Tag Archive | "Schools"

Sag Harbor School Board Delays Videotaping Policy Approval

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Recommends Scaled Down Parking Lot Option for Pierson

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridgehampton School District to Pierce Tax Cap

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Monasia Street shows off her robot's skills to her classmates during a robotics demonstration at the Bridgehampton School in February. Photo by Michael Heller.

The Bridgehampton Board of Education has decided to pierce the tax levy cap to save programs like robotics, which enables students like Monasia Street, above, to learn about technology. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

In a third and final presentation of the 2014-15 budget before it is adopted April 23, the Bridgehampton Board of Education unanimously decided to pierce the mandated state tax cap in order to salvage its programs, curriculum and staff.

After Superintendent and Principal Dr. Lois Favre presented several options to the school board on March 26, each with different spending increases and the corresponding cuts that would be required, the board decided to move forward with a 9.93 percent spending increase, which is 4.46 percent over the district’s allowable tax levy limit.

If Bridgehampton voters pass the budget, it would increase the tax bill on a $500,000 house by $56.64 for the year, an amount that costs “less than one latte a week,” Dr. Favre reminded those in the room.

The final budget removes the “wish list” items, mainly for technology advances, staff development and curriculum work, from the original budget draft, but allows for overtime. No staff positions or programs would be lost, but some programs will still have to be reduced, said Dr. Favre, such as the homework club, which will now run three days a week, rather than four.

The proposed spending for the 2014-15 school year is $12.33 million, an increase of $1.11 million over last year’s budget, largely due to contractual salary and benefit increases. The proposed tax levy increase of $909,781 would be $429,023 over the levy limit.

At a community forum on the budget March 5, those in attendance were unanimous in their opinion that the school district needed to pierce the cap if it were to continue providing Bridgehampton’s kids with a decent education.

The forum, Dr. Favre said, showed those residents’ “belief that actual dollar amounts are negligible compared to what could be lost if cuts are made too deeply.”

Dr. Favre also noted that the district is actually spending less than in previous years. The budget Bridgehampton originally proposed in 2010-2011 is higher than what is being proposed four years later.

“So, we’ve been doing what they asked, we’ve been making the necessary cuts,” Dr. Favre said last week.

“Each budget is only a cut for that school year,” she added. “The deeper the cuts, the harder it is to get the programs and people put back in.”

The school board agreed the 9.93 percent increase was the best option, providing a good balance between preserving programs without substantially increasing residents’ tax bills.

Douglas DeGroot, a member of the school board, said if the district could no longer support itself and had to close, the school taxes for Bridgehampton’s residents would go up, so piercing the tax cap now is the cheaper option in the long run.

“You can’t have a school district without a school,” said Mr. DeGroot. “So, we will become a part of somebody else’s and if we become a part of Sag Harbor—which is the closest and makes the most sense—the school portion of our tax bill, which is the majority of our tax bill, will treble here.”

A public budget hearing will be held May 7 at 7 p.m. at the Bridgehampton School.

Pierson Robotics Team Heads to FIRST Competition with Confidence

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sag Harbor School Board to Videotape its Meetings

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By Tessa Raebeck

After months of debate, the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Tuesday approved the first reading of a policy to implement a six-month trial of videotaping its board meetings.

The policy, which requires a second reading before it is officially adopted, calls for the trial period to run from July 1 through December 31.

After forming a subcommittee to explore the matter that recommended the trial, the board met with Thomas Volz, the school attorney, and Kathy Beatty, the school’s public relations representative, in order to examine the options—and possible liabilities—of adopting the new procedure.

Mr. Volz wrote the policy, which could be amended when it is put before the board for a second reading on April 7.

Citing the lengthy process, BOE President Theresa Samot stressed the importance of making a “data-driven decision.”

Sandi Kruel, a longtime member of the school board, said the issue has “really grown to something that really made me sad,” due to her perception that there had been a public backlash directed at the board for not reaching a decision sooner. Ms. Kruel noted both Ms. Beatty and Mr. Volz had recommended against the district taping its meeting as of the more than 70 school districts each represents, only two tape their meetings.

“As a board member,” Ms. Kruel said, “as someone who was elected to this position, for me to be able to vote with 100-percent conviction tonight, I needed to do my due diligence and through that, I was very saddened by the way it transpired in our community. Moving forward, I will always do our due diligence.”

Board vice president Chris Tice, who was on the committee that recommended the trial, said although she does still support the measure, she was glad the board had thoroughly weighed the issue.

“Some districts actually saw reduction in attendance at meetings” after implementing such policy, she said. “The last thing we would want to do is reduce the number of people here.”

“I respect your desire to get information,” David Diskin, the BOE member who first called for videotaping, said to Ms. Kruel, adding he was “still okay with it.”

Board member Susan Kinsella said while she was hesitant about taping meetings, she would stand with the board in supporting the measure. “I just hope we’re all still willing to speak our minds,” she said.

Calling himself a “fairly aggressive proponent for it,” board member Daniel Hartnett said, “I think we’ve thoroughly vetted it.”

Scott Fisher, the district’s director of technology, assured those in attendance Tuesday that community members who address the board from the podium during public input will not be on camera, nor will students who attend meetings. The camera will only be focused on the board and perhaps also the projector, which often displays presentations.

John Battle, a member of the community who has called on the district to increase transparency by taping its meetings at nearly every board meeting, thanked the board for passing the first reading, as well as for taking the time to examine the undertaking in-depth.

“It’s a lot easier to be an advocate than a responsible board member,” he said.

Sag Harbor School District Offers Early Retirement Incentives

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By Tessa Raebeck

Prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, Sag Harbor School District Business Administrator John O’Keefe presented a review of the entire draft of the 2014-2015 budget to the board.

At its meeting March 10, the board approved an agreement made with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor to enact an undisclosed early retirement incentive for teachers who retire from the district and are also eligible to retire from the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System on June 30, 2014.

The New York State guidelines require teachers to have worked for at least 30 years and be 55 or older or to have worked for at least 20 years and be 62 or older in order to not have benefits reduced upon retirement.

Mr. O’Keefe said with the early retirement incentive, there are a few projected retirements that reduce the budget lines from drafts presented at earlier meetings.

“These are people that we’ve identified already that have suggested they’d be leaving at the end of the year,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

Those projected retirements would provide for a reduction of $281,313 in teacher salaries and, when combined with others, an additional reduction of $60,708 paid to the state for employees and teacher retirement. Teachers receive retirement benefits from the state, not the district, and the district pays into that system based on its current salaries, not its retired teachers.

“So, if salaries go down, my retirement expenses go down because they’re a direct correlation to the total salaries,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

Reduced by $523,496 from earlier drafts, the proposed budget calls for $36.79 million in spending, a 3.62-percent increase over the 2013-2014 school year, which had a budget of $35.51 million.

“Because of the work over the last four or five years that the district has done with planning, we’re in a very favorable position,” Mr. O’Keefe said. “We may be the only district on the island that hasn’t had to reduce staff specifically for the purpose of balancing a budget.”

The second review of the budget will take place before the next board meeting, on April 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library. The regular meeting will follow at 7:30 p.m. The final budget hearing is May 6 and the annual budget vote is May 20.

Ross School Students Test Exploration Challenge for National Geographic Kids

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Jeong Ho Ha, Harrison Rowen, Caio Garcia, Sunny Gou work on the National Geographic challenge at the Innovation Lab @Ross. Wil Weiss photo.

Ross School students Jeong Ho Ha, Harrison Rowen, Caio Garcia and Sunny Gou work on the National Geographic Kids Engineering Exploration Challenge at the Innovation Lab @Ross. Wil Weiss photo.

By Tessa Raebeck

Building a camera that can withstand a tiger’s attack, another that can be raised and lowered into a forest canopy and a wearable power system that can charge devices for explorers in the field, students at the Ross School recently tested three tasks for the National Geographic Kids Engineering Exploration Challenge.

For a week in February, students at the Innovation Lab @Ross, an academy within the school that seeks to develop entrepreneurship in science, mathematics, engineering, media and technology for advanced students, tackled real-world problems faced by explorers. The Ross students served as the official testers of the challenge for National Geographic, which publicly released the guidelines to the rest of the world in a launch March 6 in the April issue of National Geographic Kids magazine.

“Since they found out about the Innovation Lab and the sort of hands-on project-based stuff that we do, they got the idea that it would be good to have a school to sort of test these engineering challenges before they went live,” Dr. David Morgan, dean of science and director of the Innovation Lab, said.

“The education review has always been a key part of our process at National Geographic before we launch new programs,” Kathleen Schwille, vice president, education design and development of Education Programs at National Geographic, said in a statement. “We asked Ross School to participate in the assessment of this project because we recognize a great deal of synergy between our philosophies, which is specifically evident in programs like the Innovation Lab @Ross.”

Some 20 students in grades four, six and high school participated in the test challenge. The younger students are part of the Junior Innovation Lab, an after-school program for grades four through eight that is also academic and for which students receive grades.

“The challenge gives budding engineers worldwide the opportunity to try to solve some of the technical problems that National Geographic explorers face in the field every day,” a press release issued by the company stated.

The challenge had three different levels, so students could participate in their respective test based on their age and ability.

The first challenge, tested by the youngest students, asked them to design, build and test a camera that can withstand an attack from wild animals in the field. In “Eye in the Sky,” the second challenge, students created a system that can raise a camera at least 10 feet in the air and safely lower it back down. The third and most challenging of the tasks was “Wearable Power,” in which high school students were asked to design, build and test a wearable way to generate at least 1 watt of electricity without the help of an electrical outlet, to enable those in the field to charge their cameras, equipment and other devices.

For the most part, fourth grade students undertook the animal-proof camera challenge, sixth graders tested “Eye in the Sky” and high school students constructed wearable devices for generating power, although Dr. Morgan said there was some overlap.

“They were actually able to create working prototypes [in a] nice range of levels and projects and the students came up with some really, really interesting ideas,” he said.

In addition to testing the actual tasks of the challenge, Ross students explored different means of doing so. Some students completed the project in a “day-long hack-a-thon,” working straight through from noon until 5 p.m. from beginning to end, designing, building and testing all at once. Other groups completed their projects by working on them for an hour a day for five days.

“One of the things we try to do in Innovation Lab in general,” explained Dr. Morgan, “is to give students big blocks of time to work on something. And the students accomplished way more in that big block of time, where you don’t have to pack things up and put them away at the end of every class. You can really do the whole thing at once and not interrupt your train of thought, so it was actually really successful.”

In the challenge to develop a wearable power system that can generate electricity to charge devices in the field without using an outlet, one group of high school students at Ross made a device resembling an orthopedic knee brace. They outfitted it with an electric motor, so that every time the person wearing it flexes their knees, electricity is generated, effectively creating power just by walking. Another group used hand-cranked electric flashlights embedded in the heel of a shoe, to generate electricity every time the wearer steps down and their heel hits the ground.

Through its participation in the challenge, the school was able to test several different formats at once, seeing how students worked in small groups versus big groups, the hour of time versus the hack-a-thon, and how the different age groups related to the challenge. Feedback on both the challenges and the Ross experience was provided to National Geographic and that guidance was incorporated into the public challenge.

Students enjoyed the projects so much that many hope to also participate in the public, worldwide competition, Dr. Morgan said.

After entering their designs online, along with a short description, video and photographs, students in the actual competition are judged “not just on which one works the best, but they’ll be judged on their creativity and their perseverance and their imagination,” he said. “So it’s not just about who’s generating the most volts of electricity, it’s about who has approached the engineering process with the right mindset…the challenge isn’t so much about winning, as it is about getting students to be creative and use their imaginations.”

During the official launch event of the public challenge, Ross students were invited to Skype with the personnel at National Geographic, to share their feedback and solutions.

National Geographic’s mission is to inspire people to care about the planet,” said Ms. Schwille in a statement, “and we firmly believe that today’s most pressing global issues will be solved by tomorrow’s engineers.”

Pierson Middle School Student Earns First Chair in State Honor Band

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Pierson Middle School student Thomas Brooks poses with his award certificate and saxophone at the New York State Honor Band recital in March. Photo courtesy of Austin Remson.

Pierson Middle School student Thomas Brooks poses with his award certificate and saxophone at the New York State Honor Band recital in March. Photo courtesy of Austin Remson.

By Tessa Raebeck

At the beginning of each band class, Austin Remson has a dilemma. Does he tell Thomas Brooks—who is, without fail, playing music from memory on the piano—to stop playing and get to his seat, or does he let him play a little longer?

Mr. Remson, director of the seventh and eighth grade band at Pierson Middle School, has to tell Mr. Brooks to take his seat so the class can begin, but his reluctant strictness has paid off. Earlier this month, Thomas earned first chair for alto saxophone in the New York State Honor Band for middle school students.

Sponsored by the New York State Band Directors Association, the award is “a big honor,” according to Mr. Remson. “He made our school very proud.”

Students have to achieve a certain level on New York State School Music Association evaluations and earn a certain grade in music class in order to be considered. If they meet the criteria, the music teacher recommends the student and a committee of music teachers from around the state selects the best students, about 65 in total from grades six through eight who are then inducted into the Honor Band.

“He received a perfect score at NYSSMA,” Mr. Remson said of Thomas, “so that put him in qualification to be recommended for the honor band. Along with this NYSSMA score, they want to know what his extracurriculars are, whatever music things he does and how he performs in the class—and everything was very high achieving.”

Upon arriving at the symposium, held from March 7 to 9 in Syracuse, Thomas auditioned for his seat, achieving first chair. After rehearsing for two full days for seven hours straight, the honored students performed a concert.

Thomas’s music career started five years ago, when he was in third grade, with private piano lessons with Sue Daniels.

After asking to play drums but having to settle for his second choice, the saxophone, because the drum section at the Sag Harbor Elementary School was already full, Thomas could have been disappointed, but instead he was hooked.

“It just happened to be that way,” he said of how he came to play the instrument, “and then I liked it.”

“It’s just a really fun instrument. I like the sounds. I like the way our band sounds when we play a really good song. And I don’t know, it’s just lots of fun,” he added.

Thomas also plays baseball, basketball and soccer competitively and works as a camp counselor at Future Stars at SYS, but music is his true passion.

“I like to listen to all sorts,” he said. “I mean, anything that sounds nice I’ll listen to. I like playing it just as much as listening to it. On iTunes, there’s anything you can listen to, so I listen to anything.”

Thomas likes to buy songs on iTunes, listen to them and then figure out how to play the song on the piano.

“I’ll kind of just think about it and then I’ll try to play it,” said Thomas, who is now in his second year of Mr. Remson’s seventh and eighth grade ensemble.

“He has a very good ear for music,” said Mr. Remson. “He just loves music, I can see it. And as someone who loves music also, I see a lot of myself in some of my students that really love music and it’s great.”

“He’s got a real natural talent and he’s very receptive if I give him a direction in how to play something,” he added. “Two years ago, when he came into the ensemble, he had difficulty articulating the notes. Within a week, he was perfect… He just excelled and excelled and excelled.”

Besides his natural talent, Mr. Remson said, Thomas excels due to his hard work and devotion to constantly improving. NYSSMA evaluates students on levels 1 through 6 and Thomas is already preparing to perform at level 5—despite not yet being in high school.

“I did level 1 in fourth grade and then I just went on,” he said.

At NYSSMA, students prepare a piece at their respective level to perform in front of a judge. They are graded on different criteria—tone quality, intonation, musicality, rhythm—and if they do well enough they can be invited to play in honor ensembles.

Thomas was accepted into the select ensembles for the Hamptons Music Educators Association and the Suffolk County Music Educators Association, but could not attend because he was performing in the state honor band the same weekend.

If Thomas has an upcoming event, such as the state band, he practices about 14 hours a week. If he doesn’t have anything on the horizon, he still dedicates at least six hours a week to practicing.

Thomas is the first Pierson Middle School student to be named to the State Honor Band, let alone achieve a first chair position.

“It’s going to be much more difficult to get into these kinds of things because I’ll be the youngest one [in the high school division] as a freshman,” Thomas said. “But, I’ll still try for HMEA and maybe I could get into the high school honor band…it’ll be hard, I have to work on my NYSSMA solos.”

Of the honor he’s already earned, Thomas said, “I guess it looks good on a college application.”

Thomas’s future plans are up in the air. “I could do that community band in Sag Harbor,” he said.

School and Village at Odds Over Who is Responsible for Traffic Safety at Pierson

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Concerned community members watched Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols present possible solutions Tuesday evening.

Concerned community members watched Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols present possible solutions Tuesday evening. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

Some 20 concerned parents and traffic calming proponents joined village officials and Police Chief Tom Fabiano in a traffic safety workshop hosted by the Sag Harbor Board of Education Tuesday night.

The school board asked village officials and community members to join it in a discussion “to collaboratively address traffic safety and congestion in and around the school parking lots and campus,” according to a release sent by district clerk Mary Adamczyk.

But once the meeting began, school officials said the discussion would focus solely on how to best alleviate the safety concerns surrounding pick-up and drop-off at Pierson Middle/High School, which parents and board members alike said was dangerous.

Officials from the school and the village, as well as several community members who attended, proposed many ideas, both as quick fixes and long-term solutions, but not one measure was implemented or even agreed on by the end of the two-hour meeting.

Calling the situation “a bit of a mess,” Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols said the problem occurs between about 7:12 and 7:28 a.m. and again at the end of the day, from roughly 2:25 to 2:40 p.m.

Mr. Nichols proposed a few ways he thinks the village could aid the school district in addressing the problem. The first would be to make Division Street a one-way northbound street for 15 or 20 minutes in the morning and again for 15 or 20 minutes in the afternoon to reduce the flow of traffic. The second would be for the village to provide “some sort of crossing guard” to help direct traffic during those times.

“My understanding is that’s problematic for budget reasons,” Mr. Nichols said. “So, I don’t want to put anybody on the spot with regard to that. I do think that when you go to most schools, there is a crossing guard at the facility.”

There is a village-appointed crossing guard at the Sag Harbor Elementary School during pick-up and drop-off times.

“When we work with the village and we work with the community,” said Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent, “there’s a synergy and there are more powerful possibilities. We very much want to hear from the village. Have you heard of some of these issues?”

“Since our last meeting we had a few weeks ago,” replied Chief Tom Fabiano, “I believe we discussed the possibility of making Division Street one-way. I thought I was pretty clear about the fact that I didn’t see that as an option.”

The village has an unofficial ban on creating any more one-way streets, Trustee Ed Deyermond said, adding that recent attempts, such as on Elizabeth Street and Clinton Street, are “not working.”

“What you’re asking for is for the village to cede liability to the school for that street,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”

The crossing guard option seemed more feasible.

School board member Sandi Kruel said as a school district, the fact there is not a school crossing guard on the property when kids are in school “to me is unacceptable.”

“If we can figure out in our budget to rearrange, then I think that’s the least you guys could do to look at your budget,” she said to Chief Fabiano.

Chief Fabiano said he has been discussing the possibility with elementary school crossing guard Kathy Carlozzi of having her aiding Pierson occasionally. Ms.  Carlozzi also attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“You can’t just put one person out there,” Chief Fabiano said, “you can’t put Kathy out there. You need a couple people out there to monitor this.”

The chief said he has asked “time and time again” for the school district to have extra personnel to monitor drop-off and pick-up, “but does it happen? No.”

School security guard John Ali is currently the only person officially manning drop-off and pick-up, although Mr. Nichols said he steps in during  warmer weather and Chief Fabiano said he helps out when he can.

“Would a crossing guard help there? Possibly. I would have to discuss it with the board next September,” Chief Fabiano said.

Mr. Deyermond said crossing guards “in this particular fiscal budget year are problematic. I don’t see us adding any crossing guards.”

The village officials in attendance agreed that while there are things the village could do, the school should also enact measures to alleviate the congestion.

“I’ve been saying this for the past 14 years that I’ve been chief. Why can’t we have a drop-off for cars on one side and the buses on the other side?” Chief Fabiano asked, referring to the parking lots at Jermain Avenue and Division Street.

“We also brought up the idea of the buses and here’s where the parents have to step in,” he added. “We’re looking at buses and they’re 75 percent empty, according to your numbers. To me, that’s a big issue. We’re spending a lot of money on buses and no one’s riding them. everyone’s dropping kids off at school.”

“This is a generic problem in a lot of schools,” Trustee Robby Stein said of the congestion, adding, “You have to get more kids on the school buses.”

On Wednesday, school business administrator John O’Keefe said, “Bus utilization varies depending on the time of year, weather, etc., but typically runs 30 to 45 percent for the five primary routes.”

Mr. Deyermond said if the entrances at the Montauk Avenue parking lot behind the school and the Jermain Avenue parking lot on its northern side were open longer for students to use and the school publicized that those entrances should be used, some of the traffic could be redirected from Division Street. Several members of the audience nodded in agreement.

“I would like to see what the school is going to do and what Larry [Salvesen, district architect] can do with the possibility of shifting all this congestion from one spot,” Chief Fabiano said. “To say, hey we designed the school and we don’t have place for drop-off…I don’t think it’s too fair to the village to say, ‘You just make it a one-way.’ That’s not the answer.”

“It is our responsibility, yes, but it’s also the responsibility of the school to start doing something,” he said.

“With a little bit of luck, we can get that crossing guard out there relatively soon, I think,” said Dr. Bonuso. “And when I say soon, I don’t mean next week or necessarily next month.”

The school board agreed to discuss the issue further to see whether there were immediate steps that could be taken. It will discuss the plans for the new parking lots at Pierson at its next regular meeting on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson library.