Tag Archive | "Schools"

LTV Director Asks Sag Harbor School Board to Reconsider Broadcast Limitations

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A still shot of the video broadcast of the Sag Harbor Board of Education's December 9 meeting.

A still shot of the video broadcast of the Sag Harbor Board of Education’s December 9 meeting.

By Tessa Raebeck

In the wake of the Sag Harbor Board of Education’s decision last month to stop broadcasting the public comment portions of its meetings, LTV Executive Director Seth Redlus on Monday urged the board to reconsider its ruling, saying its liability concerns were unfounded.

“The action of editing out the public comment portion of your meeting clouds the very transparency this board sought to provide by offering the coverage,” Mr. Redlus told the board.

In light of several resignations in the spring of 2013, the school board faced criticism over a perceived lack of transparency and spent much of the last school year discussing a proposed policy to videotape and broadcast its public meetings. A six-month trial period was enacted over the summer and expired on December 31. During evaluation of that trial, board member David Diskin, who led the initial push for videotaping, suggested continuing to videotape the meetings, but omitting the two public input sessions from the tape, citing liability concerns voiced by the district’s attorney, Thomas Volz.

In December, Mr. Diskin and fellow board members Susan Kinsella, Sandi Kruel and Tommy John Schiavoni voted for a policy that does not broadcast public input, with Board President Theresa Samot, Vice President Chris Tice and Diana Kolhoff in the minority. That policy went into effect January 1 and was in use at the board’s meeting on Monday, January 12, during which Technology Director Scott Fisher stopped the recording prior to public comment.

The board members who voted not to broadcast public comments did so, they said because they were concerned about the district’s liability if it granted an unchecked public forum. Prior to that vote, Ms. Kruel said she counted six instances in which libelous statements were made by the public during the videotaping trial, and said it was too risky for the school district to broadcast an open forum. Mr. Schiavoni added it could affect programming because of the liability issues, should lawsuit costs mount. But Ms. Tice, Ms. Samot and Ms. Kolhoff said that was a risk they were willing to take.

The videos are taped by the school district and available on its website, but also distributed to the local government access stations LTV in East Hampton and SEA-TV in Southampton to be shown on television.

In reaction to the new policy, Mr. Redlus told the board Monday that LTV would still broadcast the meetings for the school board, but would inform its viewers at the beginning and end of the broadcasts that the meetings are independently produced and edited by the district rather than LTV. He believes the liability concerns expressed by some members of the board are misinformed, he said.

“LTV has videotaped government meetings for 30 years, and in that time, we have amassed a great deal of working knowledge about how best to capture these public events and present them to the community that we serve. One rule which has stood the test of time has become our prime directive: under no circumstances does LTV edit government meetings,” he said in a statement to the board made during public input.

“They are presented to the public in the very same way that they occurred in real life. That one simple rule has allowed the community to trust what they see when they tune in to our channel. While other media may be constrained by the time or space available to them, government access television shows every moment of what occurred—allowing viewers to make up their own minds with no editorial content,” he continued.

Editing meetings, Mr. Redlus added, is in the best interest of neither the board nor the public, as the board’s interpretation of issues raised in public comments is also not broadcast, comments made often reflect the opinion of a larger group, who may instead come to the board individually should they not see their questions answered en masse, and “there is no more liability to a board when public comment is broadcast than if that public comment is made only to an open meeting.”

Broadcasting the entire meeting, he concluded, may actually lower liability as there is a definitive recording of who said what.

Mr. Schiavoni asked Mr. Redlus whether LTV would consider taping the meetings itself, an option that had been floated by the board during earlier discussions.

“With the policy in place we won’t tape meetings,” Mr. Redlus replied, adding that when the board had originally considered documenting meetings, LTV had offered to cover a percentage of the cost based on how many East Hampton Cablevision subscribers live in the district (versus Southampton subscribers who are covered by SEA-TV), “but the school district never provided those numbers.”

In other school news, Theresa Roden and three girls from the i-tri program visited the board to ask it to consider Sag Harbor’s participation in the program, which is already active in the Springs, Montauk, and Southampton school districts. With the slogan, “transformation through triathlon,” the program aims to empower young girls through nutrition classes, self-esteem workshops, and physical and mental training to compete in a triathlon, held in July.

The program is free of charge for every participant, and asks the school district to provide a space to hold in-school sessions and possibly nighttime nutrition sessions, support from relevant personnel such as guidance counselors, and possibly transportation, if events cannot be housed in Sag Harbor.

Ms. Roden said in addition to anecdotal evidence that girls do better behaviorally and academically after the program, Jennifer Gatz, a local PhD candidate, conducted a thesis that found participants in the i-tri program, which combines fitness training, mentoring and self-esteem education, show an increased aptitude for science.

“There’s nothing I’ve experienced better than running through a finish line and having everyone you know and love cheer you on,” said Anna Rafferty, an eighth grade participant from Springs School.

The board appeared to be very supportive of bringing the program to Sag Harbor, and will vote on it at its next business meeting on January 26 when it meets at 6 p.m. for a budget workshop in the Pierson Library before convening a business meeting at 7:30.

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

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A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pierson Senior Selected out of Thousands to Sing at All-State Festival

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By Tessa Raebeck

When Megan Beedenbender sings, everything in the room aside from her voice disappears. The listener becomes mesmerized, further enthralled with each captivating note.

“It’s my way of expressing myself,” Megan said on Wednesday, December 17, in between classes at Pierson High School. “Through music, I feel like I communicate my emotions well.”

Megan’s singing has become more than a form of self-expression for the high school senior, it is now an official point of pride for the Sag Harbor School District. As a result of a perfect score in last year’s auditions, Megan, an alto who can also sing soprano, was selected to perform in the Women’s Chorus at the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) All-State Festival, December 4 through 7.

The Sag Harbor student was chosen from among 6,000 students who auditioned across the state. Of those, nearly 900 students were chosen for eight different performing groups; she was one of about 120 in women’s chorus.

With a love for singing that began when she as a toddler singing along to Disney songs, Megan started honing her hobby in the third grade, as part of the small chorus at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Since sixth grade, she has been working with Suzanne Nicoletti in Pierson’s middle and high school choruses.

“Megan’s first year,” recalled Ms. Nicoletti of the then sixth grader, “I handed her a NYSSMA sheet and I said, ‘You’re doing this,’ because I saw potential and I knew she could greatly improve.”

Since that day, Megan has performed at festivals and solo competitions, “and has always been kind of like the rock of whatever section she’s in,” added Ms. Nicoletti. “I always could depend on Megan to know her part, to be there both with a positive attitude and with the right frame of mind to just do her best. And it’s been wonderful having her in chorus all these years.”

Ms. Nicoletti and Megan bonded over their shared love for what some may consider a broad musical taste: Classical greats like Bach and Mozart mixed with Def Leppard, Journey and other 1980s hair bands.

“If you don’t really care about singing, then it’s not going to be your thing,” said Ms. Nicoletti, adding that somewhere in between her sophomore and junior years, Megan seemed to decide, “Yes, I’m really moving forward with this and this is going to be my thing and my focus, and it was very inspiring. When she started taking private lessons, then things really got even better.”

Megan took her music a step further last year by adding private lessons with Amanda Jones in East Hampton in both voice and piano. She also performs with the Choral Society of the Hamptons, which recently awarded her with a scholarship for vocal training.

As a junior last spring, Megan earned a perfect score of 100 at the NYSSMA Solo Festival in Level VI, the highest class. The score enabled her to apply for the all-state festival, but her position was solidified by character recommendations from Pierson faculty and her participation in local music groups.

“NYSSMA requires a lot of outside time, it requires a lot of self-direction, self-motivation, private lessons, practicing at home—it’s really college-level,” Eric Reynolds, a music teacher at Pierson, said of his student’s accomplishments. Mr. Reynolds, who taught her as a junior in IB music last year, now teaches Megan in AP Music Theory.

“In theory we’re going to start composition, but I love being handed a piece and I love being able to interpret it in my way,” Megan said.

While singing in English is a feat in and of itself for many people, Megan can also sing in German, Italian, French and Chinese.

“I love singing in German, which is really weird. It’s really random, but I like taking those kinds of songs and just making it my own,” she said.

Known for its guttural, deep sounds, German is “just a powerful language,” she said, “and being an alto, when you have a powerful, deep voice and a powerful language—it’s just so good together….what I enjoy about singing in a different language is that when someone’s listening, they’re not focusing on the words, they’re focusing on what it sounds like.”

When she sings, be it the ‘sh’ syllables of Chinese or the flowery rhythms of Italian, Megan’s strong voice is showcased first and foremost.

Her teachers, who she said, “know my voice, which is really cool,” have helped her to focus her breath and tone quality, shape her mouth and sing from her diaphragm. “It’s almost singing from the heart,” she said of how her voice has matured.

Although she was just selected as one of the top singers in New York’s high schools, Megan is not dwelling on her accomplishments. Like most high school seniors, she is more concerned with getting into college than giving private concerts in German.

Through “discovering how much I really loved music,” she has figured out which path to pursue after Pierson, and is well on her way to becoming a music education teacher. She has already been accepted to one of the country’s top music programs and will audition for a different program at her dream school in February.

“I’ve been given so much love through music, so I just want to share my love with everyone else through music, that’s a big thing—and I can’t picture myself doing anything else,” she said.

“Music has been my therapy,” Megan continued, as she sat, surrounded by instruments in Mr. Reynolds’s office at Pierson, “like my guiding light, it’s gotten me through everything…basically, it’s like music speaks when I can’t.”

Updated Communications Plan for Sag Harbor School District

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By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebration Planned to Honor Mary Anne Jules’s Long Career at Bridgehampton School

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By Tessa Raebeck

Mary Anne Jules enjoying her retirement. Courtesy Mary Anne Jules.

Mary Anne Jules enjoying her retirement. Courtesy Mary Anne Jules.

To honor her 32 years of service to the Bridgehampton School, its students and athletics programs, the Bridgehampton Teacher Association will host a celebration of Mary Anne Jules’s retirement at Almond Restaurant in Bridgehampton on Monday, November 10.

Just a year out of college, Ms. Jules started at the Bridgehampton School as a physical education teacher in 1983. She earned her master’s degree and administration degree while teaching and became athletic director for the district in 1991, while still teaching physical education. From 2010 to 2012, Ms. Jules served as president of Section XI, the governing body of high school sports in Suffolk County.

The evening will include cocktails, presentations and stories about Ms. Jules’s long career, with dinner to follow.

“It is to celebrate her over 30 years of service to us as a staff, Section XI and the Bridgehampton community as a whole,” said Jeff Hand, a Bridgehampton teacher who has helped organize the evening.

“A true testament to Mary Anne the person is the number of friends, former students, Section XI colleagues and family members who be attending,” Mr. Hand said, adding that as many as 40 people who are not part of the BTA are coming to show Ms. Jules their support and gratitude.

Although she is enjoying the rest since hanging up her whistle last summer, Ms. Jules has stayed connected to the district—and busy—by mentoring its new athletic director Eric Bramoff.

“He was a good choice for the job,” she said on Tuesday, adding she had yet to return to Bridgehampton’s sidelines as a fan in order to “Let Eric do his thing; he’s doing a great job.”

Ms. Jules said she won’t be able to stay away much longer, however. “I’ll definitely be at some basketball games, ’cause they should do very well this year,” she said, adding she had been following the papers intently for reports from the fall season.

Lillian Tyree-Johnson, a member of the school board and lifelong Bridgehampton resident, has known Ms. Jules as the face of Bridgehampton athletics for over 20 years. Her husband, Carl, was Bridgehampton’s junior high coach when they first started dating and later became head coach.

“Mary Anne has been a mentor to my husband and a wonderful friend to both of us for many years,” Ms. Tyree-Johnson said in an email Monday. “Her love for Bridgehampton is unquestioned and I will miss her very much, but wish her all the best in retirement.”

“She was a great example to her students as well,” she added. “Her work in bringing shared sports to Bridgehampton is, I think, her most important contribution. She opened doors for so many student athletes and created and sustained an amazing program.”

In her newfound free time, Ms. Jules has done exactly what she intended to do: watch her nieces and nephews play sports. She has been up to Sienna College to watch her nephew play lacrosse almost every weekend this fall and often travels to Westchester to watch another nephew play high school football. “And that’s only a few out of the 16,” she said of her total count of nieces, nephews and requisite games.

Ms. Jules is also taking yoga classes once a week and doing “the things that I never had time to do before,” she said. “I’m not rushing around, but I do miss the kids.”

Her fellow teachers organized the evening at Almond Restaurant to celebrate Ms. Jules’s long career in Bridgehampton.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all of them,” she said of her former co-workers. “It’s great people I work with and I miss them, so I am looking forward to a few laughs and seeing all them—some of my families—coming out.”

The cost to attend the evening is $50 per person with checks payable to “Bridgehampton BTA.” The party is from 5 to 8 p.m. For more information, contact Steve Meyers at smeyers@bridgehampton.k12.ny.us.

Sag Harbor Elementary School Hopes to Bring Back Once Popular Summer Camp

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By Tessa Raebeck

With hopes of improving student learning and year-to-year retention and helping families who cannot afford expensive local camps, the Sag Harbor School District is considering reinstating its once-successful summer program for elementary students.

Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone and Vice Principal Donna Denon proposed expanding the school’s current summer program to the Board of Education on Monday, November 3. Superintendent Katy Graves said it was the only request made by the administrators when asked what they’d like to see added to the budget.

“It’s important to rest and recharge,” said Mr. Malone of the summer months, “but children definitely regress and the children that regress the most are those that are at risk.”

The elementary school currently has a summer program for special education students; a 12-month learning plan is required for students with learning disabilities as part of their Individualized Educational Program or IEP. It was expanded to also include students who are learning English as a Second Language (ESL) or require Academic Intervention Services (AIS).

About 15 years ago, however, the elementary school’s summer program, Look-See, resembled a camp, open to all students and well attended. It “also offered many enrichment opportunities for boys and girls to take on areas of learning that they maybe aren’t even afforded during the school year,” said Mr. Malone.

Participants could take all sorts of courses: In “Kings, Queens and Castles,” younger students learned the history of monarchs and designed an elaborate cardboard castle in the classroom; Deanna Lattanzio taught a course on scrapbooking in which children gathered their memories into books, and a course on radio culminated with a visit to WLNG to record a public service announcement. The program cost about $120,000 in the annual budget and attracted some 200 students, board member Sandi Kruel estimated.

Mr. Malone said the district “did make a decision to discontinue the program [in the early 2000’s], but each summer when we see the success we have with our current programs, we think maybe there’s a way we can reinstate that.”

“We want to offer courses and discoveries and explorations that are really grounded in reading and writing and mathematics, but also make it fun and engaging for the children,” said Ms. Denon. Traditional courses would be offered in the morning and students could choose which courses to attend in the afternoon, with interdisciplinary options like theater and cooking.

“Out here,” Mr. Malone said, “the cost of camp, the cost of summer programs is extremely high for all of our families and for them to be able to include their children in these programs is cost-prohibitive. If we could find a way in the school district to make something like this a reality we know it would be well attended, much appreciated.”

Sag Harbor Schools Defended at Noyac Civic Council Meeting

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By Tessa Raebeck

Members of the Noyac Civic Council expressed a grim outlook for the future Tuesday evening when they gathered in the Old Schoolhouse in Noyac to hear a presentation from Sag Harbor School District administrators.

Some 15 people, including Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming and Sandi Kruel, a member of the school board, heard presentations by Superintendent Katy Graves and School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi on testing results, the Common Core, the district’s financial status and other topics chosen by the council, such as “plans to improve student achievement.”

Ms. Graves and Ms. Buscemi, who are both in their first year with the district, introduced themselves to the group and stressed the strength of Sag Harbor’s students and schools. Those gathered in the room were predominately retired members of the community who do not have children who attend schools in the district.

“My guiding principle is, I do what’s best for children, what’s fair for adults and what the community can sustain,” Ms. Graves told the group, adding that she always has time to speak with all community members. She expressed the need for school administrators to communicate with the many families who are not connected to the district because they do not send their children there, but who pay taxes to the schools and “want to know what the value is.”

Ms. Graves shared figures and charts on Sag Harbor’s performance on mandated state, federal and local tests for students. “Assessment is only one piece, but we have a really shiny piece,” she said.

Despite data, information and personal anecdotes from Ms. Graves and Ms. Buscemi about the district’s financial health, “extraordinary” programs, staff and students, the room appeared unconvinced.

“Katy,” John Arendt, a Noyac resident, said to Ms. Graves, “we love our results here, but let’s fact it, we’re inundated every day with the failure of our education system, so we want to see results.”

“They don’t even teach penmanship anymore,” said Noyac resident Vincent Starace.

Although students still learn how to write, New York State no longer requires cursive instruction.

Other members of the council said teenagers no longer have summer jobs, “can’t write a sentence” by the time they get to college, and raised concerns over drug use, as well as teacher benefits and salaries.

Partners in Print Teaches Sag Harbor Parents How to be Good Teachers

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A mother guides her son through a new book at last year's Partners in Print program. Courtesy Sag Harbor Elementary School.

A mother guides her son through a new book at last year’s Partners in Print program. Courtesy Sag Harbor Elementary School.

By Tessa Raebeck 

Whether your reading consists of scientific journals or one-word road signs, it’s hard to remember when letters were simply abstract shapes in strings of confusing sentences. Through its Partners in Print program, the Sag Harbor Elementary School aims to help parents remember by teaching them how to guide their children through the learning process and effectively supplement what teachers are doing in the classroom.

Aimed for non-reading students in kindergarten and first grade and their parents, the program began in the elementary school 15 years ago. Today, Partners in Print “is kind of like a rite of passage for our kindergarten and first grade parents and kids,” said Sag Harbor Elementary School Assistant Principal Donna Denon.

“The purpose of the program is to acquaint parents with reading behaviors and ways they can support what the teachers are doing in school and what they can do at home when they’re reading with their children,” she added.

At tonight’s introduction for parents only, which starts at 7 p.m., teachers will show parents what it’s like to be a beginning reader, what strategies can be used to figure out print, what kind of books to select for which age levels and what they can expect over the four sessions, which begin next Thursday, October 23, and will run from 6 to 7:15 pm. Each week.

Each night’s session will explore a different topic, with children and parents rotating through three 15-minute sessions, visiting different teachers who lead separate but connected activities. After the short lessons on reading strategies, the students practice what they learned with their parents.

“It’s a really special time for parents and children to be together doing this kind of learning in a place where their kids spend their whole day,” said Ms. Denon.

For more information, call the Sag Harbor Elementary School at (631) 725-5301.

Technology Expands in Sag Harbor Classrooms

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An aerial photograph of Sag Harbor taken with the Pierson art department's drone. Courtesy of Peter Solow.

An aerial photograph of Sag Harbor taken with the Pierson art department’s drone. Courtesy of Peter Solow.

By Tessa Raebeck 

With iPads for eight-year-olds and a Chromebook for every middle school student, Sag Harbor teachers and administrators told the Board of Education Monday that technology is on target in the school district.

Director of Technology Scott Fisher and Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School teachers presented on “Technology to Support Student Learning,” updating the school board on what the budget buys.

“I prefer that the instruction drive the technology rather than the technology driving the instruction,” said Mr. Fisher, who admitted that although he loves his gadgets, he aims to present technology department budgets that are both cost-effective and in-line with instructional needs, not industry trends.

Technology is constantly changing and thus flexibility and regular reevaluation is required in determining which tools are used, how they are used, and in which classrooms they will work best, Mr. Fisher said.

While iPads “work very well” for young children in grades Kindergarten through second, Mr. Fisher said “as the students are getting older, we’re finding that the iPads may not be best suited for them…as we get into the older grades in the elementary school, we’ve started doing things like adding Chromebook computers to the mix.”

For the first time this school year, there is a Google Chromebook available for each Sag Harbor student in every fourth and fifth grade classroom. Chromebooks, a cheaper alternative to traditional laptops, are designed for use primarily in conjunction with the Internet.

“When we introduce new technology,” Mr. Fisher said, “we don’t simply discard the technology and toss it to the side.”

The Mac computers that were in the fourth and fifth grade classrooms are now being used by the second and third grades, and every third grade classroom now has its own full set of computers.

Seventy-five Chromebooks were also added to Pierson Middle/High School this year on three carts of 25 each that can be moved between classrooms. The library already has a set of 25.

Fourth grade teachers Jeff Reed and Liz Surozenski demonstrated how the new Chromebooks in their classrooms have helped students to collaborate with each other using Google apps and said students seem more excited and engaged with the content they’re learning.

Ms. Surozenski said in the past, her classes have only published one writing piece by this time of the school year. This year’s class is working on the third.

Mr. Reed shared a presentation on “women of war” shared on Google Drive by student Chiara Bedini. Although the fourth grader was only required to make one slide, she had instead made three: “women of the war,” “more women of the war” and “lots more women of the war.”

“You get an enthusiasm that leads to innovation where kids want to learn,” said Mr. Reed, adding that writing the content is not the end of the assignment. The end product “is the communication and collaboration of their discoveries.”

That collaboration extends far beyond the classroom. Using their new Chromebooks, Sag Harbor’s fourth graders are accessing worldwide databases such as the “World Water Monitoring Challenge,” a site that allows them to punch in data taken from Sag Harbor’s waters to be shared with scientists—and students—around the world.

Computer Lab teacher Jonathan Schwartz shared a sample lesson from Tynker, a computer programming course the district started this year. With different levels beginning in third grade, students can start by putting blocks together on a screen and grow to be typing code proficiently.

“It certainly challenges the students to create things on their own, rather than having everything told to them or handed to them,” said Mr. Schwartz. “Create something—show me what you did and tell me how you did it.”

Tynker, he said, aligns with the Common Core values of thinking, rather than reciting, and prepares students for modern jobs in growing fields.

“It’s absolutely their language and we know that that’s a huge career field,” Superintendent Katy Graves added.

Principal Matt Malone thanked the board, and especially Mr. Fisher and his team, for supporting the Sag Harbor Elementary School in implementing its new technology initiatives.

“I think we all have a sense of how lucky we are to get this technology in our hands and get to share that with the boys and girls, and it’s clear what it can do to enhance instruction and those 21st century skills,” he said.

Although some of the technological instruction are handed down to students by means of tools and software, other aspects come from directly their imaginations.

Pierson art teacher Peter Solow said although the “fundamental technology” used in the art department is still the pencil, the students and teachers are continually coming up with new ideas to integrate technology into creativity. Pierson students are using computers to convert sketches to picture books, taking aerial photographs with drones, and scanning, digitizing and archiving photographs and documents in collaboration with the Sag Harbor Historical Society and the John Jermain Memorial Library.

“The most important thing…is using technology as a tool that allows students to become self-directed in their own art making through guided, independent work,” said Mr. Solow.

Sag Harbor School District Will Look Into Later Start Times

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By Tessa Raebeck 

In an effort to listen to both concerned parents and tired students, the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Monday announced its goal to review options for a later school day start time.

As part of the board’s visions and goals for the 2014-15 school year, Superintendent Katy Graves announced an ad-hoc start time committee would be created to meet with the superintendent, Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi, Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols, Head Bus Driver Maude Stevens and Athletic Director Donnelly McGovern, and develop multiple plans “of how we can do a later start time for the district.”

The plans are expected to be complete by November 2014, with a December 1 deadline for a report to the board, “which also puts us before our budget cycle,” Ms. Graves said.

The decision comes in light of a national discussion on moving start times for high school students later due to research that finds American students are chronically sleep-deprived and perform better behaviorally and academically when start times are moved past 8 a.m. At the end of August, the American Academy of Pediatrics joined the discussion by publishing a report recommending that all high schools start after 8:30 a.m. for students’ health, calling insufficient sleep in adolescents “an important public health issue.”

Research has found that humans’ circadian rhythms change during teenage years, making it close to biologically impossible, according to studies, for high school students to go to bed before 11 p.m. and wake before 8 a.m. Doctors recommend teenagers get at least eight and a half hours of sleep, which some Pierson students and parents say is quite difficult with a start time of 7:26 a.m., which requires some students, particularly those who live farther away or take the bus to school, to wake before 6 a.m.

Although the school board appears to be standing by the science behind later start times, the district will have to contend with athletics and bus schedules in order to make the changes, which proponents say hope will be in effect for the 2015-16 school year.

At Monday’s meeting, the district also announced its intention to “develop and present a plan by June 15, 2015 to share services with other regional school districts and municipalities with a goal of showing a cost saving to the district of two percent of our tax levy,” according to Ms. Graves.

Ms. Graves said the board has already had its first shared services meeting with five school districts in the town of East Hampton and will continue to work with regional districts in order to find ways to cut costs by sharing services such as sports teams and buses.

Another goal the board hopes to tackle this school year is improving district communications, which a survey found was an area of widespread discontent among parents and students.

The board goal, Ms. Graves announced, is to “implement and improve communication strategy to become an engaged and active pathway for school and community through newsletters, work toward a current and active website, continue with emails, phone calls and videotaping [of school board meetings].”

The parties primarily responsible for implementation of that goal are the superintendent, administrators and the “Communications Director,” a position that is not yet filled. The district aims to have a report finalized by December 15, 2014.

A communications committee that met last year had announced in the spring its recommendations that the board fill the position in-house with a full-time staff member, a communications director/specialist who would be dedicated primarily to enhancing communications between teachers and the district and parents and students.

School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said similar positions in Suffolk County offer a salary of at least $46,500 in addition to health benefits, and more, adding, “There is definitely a significant cost associated with using this model.”

The Southampton School District has a “Community Relations Specialist” who is required to pass the state’s Civil Service test and is part of the district faculty.

Ms. Buscemi said an alternative to the in-house position recommended by the committee would be to use Syntax Communication, a Long Island firm that specializes in public relations for school districts, which the board used last year in a limited capacity.

Ms. Buscemi said for the standard service fee from Syntax, “you’re talking close to $90,000,” but another option “would be to go with someone part-time,” which she said would cost around $37,000.

School Board Vice President Chris Tice, who served on the communications committee, asked how much of what the committee thought was vital to improve communications “will actually get done and continue to be done consistently and well” under the less expensive Syntax package.

Board member Tommy John Schiavoni wondered how well the company would be able to integrate with the faculty and Sag Harbor community.

“I’m not ready to make any decisions on any of this until we get at least a preliminary three to five year [financial] plan,” said board member Sandi Kruel, adding that communications/technology “changes daily” and although it needs to be improved, the board needs to know “where we’re going to come up with that money.”

Ms. Tice said while they need to make a financial decision, she is concerned as to how communications can be immediately improved in the interim.

If the board is to postpone bringing a communications specialist in, she said, “then in the short term we need to figure out how to have increased attention in areas that we are failing at now.”