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Saint Andrews Hopes for a Preschool at Former Stella Maris Regional School

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Educator Toni Rozzi at the Stella Maris Regional School where the St. Andrews R.C. Church hopes to start a nursery and pre-school next year.

By Amy Patton

Just over a year after Sag Harbor’s Stella Maris Regional School — the oldest Roman-Catholic school on Long Island — closed, this week came news that many in the area may consider a bright new light for the nearly 150-year-old institution.

On Monday, an announcement from St. Andrews R.C. Church, which owns the school building on Division Street, revealed plans for both a nursery and preschool in the former nursery through eighth grade school building this coming fall season.

In June of 2011, Stella Maris Regional School was shuttered amid reports of financial mismanagement, lowered enrollment and a debt burden estimated to hover near $480,000. The situation, which unfolded in May of last year, was further compounded by a chasm which developed between parents and the local diocese as information about the school’s finances unraveled.

But now, if all goes as planned for the board of St. Andrews, students could once again be making their way through the school’s hallways as early as September. Before that can happen, however, Toni Rozzi, a former Stella Maris teacher and director of the new school, explained the educational program for three and four-year-olds would need approval and licensing from the State of New York’s Department of Children and Family Services.

“Everything looks promising for the fall,” said Rozzi on Monday. “However, we’re not positive yet, so we’re kind of waiting to see what happens so that we don’t give [parents] false hope for those who are looking for a full-day program.”

If current plans are approved for the 2012-2013 school year, Rozzi explained the nursery and Pre-K program would operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“You will be able to sign your child up for either a morning session, an afternoon session or a full day, which would be from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.,” said Rozzi.

According to Rozzi, a unique option of the program is that it will offer early drop –off starting at 8 a.m. to accommodate parents needing to get to work. While the educational component of the nursery and pre-school program would run from 8:30 to 2:30 p.m., Rozzi said that a full day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. will be an option for working parents. The formal schooling will conclude at 2:30 p.m., but structured activities like arts and crafts and sports will continue until 5 p.m.

Much of the formal schedule, added Rozzi, is still being ironed out.

Rozzi said staff hiring for the proposed school is also on hold pending the state’s nod of approval.

“We don’t want to promise teachers jobs if we don’t have a license yet,” she said.

Previously, Stella Maris’ curriculum, direction, and finances were under the control of the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center.

No more, said Rozzi.

St. Andrews Parish, of which she is a member, will be in direct supervision of the Pre-K and nursery school program, said Rozzi and will also oversee its finances and administration. Religious education, which will be delivered in a modified form due to the ages of the children, will be incorporated into the learning environment.

The size of classes and the number of children included for the upcoming fall school season will depend on interest, demand and enrollment signups, said Rozzi.

The closing of Sag Harbor’s Stella Maris Regional School last year not only shocked many families because of the swiftness with which it occurred, but also because nearly 35 teachers and administrative staff lost their jobs. The school’s students were also displaced.

Sag Harbor parent Michael Taglich, who along with his wife Claudia is an advocate of Catholic education, moved his four daughters into Our Lady of the Hamptons (OLH) in Southampton last fall after learning his family’s school was closing. His children all started out in nursery and Pre-K at Stella Maris. Taglich is a member of St. Andrew’s RC Church Finance Board.

“Historically the educational programs at Stella Maris have been very successful,” he said. “There have always been waiting lists for admissions. There was plenty of demand for the Pre-K and nursery spots. It was not just about babysitting for these children. We had teachers there who have master’s degrees teaching three and four-year-olds.”

Sister Kathryn Schlueter, the principal of OLH, said her school absorbed 59 students from Stella Maris.

“We were able to work it out,” she said. “The class sizes here are large but we do something called ‘split instruction’ where half of the kids in the class are off to music or language instruction at any given time so there’s plenty of supervision and a reasonable teacher-student ratio during the day.”

Although OLH also offers a nursery and Pre-K program, Sr. Kathryn hailed the plans for an early childhood educational program at the former Stella Maris site as a “beautiful thing for the parents, children and community of Sag Harbor.”

Michael Heller photography. 

Stella Maris to Close

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Stella Maris Regional Catholic School will close after the end of this school year, according to a letter sent to parents from Father Mike Rieder of St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Montauk.

“I have prayed that I would never have to write this letter,” he wrote. But because of low enrollment numbers for the 2011-2012 school year, it’s come to this. “We have no choice but to close our school at the end of this academic year,” he continued.

The school collected enrollment forms for 44 students, which is less than half the amount needed (102) to keep the school in operation next year.

On April 12, parents and teachers learned from School Superintendent of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Sister Joanne Callahan, that the school faced a $480,000 deficit.  In order to keep the school in operation, the diocese provided an austerity budget, required parents to raise $116,250 by August 31 and wanted to ensure the school maintain an enrollment of 102.

Stella Maris Faces Possible Closure

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Tonight, Wednesday, April 20, Sister Joanne Callahan, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Rockville Center will travel to Stella Maris for a 6:30 p.m. meeting to discuss an issue that’s affecting everyone in the Stella Maris community: the future of the school.

During a school-wide meeting last Tuesday, parents and teachers were informed that the school’s principal, Jane Peters, had resigned and the school is currently facing what the Diocese estimates to be a $480,000 deficit, which will need to be addressed in order for the school to remain in operation for the 2011-12 school year.

“I think the parents and the teachers are feeling blindsided—absolutely blindsided,” said parent Suzanne Wilutis, one of three school board members who resigned last week in the wake of the school’s announcement.

According to Sean Dolan, a media spokesperson for the Diocese in Rockville Center, Stella Maris owes about $300,000 to the Diocese for insurance costs, though this debt “is being put on hold” while the school works to pay off the rest of what it owes. Dolan said the school has racked up about $180,000 in deficit spending, which he attributes in large part to low enrollment numbers. The Diocese itself will give the school $90,000 both this year and next to help balance the school’s budget. He said Stella Maris parents have already raised $50,000, which—in addition to the Diocese’s financial contribution this year—would mean parents now only need to come up with $40,000 by August 31.

“So, you’re getting there, but there are still next year’s problems,” Dolan said.

A Seed Grows in Zimbabwe: Students Help African School

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web A Key Hole  Garden

Sometimes, it’s hard for children to understand the impact they can have on another person’s life — particularly someone who lives nearly 8,000 miles away. But the 7th and 8th graders of Stella Maris Regional School have done exactly that.

And they did it with a bake-sale.

It all started with Diane Bucking of the Sag Harbor Garden Center. Bucking had heard about Sr. Kathleen Murphy, formerly the principal at Stella Maris. Sr. Kathleen, a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM), had gone to Africa where she founded a school on the streets of Zambia. She is now at a school in Harare, Zimbabwe where she teaches poor and often orphaned children.

Under the rule of president Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has suffered huge social and economic problems. In the past year, hyperinflation has made the local currency worthless and AIDS is a major crisis — much of the country’s adult population is either dead, infected or dying from the disease. Many of the orphans left behind are Sr. Kathleen’s students or cared for by fellow RSHM nuns at Shungu Orphanage in Hatfield, Harare. Because resources are so scarce, Stella Maris has sent items to help Sr. Kathleen’s students.

“I knew they had sent books or uniforms over to Sr. Kathleen,” recalls Bucking. “I found out they can’t get packaged seeds. They will take the seeds out of tomatoes and save them. So I handed some seeds in and said, maybe they’ll grow.”

Grow they did — and the Sag Harbor seeds have provided more than beauty to the people of Zimbabwe — they have provided sustenance for people without reliable access to food. In September, Bucking received an email from Sr. Kathleen saying:

“I wish you were here to see the joy your seeds have given people. We distributed them far and wide around Zimbabwe last year…and even some to Zambia. We particularly love the corn, carrots, turnips, radishes, lettuce, onions and tomatoes.”

Bucking’s seed vendor had given her a hundred or more seed packets for Sr. Kathleen last year. This fall, he upped the ante by giving her close to 500.

“He was pickier this time and left me edible herbs, vegetables and food based seeds,” explains Bucking. “It works out that just as the growing season is ending in the fall here, the rainy season in Zimbabwe is setting in. It’s a good time for planting.”

Though she had hundreds of seed packets waiting to be sent to Sr. Kathleen, Bucking still needed to find the money to ship them all.

“I knew the students had to do a service project,” says Bucking, whose three daughters attend Stella Maris. She approached teacher Gene Arlotta and asked if his 7th and 8th graders could help raise the money.

“The middle school is always doing different kinds of community service,” says Arlotta. “This was to help sister Kathleen.”

The students jumped into the effort. A one-day sale of home baked cookies, brownies and other goodies in the hallways of Stella Maris netted $126 — enough to send all the seeds to Zimbabwe.

“That wasn’t mom and dad just forking out the money either,” says Bucking.

Arlotta used the fundraiser as an opportunity to create an educational experience for the students, and created a display outside his classroom with a world map illustrating the route from Sag Harbor to Harare. Surrounding the map are photographs of Sr. Kathleen, the people of Harare and those Sag Harbor seeds in full bloom.

“The pictures are amazing,” says Bucking, who feels the project has given the students fresh perspective on how people in other parts of the world live. “If we can help someone and get across the idea that a package of seeds can feed someone for months, that’s great. Kids here in general don’t get it.”

And if the photographs don’t bring the message home, Sr. Kathleen’s words certainly do. In an email dated October 13, 2009, she writes:

“Dear Diane, These are a mixture of pictures of the ‘Fruit of Seeds from Sag Harbor’ and a few showing the orphans we work with and some projects that you have helped with. The Herb Center (started by Sr. Eveline Murray) is a wonderful project which was begun last year to help provide natural medicines for people suffering from AIDS. There is little medicine available as it is far too expensive to buy. By teaching people to use natural medicines which can be made from herbs and local plants, many ailments can be cured and immunity boosted.”

In her email, Sr. Kathleen also explains that water is a very scarce resource in Zimbabwe. The sisters teach residents ways to grow enough vegetables and herbs to keep their families healthy — two of these methods are the garden in a bag and a keyhole garden.

“The garden in a bag is simply a sack filled with compost and watered,” writes Sr. Kathleen. “Holes are poked in the bag and seeds…such as spinach, cabbage, carrots or onions planted in it.”

“The keyhole garden is a bit more complex,” she continues. “A wall is built around a big circle with an indent where you can walk into the middle. A small circular wall of stones is built in the middle. The outer circle is filled with tin cans at the bottom! Then the rest is filled up with compost.  The inner circle is filled with grass and leaves and an old pipe to conduct water to the bottom. The middle hole is used to water the garden. When you pour the water down through the middle, the tin cans cause it to flow all around the circle quite evenly.”

“You can grow enough food for a family in the ‘Keyhole Garden,’” she adds. “Try it next spring.”

“I love the pictures of the keyhole garden,” says Bucking. “It looked so lush.”

“She definitely has a green thumb,” adds Stella Maris Principal Jane Peters who recalls that Sr. Kathleen organized many plant and flower sales at Stella Maris during her tenure as principal. “She was always excited about gardens and planting things. I’m sure she’s talking to the children there about seeds, nutrition and what you can plant to sustain life.”


Stella Maris Presents a Christmas Fair With Local Businesses

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second graders with sign in front of Stella Maris for christmas fair

This Saturday, December 13, Stella Maris Regional School in Sag Harbor will hold their annual Christmas Fair in the school auditorium. Although a Christmas Fair has been held at Stella Maris for nearly 25 years now, Principal Janie FitzGerald Peters said this year it is going to be a bit different. This time around, parent Kelly Bailey has taken over the organizational responsibilities for the fair and has decided to include local businesses at the event.
It all began as a craft fair, years ago, when parents and others from the community offered homemade gifts at a reasonable price. This time around, there will still be homemade items available for people of all ages, but in addition, local merchants have rented space at Stella Maris to offer affordable gifts from their businesses to the community as well.
“It’s taken different forms through the years,” Peters said, “but this is the first time we have invited different stores to take part in the fair.”
According to Bailey, there will be a combination of gifts and edible treats for the entire family. Bailey said there will be everything from kittens (from ARF) to homemade ornaments to delectable treats, including Principal Peters’ chicken noodle soup made from scratch — a favorite among her students that she usually makes for the students once a week for lunch.
“It’s tough times out there,” Bailey said on Tuesday, “we want to help our community with the idea that this will also help our local businesses.”
Bailey said that some of the local shops will offer their goods at a discounted rate for shoppers and others will offer coupons and special services. C’s Cleaning and Home & Office Management is selling gift certificates; Harbor Salons is offering their range of organic beauty products and Canio’s Bookstore will have a variety of books for people of all ages.
Other stores involved include the Wharf Shop, Andrew & Co. Brennan’s Bit & Bridle, Flying Point Surf and Sport, and Bees Needs.
“I think everyone involved knows they are doing it to help the community,” Bailey said, “It’s a tough time right now.”
Although this is Bailey’s first effort at organizing the Christmas fair, it is not her first time offering volunteer services. Bailey divides her time as a mother and interior designer with volunteering for the Sag Harbor Fire Department. Bailey will also showcase some of her own work at the fair, which includes etched glassware of images around Sag Harbor.
Some of the other homemade gifts that can be found at the fair are knitted goods, handbags, jewelry, paintings, candles, chocolate and photographs.
“I am pleasantly surprised by the result,” Peters said. There is currently a list of 25 to 30 vendors and the school is still accepting more. Bailey said the fee is $50 for a space in the auditorium and asked that anyone interested in participating call the school for more details.
“It’s hard to be a local merchant right now,” Peters added. “Mom and pop stores are having a hard time, but that is the whole back bone of our community.”
“Everyone knows it’s crunch time and its getting tougher by the day,” she continued, “but this is Sag Harbor’s strength, and the influence from the local community is one of the most beautiful things about living here.”
Peters said this is why the school has asked local businesses to get involved and they have received great feedback. For those who were unable to participate, the school has received generous donations. Some local companies are donating food that will be sold during the fair and allowing Stella Maris to keep the profits.
For example, Agave’s South of the Border has donated soup and Bagel Buoy has contributed bagels for Saturday’s event. WLNG also helped out by giving the school free advertising to promote the fair.
This year, there will also be free gift-wrapping at the fair, courtesy of the parents of Stella Maris student and other community volunteers – all of whom are donating their time on Saturday to wrap gifts for shoppers.
Merchants participating are asked to donate one item to the Stella Maris table, which will be sold to help raise funds for the school. This year, Santa will also be paying a visit to the fair on Saturday, for those who want to have their photo taken with him.
The Christmas Fair will take place in the Stella Maris auditorium, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday December 13.
Stella Maris Regional School is located at 135 Division Street, Sag Harbor. Interested vendors may call the school at (631) 725-2525 or visit www.stellamarisschool.org.

Sister Angela Hearne

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A conversation with Sister Angela Hearne, RSHM, The 95-year-old veteran teacher on 75 years at school, growing up in Ireland and going to the church’s retreat house in Tarrytown to lend a hand because “a lot of old people need help”

Sister Angela, could you tell me a little about your background, before you joined the church? I grew up on a horse farm in Ireland, in County Waterford right along by the ocean. I had loved horses. My father was in the horse business. He raised horses and trained them and I was always out there with him. I loved the horses. He would throw me up on the horse’s back, even before the harness was on it. I go home to see my sister Mary every year, she is 96, and I am 95. Yes well, thank God I’m able.

How did you come to Sag Harbor?
I was at Saint Mary’s teaching, and I was just told to move out. I moved to Brooklyn for a year and then I moved out here.

How old were you when you first arrived in Sag Harbor?
I was 17 when I came over from Ireland and it was three years later when I came to Brooklyn, I guess I was 20. I was about 25 when I came to Sag Harbor. And I’ve been here for about 70 years.

Do you remember your first teaching experience in Sag Harbor?
The first few years I was here, I wasn’t teaching I was just sort of in charge of the grade school. We started a grade school when we had the academy – and now it’s Sag Harbor Elementary. That was an all girls school, mostly boarding school. You had little ones boarding, I always felt so sorry for them, six-year-old boarding. I had to be a model to them all – I did – the little ones I felt sorry for them.

When did you begin at Stella Maris?
When we closed the academy in ‘68 and I moved there. I taught the second grade communion class always.

Lots of students have come and gone since you have been here – Do any of them still keep in touch with you?
Yes there are lots of them, and I still see many of them around. They say, “why are you going away?” and I’m not going that far anyway, I’m only going up to Tarrytown. They call it retirement, but I’m not retiring, I’m going up there to help out. Because a lot of old people need help.

While you were working here, how has the education system changed?
They have and they haven’t – I don’t know, children are children no matter what age you have them. I usually work with six and seven year olds. And then during the summer I ran a summer camp. I always kept busy. I’m still busy I go over to the school every day.

Yes, I heard you walk to the school everyday.
Oh that’s no distance. All I do is walk that’s all. I go over to the school and I make coffee for the teachers and then I prepare lunch for the children. We usually have chicken nuggets or pizza. We get the pizza free from the store but I have to serve it.

What will you miss about the students?
Just seeing them enjoying themselves. I love to see children enjoying themselves.

Have you lived here, in the convent this whole time?
I used to live in the academy, and in ‘68 when we closed the school, I moved here. In the same room. And now I’m straightening up and packing.

Have you had many roommates?
We had different nuns, I like company, but this one that I’m going to in Tarrytown, it’s bigger and they are all retired. They are either on crutches or walkers or can’t get out of bed. So I can help them. Sister Christine [Murray] was in an accident about a month ago, and she’s up there. We really haven’t asked her what happened, she was in pretty bad shape, but she is coming along, and she seems excited that I am coming up. I said I will bring you a cup of tea anytime you want it. I know quite a few people that will be there. I used to go on a retreat once a year there. I would spend five or six days up there, I know the run of the place.

Are you excited about the move?
I’m happy about it. Because when the head sister came down to tell me – she started to tell me, and I said, you don’t have to tell me – I was in the chapel praying and the Lord told me why you were coming. He said you are going to Tarrytown. I heard the Lord say that before the superior came to tell me.

How will you say your goodbyes?
I don’t like goodbyes, I’ll pretend I’m not. The school is having a big party for me, but I’d rather do something, just a little thing and then say goodbye to them all. We have two men [teachers] in the school. They hugged me and they kissed me and they said, what are we going to do without you? They are always happy days. I don’t think I’ve ever felt sad.

In Sag Harbor, is there any shop you will miss or your favorite place to eat that you will miss?
I love to walk around the five and ten and pick up little odds and ends. And usually I don’t need them, but I pick them up anyway; like crochet wool. I always like to have something to do, even if its only search words. So that’s my story. I probably have a few more years.