Tag Archive | "Schools"

Sag Harbor Students Plea to Save Their Prom

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Image: School bus

By Tessa Raebeck

Speakers at the podium at Sag Harbor school board meetings are generally thrifty community members or concerned parents; rarely do students appear to express their views — except, of course, when the prom is threatened.

At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, members of the student council came to address the board as representatives of the Pierson High School senior class.

The students expressed their concerns over an administrative notion to ban limousines from the prom and instead make students take the school’s yellow buses to the event. The discussion came following incidents at last year’s prom where students consumed alcohol in the limousines before arriving at the school-sponsored event.

At the January 13 school board meeting, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the Nutrition/Wellness/Health and Safety Committee had “sort of endorsed” a tentative plan to have students who are attending prom meet at the school beforehand and be transported to the prom via school-sponsored buses, thus “eliminating the limousines that currently transport students to the prom.”

A significant part of the prom tradition is a group of friends renting a limo or party bus, essentially a larger limo, together to take them to and from the event. Students and their parents decide who rides in their limo and where those in the limo will meet for pre-prom photos. The limo, they argue, is as much a part of the prom as the dance itself.

The move, Nichols said, “Could be seen as an invasion of students’ rights [but] would help us to more closely monitor students on that evening.”

Speaking on behalf of her class, student council and prom committee member Olivia Bono made it clear that the students do, in fact, see the idea as an invasion of their rights.

“We just wanted to voice to you the opinions of the seniors,” Bono told the board from the podium, “because limos and party buses are part of the experience of the prom, even though we understand why you would be taking them away and we do appreciate your concern, it’s not really fair because what happened last year wasn’t necessarily our fault.”

“We just feel,” she continued, “that we would like the right to make our own impact, we would like the chance as our grade to not be punished for someone else’s choices.”

Carly Fisher, also a student council member, reminded the board that students and parents have to sign a waiver prior to the prom saying they will not partake in illegal activity, “which I assume is similar to what would be done if we were to take school buses — it’s the same idea,” she said.

“We feel it’s a rite of passage to have the limos,” said Fisher. “It also makes it easier for us after prom.”

Fisher said without designated limousines, students would have no ride home and many (who could be consuming alcohol regardless of whether the school bus rule is enacted) would have to drive later on.

After the young women left the meeting, Nichols said he had advised Bono to address the board after she came into his office with the assumption that a decision had already been made.

“That’s what we encourage in our students,” he said, “participation in government. I think it’s great that she came out tonight and expressed her views.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, BOE member Sandi Kruel was honored by the New York State School Board Association for putting in extra time and effort as a board member.

A meeting of the Educational Facilities Planning Committee to discuss the bond capital projects will be held Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.

The Beasts from the East, Pierson Robotics Team Starts Work on New Competitive Robot

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The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotics Team robot, competes in last year's FIRST Robotics Competition Long Island Regional Event at Stony Brook University.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotics Team robot, competes in last year’s FIRST Robotics Competition Long Island Regional Event at Stony Brook University.

By Tessa Raebeck

They design, build and program robots, fundraise for their team and build alliances for intense competition — and they do it all on free periods, during lunch and after school.

Having just received the regulations for this year’s game, the 30 students on the Pierson Robotics Team are now hard at work preparing a unique robot model for battle.

The Pierson Whalers robotics team, whose members call themselves “The Beasts from the East,” is more than an after school club; students spend hours researching and designing, building in the lab and trucking up and down Main Street in search of sponsors. They maintain active Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages and a team website and share accounts in robot chat rooms or informative forums.

“Those who are really involved are there all the time, after school, at lunch, all the time,” said Abi Gianis, a junior at Pierson who joined the team as a sophomore. “We work in our free periods as well, at least we try to.”

When the schools were closed early Tuesday afternoon due to inclement weather, team leaders Lucas Pickering and Alex Cohen were hard at work in the Pierson Middle/High School basement.

The team meets throughout the school year, but they are now in fierce preparation for April, when their finished robot will compete in the three-day Long Island Regional competition at Hofstra University. Now in its 15th year, the Long Island Regional has grown from eight teams to near 50.

The international competition, or the “Superbowl of Smarts,” has grown to over 2,000 teams, with 40 regional events from Israel to Brazil.

Established in 1995, the Pierson Robotics team won the second Long Island Regional Competition in 2000 and was a finalist in 2001, 2002 and 2004. Out of thousands of teams competing in US FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the Beasts from the East are proud to note their team number is 28, representing their veteran status

In addition to points gained in direct competition, teams are judged on excellence in design, demonstrated team spirit, professionalism and maturity, and ability to overcome obstacles. Pierson received Judges Awards in 1998 and 2000.

“Winning means building partnerships that last,” the Beasts from the East say on their team website.

FRC released the rules and framework of the competition January 4, and the students have been hard at work designing and constructing their model ever since. They have six weeks to prepare their robot, meaning the deadline is less than a month away — and this is crunch time.

FRC challenges competing teams to solve a common problem under the same rules and using the same standard “kit of parts” to build a robot that weighs around 130 pounds.

“They’re working on prototypes now and they’re starting to build it,” said Gayle Pickering, who mentors the team along with her husband Rick, Robotics Coordinator Clint Schulman and Robotics Assistant Rob Coe. Four students from East Hampton High School are also on the team and shop teacher Trevor Gregory works with the Sag Harbor mentors.

This year’s game, Aerial Assist, requires two alliances of three robots each. The three-team alliances compete against each other in a game sort of like robot basketball. The robot must be able to lift up and throw a ball that is two feet in diameter. Last year’s Pierson robot, named the “Harpoon” but also called “Mission Impossible,” shot Frisbees across a court.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotic Team's entry into last year's FIRST Robotics Competition.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotic Team’s entry into last year’s FIRST Robotics Competition.

Since the game requires an alliance this year, the Pierson team must market itself to teams from other school districts and scout out potential partners.

“We’re challenged,” said Gianis, “to make a robot that can not only pick up a ball with a two foot diameter, but also cooperate with other robots that we have never interacted with before and help assist them.”

Looking for more female engineers, Shulman encouraged Gianis and friend Clara Oppenheimer to join the team last year. Now the two are being trained to program the robot next year when the senior programmers graduate.

“It’s a game for nerds,” Pickering said, “but anybody can participate.”

Bridgehampton School Ranks in Top 15 Obese Schools on Long Island

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Bridgehampton School personnel work in the district's new community garden last April, 2013. (Photography by Michael Heller).

Bridgehampton School personnel work in the district’s new community garden last April. (Michael Heller photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

Although rates of childhood obesity in New York are showing signs of dropping, schools across the state are still reporting alarming rates of overweight students.

According to New York State Department of Health (DOH) data, Greenport is the most obese school district on Long Island, with Bridgehampton, Riverhead and Springs not far behind.

Between 2010 and 2012, 17.6 percent of New York public school students (excluding New York City) were considered obese, according to the DOH.

The Student Weight Status Category Reporting System, through which the data was compiled, was established in 2007 to support state and local efforts to understand and confront the problem of childhood obesity.

It requires students in kindergarten and grades 2, 4, 7 and 10 to have a student health certificate completed based on a physical examination, thus the data used in the DOH report only reflects students in those grades. Schools collect the health certificate information and the district then reports a summary to the DOH. The DOH does not receive data on individual children, only summaries of the district total and of students categorized by gender and grade groups, i.e. elementary versus secondary.

Although the appraisals used to collect the student obesity data are mandatory, parents can opt out of having their child’s data included in the school summary report sent to DOH. Approximately two percent of all parents opt out, according to DOH spokesman Dr. Jeffrey Hammond.

The percentages are therefore not definitive comparisons of districts’ obesity rates, noted Bridgehampton School superintendent Dr. Lois Favre.

Bridgehampton School, for example, is reported to have 15 obese children and a rate of 27.3 percent obesity. Both numbers are based on the 56 students in the grades for which data was submitted, not the entire district population.

Although the data is not all encompassing, it is nonetheless alarming.

According to the DOH, obesity is more prevalent among children raised in low-income households. Rates of obesity in New York are significantly higher in school districts in which a higher proportion of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

In Bridgehampton, 57 percent of students are on free or reduced price lunch, according to Dr. Favre.

“We work hard at Bridgehampton,” said Dr. Favre, “to assure that all students receive the state mandated amount of time for physical education [and] have daily recess that encourages movement.”

“We were one of the first schools on the South Fork to begin a school garden,” she added, “and pride ourselves on getting healthy foods to our students.”

In Riverhead, 315 students, or 24.7 percent of the sample population, were reported to be obese.

According to Superintendent Nancy Carney, 48 percent of Riverhead students are on free or reduced price lunch.

“With a poverty level of this rate,” said Carney, “families tend to rely on foods that are high in calories and low in cost to satisfy their nutritional needs.”

Riverhead schools offer low calorie meals of high nutritional value and encourage students to participate in the breakfast program, to save parents money and hopefully afford children the opportunity to make healthier food choices.

With 64 obese children in the sample data, Springs has an obesity rate of 22.9 percent.

Principal Eric Casale said although the school does not have its own cafeteria, the district works with parents to monitor students’ nutritional habits and a lunch cart filled with healthy foods is available. Its Springs Seedlings school garden has also been a success.

“Our mission as a district,” Casale said, “is to enrich the intellectual, emotional, social and physical wellbeing of our student body.”

Greenport School District had a reported childhood obesity rate of 33.4 percent.

The DOH rate of childhood obesity is 16.8 percent in East Hampton, 14.7 percent in Southampton and 9.9 percent in Sag Harbor, the lowest district on the East End

Sag Harbor School Board Hopes to Host Educational Summit on Administrative Sharing

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Diana Hinojosa proudly watches her husband Fausto receive tenure at the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday.

Diana Hinojosa proudly watches her husband Fausto receive tenure at the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

Facing substantial losses in state aid and severe limitations on its ability to raise local revenue, the Sag Harbor School District is hoping to host an educational summit this summer to discuss sharing administrative services with nearby districts.

At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, said he had recently discussed possible cooperation with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, as well as leaders from other school districts.

Daniel Hartnett, a BOE member, first proposed examining the possibility of an administrative merger at the December 2 board meeting.

“We’re beyond — in terms of shared services — buying toilet paper as a collective,” Hartnett said Monday. “I think we’ve milked every penny we could out of that.”

Board member Mary Anne Miller said both East Hampton Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming have approached her to express their interest in the consolidation of administrative functions.

The BOE hopes to accelerate the discussion before fiscal limitations mandate severe cuts to school programs, supplies and teaching positions as, like districts across the state, Sag Harbor is facing an uphill battle this budget season.

Under the “tax cap,” a regulation enacted by the New York State Legislature in 2011, school districts cannot increase property taxes by more than two percent or the rate of inflation (whichever is less) annually, limiting districts’ ability to raise local revenue.

A provision of the tax cap legislation permits a handful of school districts with enrollments of 1,000 students or less to share a superintendent. The Greenport and Southold school districts were the first in the state to announce plans to do so in November. Starting in July, current Southold Superintendent David Gamberg will work for both districts and report to both school boards, with the districts splitting the costs of his salary evenly.

Prior to the tax cap, in 2009 the state adopted the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). Legislators developing the state budget realized the state’s anticipated revenue did not cover expenses, resulting in a “gap.” The GEA was created to fill that gap, essentially passing the burden onto the state’s school districts.

The state now uses a calculation based “primarily on district wealth,” according to School Business Administrator John O’Keefe, to determine a district’s GEA, an amount that is then deducted from their state aid.

Sag Harbor had some $243,000 in state aid taken away last year due to the GEA, O’Keefe said Monday.

According to the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), school districts have lost more than $8 billion in state aid since the start of the GEA four years ago.

Since state aid and local property taxes are the primary means for a district to raise revenue, the GEA and the tax cap have forced districts “to make difficult choices,” according to NYSSBA.

Such choices are prompting the school board to spearhead the conversation on superintendent sharing on the East End.

Dr. Bonuso said a steering committee would ideally be formed in the spring, consisting of several administrators, legislators and board members who would then organize an agenda or protocol for an educational summit or similar legislative meeting to take place over the summer.

Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said he believes the tax cap is a result of the poor economic climate and may be removed as the economy recovers.

BOE Vice President Chris Tice, who presided over Monday’s meeting in President Theresa Samot’s absence, replied that the cap is politically tied to rent control laws in New York City and will not sunset for another seven years.

Tice expressed her support of putting a group together in the spring and hosting a summit this summer.

“The sooner we can think of these things and do it the better we’ll be,” agreed David Diskin, a member of the school board.

“People who are more in touch with what’s actually going on in their communities understand how important and valuable education is,” he said, adding the higher up in government, “the more it becomes an abstract concept.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, the BOE honored Fausto Hinojosa, a teaching assistant (TA) in the district, with tenure.

“Fausto,” said Nichols, “for me, in many ways represents that key piece, that key connection between the school and many students in the ESL [English as a Second Language] population. He has a passion for trying to make the transition for the students who come from other countries a smooth one.”

“The way you interact with staff and with every student is with such dignity and respect and joy,” added Tice. “And they have a visceral positive response to you.”

Joined by his wife Diana, also a Sag Harbor teacher’s assistant, Fausto received a standing ovation from the room of administrators and colleagues.

Holding back tears, he addressed the room.

“There’s one thing that none of you have said,” he said. “One of the most joyful things that I live with here at school is the people that I work with…this is our home and I’ve told Mr. Nichols this many times, we’re just thrilled to be here every morning.”

$15,500 in “Public Information” Funding Projected for Sag Harbor School District’s 2014-2015 Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the first budget workshop of the school year, the Sag Harbor School District outlined its projected 2014–2015 budget for support services.

Presenting prior to Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, school Business Administrator John O’Keefe showed the board tentative numbers on the BOE, central administration, legal services, public information services and insurance components.

The BOE is attempting to keep the 2014-2015 budget below the state-mandated two percent property tax levy cap. Quite unpopular at BOE meetings, the tax cap is a legislative limit that prohibits districts from increasing the levy, or the amount of funding the district must raise through property taxes, by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

The support services component of the budget is at present projected to increase by 1.55 percent. According to a budget worksheet prepared by O’Keefe and interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso, a rollover budget for 2014-2015 is $37,408,672, a $1,900,050 or 5.35 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget.

The tentative budget projects $15,500 in funding for “public information,” primarily referring to the district’s consultant agreement with Syntax Communication, a public relations firm in Bohemia.

The BOE adopted two contracts with Syntax this year, one valued at $6,500 for work on the bond proposition and another for $9,500 for PR work from January 1 to June 30.

The district also used Syntax as a vendor for printing services for bond related work, at a cost of $2,025 for the bond newsletter and $1,130 for the post card mailer. In 2012-13, the district expended $1,738 on public information. In 2011-12, the district spent $2,072.

The projected expense for “public information” for next year’s budget, which could include renewed contracts with Syntax, is $15,500.

At Monday’s meeting, Syntax President Kathy Beatty told the board what that money buys.

“We take the burden off you dealing with the media,” she said, adding the firm never speaks on the district’s behalf without approval from the BOE or superintendent.

Bridgehampton Voters Approve $827,000 in Spending for School Capital Projects

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The Bridgehampton School.

The Bridgehampton School.

By Tessa Raebeck

Bridgehampton voters overwhelmingly agreed to fund $827,000 in capital projects at the Bridgehampton School, including the installation of new fire escapes and other major repairs considered essential by the district.

Out of the 70 district residents who voted Tuesday, 64 approved the spending. Four absentee ballots were tallied.

Built more than 85 years ago, the Bridgehampton School has never had any major updates to its infrastructure, according to Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre. Additional outer buildings that were supposed to be temporary have been in use for “many more years than planned,” she said.

Voters approved the establishment of a five-year capital plan to fund major improvements and repairs at the school last March and the Board of Education (BOE) put $827,000 in that reserve fund in June. Tuesday’s vote approved the actual spending of that money.

Dr. Favre said after reviewing the building’s five-year plan, “it was indicated that due to the budget crunching in recent years, we are getting behind on repairs.”

The district can now move forward on longstanding priority items like installing new fire escapes and replacing the gymnasium floor and skylights.

Bridgehampton students will also enjoy new playground equipment and could be playing on it by the next school year; the district hopes to complete all projects over the summer of 2014 so as not to interfere with school instruction.

Smaller capital projects are also covered by the funding, including installing a new generator, resurfacing the outdoor basketball court, fixing leaks in the electrical room and replacing emergency lighting in several buildings.

“In an effort to keep to our five year plan and assure safety for our students,” said Dr. Favre, “the board believes that catching up with, and assuring attention to the five year plan is in the best interest of all. The allocation of the funds by the public will assist us in doing just that.”

Ross School in East Hampton Unveils New Marine Science Program

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Students from the Ross School working aboard a SoMAS research vessel.

Students from the Ross School working aboard a SoMAS research vessel.

By Tessa Raebeck

One scientist is looking at the medical applications of 3D printing technology, another is working on a Hydrogen-powered fuel cell and a third is developing an inexpensive way to have a prosthetic limb that responds to brain control. What do the three scientists have in common? They’re all in high school.

The projects are just some examples of independent research taking place in the Innovation Lab at the Ross School. Now in its second year, the program is adding marine science to its curriculum, which already includes diverse subjects like engineering, computer programming, woodworking, metalworking and welding.

“The Innovation Lab is a unique program that uses applied science and education to meet current problems of our society,” explained Paul Flagg, a teacher at Ross who was brought in to lead the marine science program. “So we are going to be working locally, regionally and globally in our efforts.”

In addition to the Ross School core curriculum, students in the Innovation Lab spend an extra hour at school each day working on their independent projects, which they choose and design themselves.

“The students are given a lot of latitude to select a project that they’re interested in,” Dr. David Morgan, the director of the lab, said. “What I tell students is if they’re not looking forward all day to when the Innovation Lab time comes around and they get to work on their project, then they probably chose the wrong project.”

“I really want the students all working on something they’re passionate about,” he added, “that is the kind of thing they would be doing anyway if they weren’t in school. Those are the kinds of students we’re looking for and the kinds of projects we try to steer them towards.”

Drawing on local resources and global ideas, the marine science program aims to broaden the Innovation Lab past engineering-type sciences to include life sciences and allows students to choose their focus from a large and diverse field.

“I think of the marine science program as more broadly than just fishing and plankton,” said Dr. Morgan. “It’s about global environmental issues. It’s about sustainability.”

“There’s room for students,” he added, “who are interested in genetics. There’s room there for students who are interested in resource management, fisheries, oceanography, computer modeling of global climate change…it’s a pretty big field.”

Flagg, who has an extensive background in fisheries and marine biology, designed the new program’s first course, “The Earth and its Oceans,” which is focused on physical oceanography and marine theology, currently in the fourth of 12 weeks.

Students are building a ROV (remote operated vehicle), “basically a robotic submarine,” said Dr. Morgan, and developing data collection packages to test the water for things like salinity and dissolved oxygen content.

In all projects, students are encouraged to look at problems in an interdisciplinary fashion.

Following the course, 22 students and five faculty members will travel to Mo’orea, a remote island in French Polynesia, for 20 days during the Ross School’s midwinter term.

In collaboration with National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institute, they will conduct field research for a bio-code project at University of California at Berkeley’s Richard Gump Research Station.

“It’s an inventory of all life that exists” in Mo’orea, said Flagg. “We’re working on that inventory, including the genetic identity of each species, and so far the project has been going for five years and we’re coming to support it.”

Dr. Morgan said such trips are going to be an important part of the program.

“Getting students working not just in our local waters,” he said, “but getting them to experience environments that they might not otherwise get a chance to experience.”

Some students, he said, are conducting research on using the oceans to generate power through wave and tidal power generation or generating electricity from the temperature difference between the surface water and water 100 meters below.

“[We are] looking at the oceans as a source of energy and not just a place that we pull things out of to eat,” said Dr. Morgan, adding that the Ross School encourages students to think about global environmental impact in all their projects and “how this technology might be able to help mitigate things like environmental effects of human existence on this planet.”

The Ross School is offering three full tuition merit-based scholarships, including stipends and support for all four years, for marine science students from the local community.

Two scholarships have already been awarded to Evi Kaasik Saunders and Liam Cummings, but one is still available. To apply for the remaining scholarship, visit ross.org/apply or email admissions@ross.org.

“We feel committed,” Flagg said, “to supporting the community with research and students that are interested and would like to be involved in matters of local concern — such as the effects of sea-level change, effects of mismanagement of fisheries — so we think there’s a lot of opportunity for high-level participation and support of local resource management in the marine environment.”

Although students are doing work on a global scale, the program is committed to the local community.

“We feel that we’re part of a community that has a long relationship and dependence on the ocean for its survival,” said Flagg.

 

Sag Harbor Residents Call on School District to Reexamine Bond Parking Lot Projects

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Projected view of the asphalt impact on Pierson Middle/High School in 2014, if the group's suggestions to scale back the size are not made. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

Projected view of the asphalt impact on Pierson Middle/High School in 2014, if the group’s suggestions to scale back the size are not made. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

By Tessa Raebeck

Prior to the November 13 vote when the community passed two bond propositions set forth by the Sag Harbor School District, school officials promised voters all capital project plans were “conceptual schematics” and the community would have ample opportunities for input concerning the final design plans before construction started.

At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of schools, made good on that promise, inviting members of the community to attend a bond implementation project designs group meeting on January 8, 2014.

Overwhelmingly approved by voters, the first proposition includes renovations and enhancements to the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium, reconfiguration of the Pierson shop and kitchen areas, construction of additional gymnasium storage at Sag Harbor Elementary School and the reconstruction of the Hampton Street parking lot at the elementary school and the Jermain Avenue and bus parking lots at Pierson. It also covers repairs and improvements to the air conditioning, heating, ventilation and plumbing and drainage systems.

The second proposition includes the installation of a synthetic turf athletic field and two-lane walking track behind Pierson, as well as a new scoreboard and concrete seating pavilion.

Interested parties can attend any or all of seven scheduled 45 minute workshops during the course of the school day, from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Residents will have an opportunity to review the plans, provide input and ask questions. Larry Salvesen, the district architect, and other representatives from the construction projects will be on hand, as will Dr. Bonuso and school administrators.

Each session will take place on site in the area it is covering, i.e. the auditorium conversation will take place in the auditorium.  The complete schedule is available on the district website, sagharborschools.org.

“Whether we agree or disagree,” Dr. Bonuso said Monday, “people who love their community inevitably come up with what is right for everybody because they’re so driven to do the right thing.”

Mary Anne Miller, a member of the BOE, expressed the need for school administrators to be involved in the final design conversations.

“We’ve been communicating constantly back and forth,” Dr. Bonuso replied. “None of this would be headlines or new to our administration…literally [the bond projects are] a product of touching base with the administration and staff. All we’re saying is our effort is going to be in having an inclusive conversation — and that includes the staff without a doubt and our administration very pointedly.”

A group of village residents concerned about preserving green space and encouraging alternative modes of transportation aside from cars came forward prior to the bond vote with concerns regarding the proposed parking lot reconfigurations.

Parent Ken Dorph said the group was unhappy with the 2009 bond proposal, which did not pass — in large part, Dorph thinks, because of the parking plans.

The original parking plans included in the 2013 propositions were exactly the same as those proposed in 2009. Upon realizing this similarity, Dorph and others raised their concerns at a bond presentation October 21. Following that meeting, Dr. Bonuso — who was “amazing,” according to Dorph — reached out to the group and promised they would work together in finalizing the parking plans. Dr. Bonuso repeatedly said the parking lot reconfigurations were about improving health and safety, not creating more parking spaces.

At Monday’s meeting, Carol Williams presented photos to the board outlining, “what the hill looked like in 2001, what it looks like now and what it would look like unless we’re careful.”

An aerial view of Pierson Hill in 2001. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

An aerial view of Pierson Hill in 2001. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

In the aerial view of Pierson Hill from 2001, the parking lot along Division Street is significantly smaller. In the proposed plans from 2009 and 2013, originally, the Jermain Street parking lot is also expanded, which if enacted would result in significant loss of green space from 2001 to 2014.

“In Sag Harbor,” Dorph said, “we have fallen behind Riverhead, East Hampton and Tuckahoe in getting people out of their cars. We have fewer kids walking, biking than when I started [as a district parent] — which is so depressing to me.”

“There’s lots of fine-tuning things we can do,” said community member John Shaka. “I look forward to doing them with you.”

 

At Sag Harbor School Board Meeting, Questions Arise Regarding Lack of Newspaper at Pierson High School

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Sag Harbor Board of Education Vice President Chris Tice, President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district's interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Vice President Chris Tice, BOE President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

By Tessa Raebeck

Although less than 10 community members stayed for the full duration of Monday’s Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) meeting, those in attendance – most of them regulars – were passionate about the needs of village schools.

One need, according to parents in attendance and many who are active on the Facebook group “Sag Harbor School District Parents Connect,” is for an active student newspaper at Pierson High School.

A newspaper for the Pierson Middle School was officially created on Monday with the board’s appointment of Jason LaBatti, a math teacher, as advisor to the new club.

According to Gary Kalish, vice principal for Pierson High School, the middle school newspaper club has been dormant for “a few years.” A literary magazine, “sort of a compilation of students’ artwork and stories,” ran in the meantime, said Barbara Bekermus, director of pupil personnel services for the district.

“It’s a position that’s been available to middle school students but [there] hasn’t been a lot of interest,” Kalish said Monday. “So, recently, I guess a group of students got together and approached [Jeff Nichols, the principal of Pierson Middle/High School] and asked if they could have a middle school program.”

Kalish said the high school newspaper is no longer running because “there wasn’t a significant interest this year.”

The high school newspaper, The Leviathan, ran from October 2011 to May 2013. The May 2013 issue had seven contributors, at least three of which are still attending Pierson High School.

Each edition of The Leviathan was both published in hard copy and posted to the district website, which describes the paper as “a club designed to provide students with an authentic experience in journalism and publishing. Members of the Newspaper Club are editors, photographers, reporters and graphic designers for the school newspaper.”

The paper’s contents included reviews of movies, books and school plays, a sports page, a photo spread, interviews with teachers and department representatives, a “whale quote,” and such thorough political examinations as a May 2013 piece by Mari Chavez titled “The Dreamers: The Complex Issue of Immigration and Pierson Students.”

Prior to The Leviathan was Folio, a student-run publication that was printed for free in The Sag Harbor Express. Led by advisor Peter Solow, an art teacher at Pierson, the full-page spread included editorials, articles, photos and information concerning the district, all written and designed by students. The last printed issue, from early May 2010, outlined possible contingency budget cuts and news on the school board elections and budget votes, as well as district announcements and upcoming events.

At Monday’s board meeting, BOE member Daniel Hartnett recalled Folio, mentioned a neighboring district similarly utilizes its local paper and wondered whether such collaboration might be available for the middle school.

“Instead of something going home in kids’ backpacks or lost on the bus or whatever, it actually gets printed in the paper,” Hartnett said.

“Yeah,” replied Kalish, “I remember the high school would partner up and it was really kind of amazing, so I’ll talk to the advisor about that.”

In other school board news, the board defended their decision to hire the public relations firm Syntax Communication Group for “communication services.” Syntax, which worked for the board in communications regarding the capital bond project propositions passed in November, is a Bohemia-based firm that provides marketing communication consulting services and specializes in working with school districts.

At the December 2 BOE meeting, the board approved an agreement between the district and Syntax, effective January 1, 2014 through June 30, 2014 for $9,500. At Monday’s meeting, community member John Battle asked the board to explain its intent in hiring the PR firm.

“They will do everything from press releases to touching base with the media representatives to crisis management,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of schools, responded, adding the firm will work on the school calendar, write articles, cover various events, write budget newsletters and press releases and communicate with “various constituents.”

“We’re going to take a look at how it works out for the rest of the year,” said Dr. Bonuso, “and see whether or not – you know, we’re always evaluating the bang for the buck – we’re going to see…whether it’s cost effective and whether we have the dollars to do so.”

Hartnett said “most districts” use PR firms and Sag Harbor has employed a similar firm in the past.

“It’s an issue that the Communications Committee has been talking about,” added Theresa Samot, president of the school board. “There’s a lot of great things happening at the school and the community doesn’t always know about them.”

Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said with changes in technology, the type of communication has changed and many schools have hired “in house communication managers.”

The BOE will hold a budget workshop and educational meeting on January 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle/High School library.

Concerned Sag Harbor Parents Crowd Pierson Library for Math Curriculum Workshop

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Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols presents a workshop on the Math Curriculum in front of concerned parents at Monday evening.

Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols presents a workshop on the Math Curriculum in front of district administrators, the Board of Education and concerned parents Monday evening.

By Tessa Raebeck

Parents told stories of children bursting into tears, berating themselves for being “idiots” and spending hours agonizing over homework at the Sag Harbor School District’s math curriculum workshop Monday night, voicing concern over the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS).

“The first thing we say to her is get out your math homework,” said Christa Schleicher of her daughter, who is in seventh grade at Pierson Middle/High School.

Concerned parents, mostly of seventh graders, filled the Pierson Library to hear a presentation led by Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols, with assistance from their math teachers.

Developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core is a set of educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade that states voluntarily adopt. CCLS has been adopted by 45 states. New York State (NYS) adopted CCLS in July 2010, but it is being phased in over several years.

Every seat in the library was filled as parents showed up to express their discontent with the Common Core program, which many believe was rolled out haphazardly without clear direction from the state and to the detriment of students.

“It’s not specific or indigenous to Sag Harbor,” said Nichols, who has three children in the Southampton Intermediate School. “Everybody is struggling with these same issues.”

“We really want to commend the effort of all the instructors in our district who are working through this new initiative,” said Malone. “There’s a lot of challenges and in a way we’ve all kind of been thrown into it.”

At the end of the 2012/2013 school year, NYS math assessments for students in third through eighth grade measured CCLS. Nichols said state assessments assume kids going into the seventh grade curriculum had Common Core instruction since kindergarten, when in reality, mathematics instruction was not fully aligned with CCLS until the 2012/2013 school year for students in grades three through eight and the 2013/2014 school year for high school students.

“That assumption is a big assumption to me,” Nichols said Monday evening, adding that the pacing of the modules is also inaccurate. “They say a lesson will take 40 minutes…reality is it’s not 40 minutes, it’s 60 or 70 minutes.”

“As a school,” he continued, “what we struggle with and what I’m struggling with is to what extent do we let mathematics dominate the landscape?”

Nichols said about an hour and a half of math homework each night is on pace with the modules, a time requirement many parents said is overwhelming for their kids.

“It’s a lot more rigorous,” said Diana Kolhoff, a Sag Harbor resident and math consultant. “So some of the historical traditions that these schools have had are running into trouble with the Common Core. Things that had worked in the past are no longer working.”

“This is probably the most exciting part but also the most challenging part,” said Malone. “This is the part where you wrestle with, ‘are we presenting things in the best way to kids?’ Because it’s really challenging and it’s causing kids to have to work a lot harder than they had to before.”

“I get it all and I get that they’re reprogramming,” said Schleicher. “My struggle and our struggle at home is the amount of it. My daughter, she’s beginning to despise math because it’s so much…she’s getting it, she’s getting better at it, but it’s just taking too long.”

“I’m dealing with the same thing with my children,” Nichols said, calling it a “juggling act” because by diminishing homework, the students fall behind the state’s expected pace in the classroom. He said they are trying to gauge how fast teachers can go without turning kids off math.

“If we have to tweak our workload and at the end of the day where our students are at, we’ll do so,” said Nichols, who has already implemented a few modifications.

To increase instructional time and hopefully minimize time spent on math at home, Pierson added a lab period designed to reinforce the CCLS lesson for students in seventh grade and algebra classes.

Middle School Assistant Principal Brittany Miaritis said lab time provides the students with far more one-on-one learning instruction than available in the classroom setting. Teacher Richard Terry said it has been “very helpful” for his seventh grade students. Additionally, several senior math teachers were moved from the high school to the middle school two years ago, due to their comprehension of what would be required of those students later on.

Although they recognized its challenges, the teachers in attendance appeared to be proponents of the CCLS methodology. Fifth grade teachers George Kneeland and JoAnn Kelly shared a CCLS fluency activity, a fast-paced drill that is supposed to be a fun way to measure a student’s personal best. Kelly said her students love sprints, asking for them almost every day.

Kneeland then introduced an application problem, or “problem of the day,” which is designed to be strategically linked to previous lessons and concepts.

“We were just taught a methodology for doing it and we did it,” he said of his grade school experience. “The Common Core philosophy is taking a step deeper and looking at things so we get a pictorial understanding and more concrete understanding and then transition to what’s called the standard algorithm.”

Janice Arbia, who has four children in the school district, asked, “When they’re actually grading these tests, does it matter how they do it?”

The intent, Malone said, is for students to grasp what they were asked to do, so they can choose the way of solving the problem that works best for them. Energy is devoted to the concepts instead of the calculations.

“One of the big shifts now,” added Terry, “is rather than have a teacher standing in front of the students doing all of this work, the students are becoming an active participant in the lesson.”

“My students coming up this year in geometry are significantly stronger than they’ve been in the past and I expect that trend to continue,” said high school teacher Chase Malia. “I really think my students are much better prepared than they’ve been in the past.”

The administrators said their model of approach relies on feedback from teachers, parents and students. Nichols said that while some parents say their children are overwhelmed, others say they like the rigor and their kids are thriving. He plans to administer a survey to hear students’ opinions on how much they can handle.

“We do have an obligation to make sure that we safeguard kids’ emotional well being,” said Nichols. “And if in fact we’re asking too much of them in terms of the amount of homework, this survey will be able to generate some data related to that.”