Tag Archive | "Theresa Samot"

Meet the Candidates: Four Hopefuls for the Sag Harbor School Board

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Moderator Bryan Boyhan (left) with the candidates for the Sag Harbor Board of Education: Incumbent Sandi Kruel, challenger Thomas R, challenger Diana Kolhoff and Incumbent Theresa Samot, at the Meet the Candidates night, Thursday, May 8. Photo by Michael Heller.

Moderator Bryan Boyhan (left) with the candidates for the Sag Harbor Board of Education: Incumbent Sandi Kruel, challenger Thomas Ré, challenger Diana Kolhoff and Incumbent Theresa Samot, at the Meet the Candidates night, Thursday, May 8. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Two incumbents and two challengers vying for three spots on the Sag Harbor School Board debated last Wednesday, May 7, at the annual Meet the Candidates forum at the Sag Harbor Elementary School.

The candidates, Diana Kolhoff, Sandi Kruel, Thomas Ré and Theresa Samot, were allowed one-minute answers and optional 30-second responses during the forum, which was moderated by Sag Harbor Express consultant and publisher emeritus Bryan Boyhan and hosted by the PTA and PTSA.

Newcomer Diana Kolhoff, 41, was a high school math teacher for 12 years. She now owns Black Swan Antiques and works as an educational consultant, providing professional development for math teachers, especially in the Common Core standards.

“I’ve served districts all over Suffolk County, but I’m most rewarded when I serve the district that’s educating my children,” Ms. Kolhoff said.

Incumbent Sandi Kruel, 51, graduated from Pierson High School and will see her second of three sons do the same this spring. She served on the board from 1999 to 2005, then took six years off but “still maintained probably 80-percent attendance at board meetings,” she said, until her return in 2011.

Another challenger, Thomas Ré, 62, an attorney, has a daughter at Pierson. He has served on several school committees, including the long-range financial planning committee, and is active in the Sag Harbor Coalition.

“I bring new ideas and perhaps new ways that could be very useful to the school,” he said, adding he has commitment to the school and its children “before all else.”

Current school board President Theresa Samot is completing her ninth year on the board. A graduate of Pierson, Ms. Samot has had three daughters go through the district, with her youngest currently in 11th grade. She works in healthcare administration as a nurse.

Mr. Boyhan asked the candidates for their thoughts about how Common Core was implemented in New York and whether they believe the new curriculum should be changed in any way.

“The Common Core has, initially, not been orchestrated nor implemented very well,” Mr. Ré replied. “The thought was there, the protocol was there, but the preparation and the training—both of the teachers and also the materials that were necessary—I think had not been done well.”

“I actually have a bit of expertise on this,” Ms. Kolhoff said. “There’s a lot of issues that surround Common Core that get mixed in with Common Core that actually have nothing to do with Common Core. The standards themselves are excellent, the way the modules were introduced definitely has some hiccups.”

“The idea and the concepts behind the Common Core were certainly good ones in the goal of advancing and standardizing education across the state,” Ms. Samot agreed, although she said there were many unfunded mandates that proved challenging. “I am very confident in the way our administrative staff and teaching staff were able to pull together.”

“It’s not the first time that the state has mandated us and said, ‘Here’s this, do this and by the way, you have no money to do this,’” said Ms. Kruel, adding the district has been “very proactive” in meeting the challenges of implementation. “I feel like a rigorous program is great and I want our children to be challenged, but if they’re going to challenge our children, they have to help us with budgeting for it and smoothing out a textbook.”

Mr. Boyhan asked the candidates whether they believe the state should continue with the mandated cap on property taxes once it expires in 2016.

“It would be nice to have a little more flexibility, but we have to see where the economy goes. I can understand where the spirit of the tax cap came in,” Ms. Kolhoff replied. “Ultimately, funding of the schools is up to the community, what burden they’re willing to bear, so that issue needs to go out to the voters.”

“I do not think the state should continue with the tax cap in 2016,” Ms. Samot said. With many unfunded mandates, Ms. Samot said it will be “more and more difficult” for Sag Harbor to stay under the cap while maintaining its programs and staff. She stressed the need for continued long range planning with community input.

“The tax cap takes away the local control,” she added. “The local community should be in control of their school district and that includes the spending and the programs that they want in place.”

The tax cap “was quite frightening for all of us and we have managed to stay under it,” said Ms. Kruel. “It is going to start to decimate programs and the teachers, that’s not what the Sag Harbor community is about. I do think that it’s going to be problematic for us.”

“We’ve actually gained a lot of trust throughout the community that we’ve been able to do this, but I think it has not been easy,” she said, adding later, “With or without a tax cap, it’s important to me to be respectful for all of our taxpayers.”

“The concept of a tax cap or limitation on financial matters is a good idea,” said Mr. Ré. “It should be examined in terms of the percentage, I understand how it was originally derived, but I think that that can be refined.”

Mr. Ré added he would like to see “a much longer range plan” of three to five years and the district should look into other options, such as grants and new programs, to secure funding.

Referencing the budget tightening under the tax cap, Mr. Boyhan said many districts are looking toward shared services as a way of saving money and asked the candidates for new ideas of how Sag Harbor could share services.

Ms. Samot said the board is planning on hosting a program with its administrators and neighboring districts to look at ways they could share services. She said some of those savings could come from personnel areas, sharing sports or sharing “some of our more advanced programs.”

“There’s going to come a time when we’re going to have to sit down with the smaller districts and consolidation is going to be inevitable,” Ms. Kruel said.

Rather than viewing consolidation as failure, she said, other districts need to be on board and “understand that uniting with us makes the district stronger and better.”

Mr. Ré agreed consolidation is going to have to happen at some point. Excellence, he said, would draw the parents and encourage them to rationally pressure their district “to find a way to work together in a consolidation.”

“If we’re going to look at consolidation,” Ms. Kolhoff said, “we really need to explore what our options are, how much money it would save us, what are the benefits, what are the detriments.”

“Consolidation needs to be on the table, but I’m not willing to commit one way or another without more information,” she added, adding it is “absolutely worth exploring.”

All four candidates agreed the research supports later school start times and such a change would be beneficial to Sag Harbor’s children, although they also recognized with sports schedules and other logistical constraints, the district would need to be creative if it were to change its times.

The candidates also unanimously favored pursuing more green initiatives within the schools.

The Sag Harbor school board budget vote and elections will be held Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson gymnasium.

Katy Graves Named Sag Harbor School District Superintendent

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SH_SUPERINTENDENT_KATY_BARBER

The new Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves will begin her term July 1.

By Tessa Raebeck & Kathryn G. Menu

Katy Graves was named the new superintendent of the Sag Harbor School District by a unanimous vote of the school board Wednesday night.

Ms. Graves, who will begin work on July 1, received a three-year contract and will be paid an annual salary of $215,000.  Ms. Graves is currently the superintendent of the Stamford Central School District near Albany.

“We were able to come up with an overwhelming decision that the candidate we’re presenting tonight is the perfect superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District,” said board president Theresa Samot while introducing Ms. Graves at Wednesday night’s meeting.

According to Ms. Samot, School Leadership—the firm hired to conduct the search for the new superintendent—brought together 150 people in focus groups, and collected 50 completed online surveys to help it define criteria in its nationwide search.

A total of 55 applications from across the country were filed with School Leadership during the search. Those candidates were screened and the field was narrowed to six finalists. Following interviews with all six candidates, Ms. Samot said the selection of Ms. Graves was unanimous by the board.

“Selecting a superintendent is one of the most important responsibilities of any board of education,” said Ms. Samot in a press release issued after Ms. Graves’s appointment. “After an extensive and thorough search, Ms. Graves was selected from among a pool of more than 55 highly competent candidates. We are extremely confident that she possesses the professional vision, administrative experience, character and interpersonal communication skills to successfully lead our school district to the next level of success.”

“During our interview process, it quickly became apparent that Katy was the clear choice as our next superintendent,” continued Ms. Samot. “Her professionalism, experience, engaging personality and enthusiasm to work with our administrators, staff, parents and community residents to ensure that all of our students reach their highest potential were important qualifications identified by our stakeholders.”

“I would like to thank the board of education for their vote of confidence,” said Ms. Graves. “I look forward to working with the administrators, staff, students and their families and community residents. Together, I am confident we can achieve an even greater level of excellence for all students. I’m also anxious to meet with students and hear about their goals for the future.”

“Thank you to Dr. [Carl] Bonuso for creating a learning environment where everyone works together for the common good of all students,” she added.

Prior to serving in her current position in Stamford, Ms. Graves was the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at the Windham-Ashland-Jewett Central School District. She possesses a certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in school leadership from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, a master of science degree in health education from Sage Graduate School, and a bachelor of science in home economics/clinical dietetics from the State University of New York at Oneonta.

Ms. Graves will replace interim superintendent Dr. Bonuso, who has served the district for the past two years, beginning in the summer of 2012. Dr. Bonuso replaced Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, who resigned in July 2012.

According to Ms. Samot, Ms. Graves has already rented a home in Sag Harbor to become better acquainted with the community.

Four Candidates Announced in Race for Sag Harbor School Board

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By Tessa Raebeck

With three incumbents’ terms ending this summer, four candidates—two of them newcomers—have come forward to enter the race for the Sag Harbor School District Board of Education (BOE).

The three-year terms of BOE President Theresa Samot and longtime members Sandi Kruel and Mary Anne Miller are ending June 30. While Ms. Miller will not be seeking reelection, Ms. Samot and Ms. Kruel have again entered the contest.

Thomas Ré, who had an unsuccessful bid for the school board last year, and newcomer Diana Kolhoff are also in the running.

The three open spots are for three-year terms beginning July 1 and expiring June 30, 2017.

Diana Kolhoff.

Diana Kolhoff

Ms. Kolhoff, who moved to the district from Southampton about five years ago, has two daughters at Sag Harbor Elementary School, in the first and second grades. She has a background in education, having worked as a high school math teacher for 12 years and currently as a Mathematics Education Consultant, training grade school teachers in best instructional practices.

“Although I serve districts throughout Suffolk County, I am most rewarded when I serve my local school district,” Ms. Kolhoff said in an email Wednesday. “I am running for school board so that I can make a positive impact on the school charged with educating the children of this community I have grown to love.”

Ms. Kolhoff has coached the Pierson Girls Volleyball middle and high school teams and is on the district’s Nutrition/Wellness/Health and Safety Committee.

Seeking her fourth term on the board, Ms. Kruel has had three children in the district. The second will graduate Pierson High School this year and her youngest is in the sixth grade.

Sag Sandi Kruel

Sandi Kruel

“I definitely have thought about possibly not running, but I feel that we’ve made such amazing strides in the last couple years that it was really important to keep consistency,” Ms. Kruel said Wednsday. “Our tax increase has been under the [state-mandated 2-percent] cap, we’ve passed bonds, we’re the only district not to lay off employees, we’ve actually been able to increase programs—which is unheard of.”

“So at this point for me, it was like, we’ve got a superintendent to put in place and you know what, let’s finish what we started,” she said, adding if elected, she would “keep it going and going in the right direction.”

Thomas Ré, an attorney with a daughter in the 10th grade at Pierson, is seeking a school board position for the second spring in a row.

“I have a general sense of service for the community and with the school…and I want to help,” Mr. Ré said Wednesday.

Thomas Re

Thomas Re

Mr. Ré said there are three main categories of issues for the board: people, plant and program.

“We have to always remember that the whole purpose of everything is to give to the children the best possibilities and to create the best possible educational situation for them, so that they can grow and can have productive lives and can be important members of their community wherever they are,” he said.

Current BOE President Theresa Samot is seeking her fourth term on the board. She has served as president for three of her nine years on the board, and also as vice president. Ms. Samot has had two daughters graduate Pierson and her youngest is currently in eleventh grade at the school.

Theresa Samot

Theresa Samot

“I think it’s important that I continue to collaborate with the district and community on the goals that we’re currently working on,” Ms. Samot said Wednesday.

Ms. Samot pointed to the recent implementation of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in the high school and the passage of the bond as recent achievements of the board.

The three key components, she said, are continuing to work on student achievement in a cost-effective manner, develop budgets that are under the tax cap but maintain programs and staff, and focus on building and improving our facilities.

“And certainly the umbrella that comes over all that is sound fiscal cooperation,” she said, adding that community involvement “in everything that we do” is another key element.

The budget vote and school board elections are Tuesday, May 20 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the gymnasium at Pierson Middle/High School, 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.

After More Than Six Months of Debate, Still No Decision on Taping Sag Harbor School Board Meetings

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By Tessa Raebeck

Each spring around the time of the Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) budget vote and elections, “transparency” becomes a buzzword for the district. Candidates and board members repeatedly stress the need for open communication with the public and express their commitment to ensuring the board is operating as openly as possible.

However, it appears a discussion on broadcasting school board meetings continues without gaining real traction—the concept was once again tabled after six months of debate.

BOE member David Diskin has repeatedly asked for the topic to be on the board’s agendas since he was sworn into office last July. It has been a topic of discussion at least seven times since August, but no concrete steps have been taken.

In January, a group formed to address the issue, which included BOE members Chris Tice, Mary Anne Miller and Mr. Diskin, as well as director of technology Scott Fisher, recommended the board have a “pilot program.” With no money allotted in the budget for the program this year, they recommended it be implemented during the 2014-2015 school year.

During Monday’s board meeting, it appeared at least the financing for the project had been worked out.

Community member John Battle, who has had two children in the district, recalled the group’s recommendation to “implement a six-month trial period of broadcasting.”

“The only thing standing in the way, it seemed, was the lack of funds to purchase the equipment needed to videotape and record the proceedings,” Mr. Battle said.

“On behalf of The Sag Harbor Education Best Practice Group,” he continued, “I urge the board to accept the recommendations… and I am happy to announce here in public, as I have already done to the board by e-mail, that our group is willing to provide the equipment for this trial project if the board votes to proceed with it.”

“We have reached out to our attorney to get input from him,” responded school board president Theresa Samot.

Ms. Samot said a scheduled meeting with school attorney Thomas Volz specifically about recording meetings was postponed due to inclement weather, but the board will meet with him regarding the matter in the beginning of March.

“Certainly,” she said,” it’s not our intent to hold this up, and we’re not saying we’re against this. We just need to get some more input from our attorney at this point.”

Ms. Samot added that the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) has no best practice policy on recording school board meetings that the board could use as a guideline.

The board, said Ms. Tice, needs to look at whether there would be additional personnel costs and if the potential for members of the public to request information through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) has “an indication of the amount of hours our personnel has to spend on it.”

“I was naïve on the committee,” Ms. Tice said of her prior recommendation to start a trial period, “to think that I was ready to make a recommendation, because we really hadn’t asked all the questions. I still believe that there’s a lot of merit in this, but a lot more questions have come up that I don’t really know the answer to.”

“What we’re finding is that there are certainly elements to at least be considered, even elements beyond cost,” agreed interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso.

“We have board policy that guides what you do. In terms of training, is there such a thing as training people to be able to hold a meeting that is taped?”

Dr. Bonuso said he felt questions such as where the camera would be placed, whether recording meetings would mean that everyone in the audience would also be taped, whether students in attendance would need to give permission to be on camera and whether or not tapes would be edited need to be addressed before the board can move forward.

“We want to know that when we do this we’re prepared,” he said, adding, “I know it can be frustrating waiting for this to unfold.”

“I just think more maximum transparency, more maximum access…it’s got to be a good thing,” Mr. Diskin said.

“I think the community wants it,” agreed Daniel Hartnett, a member of the board who has expressed his support of the project several times.

“The only responsible thing to do,” said Ms. Tice, “is to understand what the implications are before we vote on it.”

Unless there is a hot topic on the agenda, board meetings are typically attended by fewer than five people, aside from members of the press and the administrators and board members who are obligated to be there.

Recording meetings was discussed in-depth at the board’s October 15 session.

“We want to have a video where people can’t cut or paste,” Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said at that meeting. “We also have to be concerned about having students on video.”

Ms. Tice expressed her concern that recordings could be edited to quote people out of context and said some districts found that once meetings were available online, the public stopped showing up in person.

Scott Fisher, director of technology, told the board that once public meetings are recorded, “That’s a permanent record and can be searched through FOIL and requirements for retention of school district records.”

At the November 18 board meeting, Mr. Diskin again asked the board to discuss video recording its meetings. Board President Theresa Samot said it was a good idea to look into.

“Taping of board meeting” was on the agenda again at a December session, when Ms. Miller, Ms. Tice and Mr. Diskin agreed to meet with Mr. Fisher to take concrete steps to set up at least an audio recording. It was discussed again in January, when Mr. Diskin told the board the group had looked at a variety of possibilities and researched the different technical aspects required, the expense, time and labor involved, as well as the different ways tapes meetings could be distributed to the public.

“We basically came to the conclusion,” reported Mr. Fisher at the time, “that it might be best—if we decided to go down this road—to do a pilot program for a short period of time.”

Mr. Fisher said the best means of doing so seems to be putting the video on one of the local public access channels, either LTV in East Hampton or SEA-TV in Southampton.

Ms. Tice noted that out of 17 East End school districts Mr. Fisher had contacted about the project, only two publicly broadcast their school board meetings, East Hampton and Southampton. LTV broadcasts the meetings for East Hampton and SEA-TV does the same for Southampton.

“We haven’t made a commitment to doing anything at this point,” said Mr. Fisher in January. “But, if we are to move forward, I think we would all agree that would be the direction in which we want to proceed.”

The total cost, Mr. Fisher said, would be somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000, which Mr. Battle agreed to fund Monday.

Citing Exhausted High Schoolers, Sag Harbor Parents Ask for Later Start Times at Pierson

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Susan LaMontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

Susan Lamontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

By Tessa Raebeck

By 7:25 a.m. when many adults are either still asleep or just getting up, Sag Harbor teenagers are in class, solving math problems, writing chemistry equations, and, some say, struggling to stay awake.

Since the mid-1990s, school districts across the country have taken measures to push back morning start times for high school students, citing research that says early times interfere with the natural circadian rhythms of growing adolescents, who require more sleep than adults and naturally have more energy at night and less in the early morning.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has voiced his support for later start times, posting on his Twitter account in August, “Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later.”

Despite the research and growing public support, however, many school administrators are wary about changing start times due to potentially detrimental effects on student athletes, who practice and play games after school. Administrators also cite the logistical concerns of having enough sunlight for outdoor games and the inherent difficulties of competing against schools with different hourly schedules. Later times would also require transportation schedules to change, an obstacle with undetermined costs.

At the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday night, several parents showed up to advocate for later start times, present the board with supporting research and offer their help in determining how such a change could be implemented in Sag Harbor.

As it stands, the bell rings for first period at Pierson Middle/High School at 7:25 a.m. The sixth grade eats lunch at 10:17 a.m., seventh and eighth grade students eat at 11 a.m. and high school students eat at 11:43 a.m. The last class ends at 1:49 p.m. and students have academic support, an optional period they can use as a study hall or to get extra help from teachers, until 2:26 p.m., when the academic day ends.

The Sag Harbor Elementary School starts at 8:35 a.m. and gets out at 3:10 p.m.

A parent of two children in the district, Susan Lamontagne founded the Long Island Chapter of Start School Later, a nonprofit coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and others “working to ensure that all public schools can set hours compatible with health, safety, equity, and learning.”

Addressing the board Monday, Ms. Lamontagne cited sleep research that has found teenagers’ changing hormones make it difficult for them to go to sleep earlier than 11 p.m. and wake up before 8 a.m. Some Pierson students wake as early as 6 a.m. to get ready, catch their bus and get to class in time.

Ms. Lamontagne referenced schools across the country that saw increases in attendance and test scores and decreases in failing grades, depression, sports-related injuries and teen-driving related accidents once later start times were implemented.

At Nauset High School in Massachusetts, after the start time was moved more than an hour later, to 8:35 a.m., the number of days students were suspended for disciplinary reasons decreased from 166 days in the first two months of the 2010-2011 school year to 19 days in the first two months of the 2011-2012 school year.

In 2011, the Glen Falls City School District BOE voted to change the high school start time from 7:45 to 8:26 a.m. effective September 2012. In an interview with PostStar, Principal Mark Stratton stood by the board’s decision, although he admitted some students, particularly those who play sports, were unhappy about getting home from school later.

According to Mr. Stratton, after a year of the later start time, by September 2013 the percentage of students who were late to school dropped by almost 30 percent. The number of students failing courses also decreased, from 13.6 percent to 8.6 percent.

Glens Falls City School District does not provide transportation for its students, removing one obstacle cited by administrators considering earlier school start times.

“We want to offer our help,” Ms. Lamontagne told the board Monday, adding that she and others are willing to walk the administration through the experiences at other districts, the logistics of changing times and “the full body of research.”

“All of the research that I’ve read indicates that there’s only benefit to the students’ health and performance,” replied Chris Tice, the board’s vice president, saying she would like to “at least put it on the table and hear back from the administrators on their thinking that—if that was going to be the will of the board—what would it take to make that happen.”

BOE member Susan Kinsella said, while other districts have lights on their athletic fields, Sag Harbor has no such means of finishing games in the dark.

“We have problems as it is finishing games in the fall,” agreed Todd Gulluscio, the district’s athletic director, adding that Sag Harbor students have longer travel times to and from games than other districts that have implemented later start times.

“For me,” added Mr. Gulluscio, “from an academic standpoint, if the kid’s going to miss something, I’d rather it be academic support than a class.”

Ms. Tice asked Mr. Gulluscio whether the district would be able to play schools that are closer.

He said no, “we can’t control where small schools are in Suffolk County.”

BOE member Sandi Kruel said that with the overwhelming amount of research in support of later start times, “the pendulum’s swinging backwards for us instead of forward.”

“I too have read and understand the research and it makes a lot of sense,” said elementary principal Matt Malone. “But there’s many, many factors that go into it.” He pointed to families who have structured their work schedules around the schools’ current times.

“We have to think about what’s doable,” agreed Pierson Middle-High School principal Jeff Nichols. He said the issue has been “brought up for years here” and it may be realistic to move the start time by 10 minutes or so, but in terms of athletics, the school cannot simply choose to only play schools with the same schedule.

Mr. Nichols said such a change might work with a larger school district, but not one as small as Sag Harbor.

“It would be a challenge,” agreed vice principal Gary Kalish.

Parent Diana Kolhoff said if she had to choose between having bus service and school starting later, she would choose the later time, but Ms. Tice informed her cancelling transportation is not a legal option for the district.

BOE member David Diskin said later start times “obviously” make sense in terms of the benefits.

“My personal transition—having my kids go from elementary school to [high school] time—it’s torture. I mean it’s so early, it’s crazy,” he added.

Board member Mary Anne Miller asked Ms. Lamontagne, “if there’s a roadmap or some sort of a guideline that you could provide the board and the district with so we could keep talking about it, rather than closing the door and saying it’s too difficult, because most things in municipalities have many hurdles and obstacles.”

Ms. Lamontagne proposed the board put together a small group to go through the barriers and provide the board with recommendations.

“I’m comfortable with that,” said Mr. Nichols.

No decision was made and a group was not officially formed, but Ms. Lamontagne committed to continually updating the board.

Contract for Teaching Assistants

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board approved a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Teaching Assistants Association of Sag Harbor, which has been without a contract for three years.

The contract is from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2016. It provides for 0-percent salary increases in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, a .5-percent increase in 2012-2013 and again in 2013-2014, and 1-percent increases in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, thanked the negotiating team, calling them “respectful, caring, very clear with their perspective [and] willing to listen to all perspectives.”

The board also granted the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) the right to include the title “Occupational Therapist” within their bargaining unit.

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.

“Grading” Sag Harbor Teachers: Administrators Discuss Goals Updates at Board of Education Meeting

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External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

By Tessa Raebeck

“This has been a week of very special teams,” said Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, congratulating the champion Lady Whalers field hockey team and the community team that helped pass the district’s two bond propositions.

Passing the bond was a key component of the district goals for the 2013/2014 school year, which Dr. Bonuso presented to a small group of people gathered Monday for the Board of Education (BOE) meeting.

Dr. Bonuso discussed the headway made on the first three of the district’s nine goals. He said progress was made on the first goal, improving academic achievement, through the resubmission and implementation of Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR), an evaluation system required by the state since 2012. It rates teachers as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, based on a 100-point scale. Half of the review relies on administrative observations, 10 percent on an “evidence binder” of components like electronic posting and 40 percent on test scores. For teachers whose students are not yet being tested regularly, that portion is determined by a project the district assigns in order to produce a score. Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the majority of Sag Harbor teachers were graded “effective.”

“We need to take a second look at this emphasis on testing, the over testing,” said Dr. Bonuso. “We need to take a second look at whether or not we have the materials and modules – let alone the mindset – to approach this in a manner where people are feeling good about what’s happening instead of anxious and discouraged.”

Susan Hewett, a parent, asked the board how teachers are rewarded or reprimanded based on their APPR performance. Dr. Bonuso replied teachers are not rewarded, but if they are determined to be “developing” or worse for two years, “we can literally remove them…even if they are tenured.”

If a teacher is rated “ineffective,” the superintendent said, “We don’t have to go through all the gyrations and all the bureaucracy that in the past we had to in order to remove you.”

The administrators reported on the progress of the newly formed shared decision-making teams, a component of the second goal: to build partnerships with the community. Two teams have met, one for the elementary school and one for Pierson. The district-wide team is looking for two replacements for members who left the committee prior to the first meeting.

Board member Mary Anne Miller questioned the inclusion of the middle and high schools in the same team, which BOE Vice President Chris Tice agreed should be revisited.

The third goal is to ensure sound fiscal operation and facilities management. The district added experienced security personnel and hours at both school, enhanced systems at school entryways and held its first lockdown drill of the year last week. External auditor Alexandria Battaglia said Monday the district is in good financial health, with an unassigned fund balance of about $1.4 million.

In other school news, BOE member David Diskin again asked the board to discuss starting to video record their meetings. Board President Theresa Samot said it was a good idea to look at further.

The next BOE meeting will be held December 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.

Sag Harbor School Board Clarifies Public Input Policy

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By Tessa Raebeck

In honor of School Board Recognition Week, Monday’s meeting of the Sag Harbor board of education commenced with a short commemorative concert by members of the Pierson Middle/High School orchestra.

“We talk about music to the ears, that was music to the heart,” commented Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district.

Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone presented the board with letters of thanks from the younger students.

“My teacher says that you work long hours, exactly how many hours do you work?” a fourth grader asked in one letter.

Another read, “Thank you for volunteering the time but please don’t work too hard.”

Following the moment of praise, the board returned to work, approving a first reading of board operating procedures. The packet includes a handout prepared by Mary Adamczyk, district clerk, outlining Policy 3320, which addresses public participation at board meetings.

The handout is supplementary to existing policy; it does not change it. Rather, it explains the policy which was revised last spring. The revisions allow community members to sign up for Public Input I, a period of public comment that happens at the start of board meetings, on a sign-up sheet outside the library up until the time of the meeting, rather than through the district clerk’s office the Friday prior as was previously required.

“This just clarifies that a little more,” explained Theresa Samot, president of the school board.

Chris Tice, school board vice president, suggested printing Adamczyk’s handout on the back of every meeting agenda, so the community is clear on how they can participate. Tice said the idea was a suggestion of John Battle, a member of the community who regularly attends school board meetings.

The board will review the wording of the handout and the operating procedures, implement revisions and discuss them further at a second reading during their next meeting.

In other school news, the board accepted a donation from the Reutershan Educational Trust, which has the sole purpose of fostering art programs within the school district, for $30,700 in supplies, materials and equipment to support the programs and $5,863.67 in salaries and benefits for district personnel to supervise. Following comments by board member Daniel Hartnett, the board agreed to look into establishing a board liaison to the trust.

The next school board meeting will be held November 18 in the Pierson library.

Pursuing a Super

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By Amanda Wyatt

As the Sag Harbor School Board looks for a new member, there is also an ongoing search to replace Superintendent John Gratto, who recently announced his retirement.

Yesterday, August 1, the Board of Education was expected to conduct preliminary interviews with three potential candidates for the position of interim superintendent. Dr. Gratto said in an interview this week that even if the board settles on an applicant after these interviews, the board would not immediately make a formal announcement.

“Even if they all agree upon a candidate, then they would need to enter into some contract negotiations with them, and that may take a little bit longer,” he said. “But the board is shooting for making an appointment at the August 13 Board of Education meeting.”

School Board President Theresa Samot echoed Gratto’s comments.

“A decision will not be made on Wednesday evening,” she said. “Our hope is to make an announcement at the August 13 Board of Education meeting.”

“I think everybody is hoping that this decision can be made and secured before Dr. Gratto leaves,” said former President Mary Anne Miller. She mentioned that Gratto’s last day is August 17, which is just four days after the board meeting.

However, Gratto, Samot and Miller all kept mum about potential candidates. They refused to name the applicants, noting that information would be released in the weeks to come.

Miller did say that they had received resumes of the candidates, which were provided to the board by School Leadership, LLC.

A consulting firm that has overseen the search for the superintendent since 2008, School Leadership does “all of the footwork to gather appropriate, interested candidates,” Miller said. “They really do a lot of the prescreening for us.”

One rumored potential candidate was former Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Joan Frisicano, who resigned from the Oysterponds School District in Orient in early July. However, Dr. Gratto denied the rumor.

School Leadership has “found three candidates and Joan [Frisicano] isn’t one of them,” he said. “I don’t know if Joan was not interested or if they considered her and didn’t select her.”

Gratto, who was originally brought to Sag Harbor by the same firm, believed that it would find the right person for the job.

“School Leadership has done a good job of finding three very capable superintendents,” he said.

Landslide Victory For Sag Harbor Budget, Incumbents Reelected

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Above: School Board Candidate Tom Gleeson (top, far left) waits to hear the results of Tuesday’s election.

By Claire Walla

Coming as no surprise to the small crowd gathered in the Pierson Middle/High School gymnasium Tuesday, May 15, the Sag Harbor School District’s proposed $34,182,256 million budget passed by a landslide, with 892 votes for the budget versus only 420 against.

Similarly, Proposition #2, which will allow the district to spend up to $575,000 for the purchase of six new buses, passed with a similar margin: 851 to 432.

“I’m very pleased the budget passed,” District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto commented after the results were read. “And I’m pleased the bus proposition passed.”

This year’s election garnered 1,377 total votes, a drop of 264 from last year.

The 2012-2013 budget represents a spending increase of $956,172 over this year’s operating budget. But, more importantly, is represents a tax-levy increase of only 1.94 percent, which means it successfully falls below the two-percent tax cap imposed by New York State for the first time this year.

The real nail-biter this year was the race for school board, which had three candidates vying for two open seats. In the end, incumbents Gregg Schiavoni and Walter Wilcoxen each managed to secure another three-years on the board, putting Schiavoni in his second term and Wilcoxen in his third.

“The vote on the board is a testament to the trust the community has in the job this board has done,” Dr. Gratto noted.

When the votes had all been tallied, Schiavoni was the clear victor with 1,039 total votes. Wilcoxen came in second with 795 and Gleeson was a not-too-distant third with 576 votes.

Many in the gymnasium that night congratulated Gleeson on a hard-fought campaign.

“It’s tough to beat the incumbents,” Gleeson said after having walked over to congratulate Schiavoni on his win. (Wilcoxen had a work conflict and was unable to make it to the gymnasium before doors closed at 9 p.m.)

“It was a good learning experience,” he added. “I just hope the board continues to improve education. The kids are what’s most important.”

With his youngest daughter — who stood by his side as results were read — graduating from Pierson this year, Gleeson said his loss wouldn’t mean he would vanish from the district.

“I’ll try to stay involved as much as possible,” he declared.

In the wake of his win, Schiavoni — flanked by his two young sons — smiled as he talked about his plans for the upcoming year.

“What’s next will be keeping track of IB [the International Baccalaureate program], making sure it’s implemented correctly, and keeping track of the Pre-K program,” he said. “Going forward, we just have to keep the ball rolling.”

In an interview the day after the vote, Wilcoxen said he was excited to find he had been elected for a third term.

“We have a lot of challenges, like trying to understand how we can deal with each other more effectively [as a board],” he said.  “That seems to be number one on the list.”

But, he added that supporting IB and continuing to find ways to make the school’s finances more transparent will be key issues in the coming year.

After congratulating candidates, both board members Theresa Samot and Chris Tice said they were very pleased to hear the election results for the budget this year.

“The margin the vote passed by was really great,” Samot exclaimed, as Tice noted it was nearly 2:1. “The administration put a lot of hard work into the budget.”

Board member Sandi Kruel concurred with this sentiment, and applauded voters for passing Proposition #2.

And to her fellow board members about to begin their new three-year terms, she added, “Congratulations.”