by the teacher’s school itself, numbers that education proponents are urging the state to abandon.

“The idea of a teacher evaluation system being related to 85 percent coming from outside local control is absolutely horrific,” said Jim Kinnier, a math teacher at Pierson Middle/High School and president of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor, who fears the Education Department is under the governor’s control and will end up implementing his desired weighting regardless of the input of legislators and educational experts.

“A lot of what this is, is the governor is unhappy with the teachers union on the state level because the teachers union didn’t endorse him…. a lot of this on his part is an eye for an eye kind of thing.”

Other components of the budget will make it harder to become a teacher in the state, which has been struggling to recruit new educators in recent years, and for teachers to keep their jobs. Every five years, teachers and administrators with lifetime certification will be required to register with the state again and complete 100 hours of continuing education or professional development under “rigorous standards” to be released by the Education Department. There is no funding mentioned to help school districts comply with the mandate. The state’s graduate schools of education will be required to “adopt rigorous selection criteria,” including a cumulative 3.0-grade-point average during an applicant’s undergraduate career. Teachers will not be able to qualify for tenure until they have taught for four years, as opposed to the current three.

“We’re reading articles about less and less people wanting to become teachers in New York State because we have a governor that’s creating a platform that seems to be…hostile to teachers and children, both,” said Ms. Tice.

In addition to the teachers union and state legislators, a grassroots movement of opposition has formed in the state and is swiftly growing on the East End. New York State United Teachers Union President Karen Magee encouraged parents to “opt-out,” or remove their children from standardized testing, saying it is the only effective method of resisting the governor’s changes, and a group of local parents is taking up the charge, opting their children out of the state exams, which begin on April 14.

“The goal for us parents and teachers is to get as many families to refuse the test as possible, because that’s where it gets noticed,” said a Pierson Middle School parent who wished to remain anonymous until the group comes out publicly. “I don’t really have a political bone in my body, but at this point it’s really hard to ignore…. the testing is ineffective and it’s not pro-student, it’s not pro-teacher, it’s not pro-school.”

Mr. Kinnier said he is generally in support of standardized testing because it helps teachers to serve their students and “the school can look at their program and make adjustments based on results. It allows you to compare where our students are compared to other students across Long Island and across New York and I think those are good things.”

On the state exams for third through eighth graders, however, teachers do not receive students’ results. They are given a numerical grade of one through four for each student, but no additional information on what a student struggled with or what areas were challenging, so they cannot diagnostically look at the right and wrong answers and adjust their program accordingly.

“The state exams on the seventh and eighth grade level are more challenging than the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam,” said Mr. Kinnier. “And the reason why the state makes the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam so easy is because it’s one of the requirements to graduate from high school, so they have these other tests which their only purpose is to judge teachers.”

Teachers across the state write the Regents exams, which are included on students’ high school transcripts, but Pearson, a for-profit testing company with strong lobbies in Albany, writes, administers, and grades the exams for younger students.

“That’s another thing that virtually all teachers are opposed to—these state exams ought to be written by teachers and not a for-profit test writing company,” said Mr. Kinnier.

The teachers union is “taking a close look” at how the state is spending money for testing purposes and links between leaders in Albany and profiteers at Pearson, he added.

Noyac Couple Count Its Easter Blessings

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Pastor Doug Kinney and his wife, Meg, in front of the Community Bible Church in Noyac. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz. 

By Mara Certic

Sometimes bad things happen to good people. But Pastor Doug Kinney never lost faith, even when both he and his wife were diagnosed with cancer within four months of each other.

Mr. Kinney, the pastor of the Community Bible Church in Noyac, his wife Meg and their six children have had a particularly tough winter, with cancer diagnoses, chemotherapy and operations dominating much of the past few months. This Easter Sunday, April 5, the Kinney family is feeling blessed by the Sag Harbor community and will more than ever celebrate the hope of eternal life.

“And we are so, so blessed,” Mrs. Kinney said, talking about the endless amount of support they have received from the Sag Harbor and church communities.

Since both parents were diagnosed, community members have reached out to help in some way: A group in the church set up a fund to help the Kinneys pay for medical bills that were not covered by insurance; a group of teachers have set up a collection for the family and friends have stepped in to take care of the Kinneys’ six children when they had to go to the city for treatment.

Their son Zebulun’s ninth grade class at Pierson High School got together this week to prepare meals for the family, and on Saturday, April 18, the Sag Harbor Fire Department and its Ladies Auxiliary are co-hosting a spaghetti and meatball dinner at the firehouse to raise money for the Kinneys.

“We’re so blessed by the community,” Mr. Kinney said.

For Pastor Kinney, cancer began with an intermittent toothache in one of his canines that started bothering him in June. Then it switched to the other one. And then it went away.

His dentist couldn’t find anything wrong, dismissed it as just one of those things and suggested that he take a Tylenol.

“Then all four of my teeth went numb,” Mr. Kinney said, and then that too went away. But a lingering feeling remained, a lingering feeling that something was not right.

In September, an oral surgeon diagnosed him with stage 4 lymphoma, which doctors at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center confirmed.

Mrs. Kinney travelled with her husband to Manhattan for treatment, where they’d stay for five days at a time, exploring the city between visits to Sloan Kettering.

“I was able to walk around with the bag of chemo,” Mr. Kinney said, adding that the side effects wouldn’t start to kick in until after the full five days of treatment, when he got back home to Noyac. Sixteen days after one series treatments, just as he would begin to feel normal again, it was back to the city for another round.

Three months into his chemotherapy, Mrs. Kinney went to the doctor for an overdue mammogram. While examining her neck, her doctor discovered a lump. Eleven needle biopsies later, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Mr. and Mrs. Kinney met in 1997 when he was a pastor’s assistant at the Community Bible Church, and she was a congregant.  They would only see each other when Mrs. Kinney would come back home for “the big holidays.” It was around Easter in 1997 when they fell in love, and two years later they were married.

In an odd twist of fate, Mrs. Kinney’s grandparents, Bill and Harriet Steck, were the founders of the church where she now plays the part of the “silent person” behind the scenes. In addition to their work with the church and raising their six children together, they also own and operate a 24-hour Christian radio station.

When Mrs. Kinney was diagnosed they kept asking themselves why. Why both of them? Mr. Kinney asked this so much that he convinced himself that their water could have been contaminated with something carcinogenic until he had it tested. But still, he didn’t lose faith.

“This is a time for your faith to kick in,” Mr. Kinney said. “This is a test for us.”

“We really believe part of the Christian faith promises that Christ will be with you at every trial,” he said.

“Life is full of potholes,” his wife added. “You just have to know how to deal with them.”

On March 6, after four months of chemotherapy, Mr. Kinney got the good news that he was in total remission and was entirely lymphoma-free. He will still go in for screenings and tests for the next two years as a precaution.

Almost two weeks later, Mrs. Kinney had her thyroid removed, along with five lymph nodes. She will learn more about what they discovered during surgery at a doctor’s appointment this week. She said the doctors have been positive about her prognosis but may recommend radioiodine treatment.

“The kids have been really great,” Mrs. Kinney said. It was hard enough for them when their father was diagnosed, but when both parents had cancer, “it was really difficult,” she added.

While parents always want to shield their children from pain, the Kinneys knew from the beginning they had to tell their kids about their diseases.

“We knew we were going to tell our congregation because we believe in prayer,” Mr. Kinney said. “There was no way to hide it from them.”

“But kids are just so resilient,” Mrs. Kinney said, as her 5-year-old daughter Campbelle climbed onto her lap.

“This Easter, we celebrate the hope of eternal life, but our biggest concerns are for the ones we’d leave behind,” he said.

On Easter Sunday, Pastor Kinney plans to speak about the Apostle Thomas, the disciple who did not believe Jesus had been crucified and risen from the dead until he could see and feel his wounds.

“Jesus answers those doubts,” Pastor Kinney said. “It’s not like he said, ‘Thomas, you’re fired.’ He showed him. And I think that’s what God does.”