05/24/15 6:00am
(Credit: Jen Nuzzo photos)

Oysterponds Elementary School students Brynn Dinizio (left) and Makayla Harvey ask questions using sign language. The enrichment workshop is part of the district’s Reach for the Stars program. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo photos)

A group of children at Oysterponds Elementary School had no problem finding their assigned seats on the carpet during the special workshop.

“Four, two, three, two, three, two — Noelle!” said 6-year-old Noelle as she ran her finger across an index card. “I found mine!”

She and her classmates were reading Braille, a lesson plan that’s part of a new enrichment program called “Reach for the Stars” at the pre-K through sixth-grade district in Orient.

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05/22/15 3:00pm
Southold High School 2002 graduate Pete Castillo, owner of Castillo Scapes in Southold, donated $25,000 for Southold Elementary School's amphitheater. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo photos)

Southold High School graduate Peter Castillo (’02), owner of Castillo Scapes in Southold, donated $25,000 for Southold Elementary School’s amphitheater. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo photos)

Peter Castillo first learned to speak English as an 8-year-old at Southold Elementary School after immigrating to the U.S. from Nicaragua. That experience inspired the local business owner to help other students achieve their dreams.

To do so, Mr. Castillo donated an amphitheater — not just the money for it, he also designed and built it.

The elementary school held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday to unveil its “Magical Playscape Amphitheater,” an outdoor area where students can perform.

Mr. Castillo, a 2002 Southold High School graduate, is the owner of Castillo Scapes in Southold, a masonry construction and design company that also has a showroom at North Fork Pools in Mattituck.

Mr. Castillo said he felt honored when the school approached him a year ago about the project because he loves the district and local community. He donated $25,000 toward the amphitheater’s construction.

“I’ve lived here for almost my whole life,” he said. “I was young and didn’t know any English when I came to this school. The school helped and supported me.

“I just love this place.”

Mr. Castillo said his father first came to the U.S. in search of a better life for his family and started a landscaping company, Castillo Landscaping in Southold, which also volunteered to lay down sod around the amphitheater.

Other local businesses that donated labor and material include: Joseph Silvestro Construction in Southold,
Atlantic Fence & Gate in East Quogue, Briarcliff Landscaping and Sod in Peconic and Laurel Stone Supply Plus in Mattituck.

Mr. Castillo has dedicated the amphitheater in the memory of his friend Lucas Pasko, a Polish immigrant who was also his classmate in the school’s English as a Second Language program.

Mr. Pasko died five years ago in a tragic accident after his friend accidentally shot him with a rifle.

“I know he was impacted by the ESL program,” Mr. Castillo said. “I thought this would be perfect to dedicate it to him because he loved it here, too.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, students and teachers gathered in and around the amphitheater and took turns thanking Mr. Castillo for his generosity through music, dance and words.

Superintendent David Gamberg said he’s always envisioned an amphitheater at the school because he believes outdoor learning opportunities are crucial to a student’s education.

“Our appreciation is so great, it’s hard to find the right words,” he said to Mr. Castillo. “We are here to make a statement about the importance of play, about the importance of authentic learning that can not be measured on a score.”

Over the past few years, the district’s playground committee and the Southold School Educational Foundation have been working toward creating outdoor learning opportunities.

The amphitheater is located next to the school’s 7,000-square foot garden, which not only provides fresh produce for students in the cafeteria, but also acts as an outdoor classroom for science, math and literacy lessons.

In addition, there are sandboxes and art easels nearby.

The foundation is now fundraising to install an life-size chessboard outside. [For information on purchasing an engraved brick, visit www.bricksrus.com/order.ssef or www.southoldef.org]

“Having older students help younger children develop intellectual skills by playing chess is a very healthy activity,” said Judi Fouchet, the foundation’s secretary and the school board’s vice president.

Ms. Fouchet added: “It is my hope that you will use this beautiful amphitheater to create, imagine and perform for many years to come.”

The district is also planning to build a “giant Mother Goose Shoe sculpture” where students can read fairy tales to each other.

Mr. Castillo’s sister, Dina MacDonald, said she’s very proud of her brother’s accomplishments and believes the school and community’s support in providing opportunities for imagination has continued to nurture students’ success.

“This is the true meaning of the American dream,” she said.

jnuzzo@timesreview.com

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05/19/15 12:00pm

School budget and board of education votes are on Tuesday, as voters in all five North Fork districts will head to the polls. They open up from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. in every district except Greenport, which is open from 2 to 8 p.m.

GREENPORT

Budget: $16.9 million

Estimated tax levy increase: 2.52%

The Greenport School District is proposing a $16.9 million budget carrying an estimated tax levy increase of 2.52 percent, which district officials say is $1 below the state-mandated tax cap.

The district is allowed to propose a budget that exceeds the 2 percent limit without needing 60 percent voter approval because certain expenses like capital improvements are exempt from the tax levy cap.

The proposed spending hike of about 3.37 percent maintains student programs and includes funds for contractual salary and benefit increases, state-mandated ESL services and restoration of the district’s summer school program, among other expenses.

Total costs for regular classroom instruction — including teacher salaries, textbooks and supplies — are projected to rise nearly 5.9 percent to $4.5 million. The district also plans to spend about $76,200 on textbooks for secondary students — more than double the amount allocated for the current school year, according to the proposed budget.

As for benefits, the total amount for district employees is estimated to cost nearly $5 million next year, a 2.2 percent hike over the current school year.

TBabette Cornine (incumbent)

Ms. Cornine said she’s pleased with how the district has cut costs and enhanced programs through shared services with the Southold school district.

“Even though we are a small school, we encounter the same problems as the larger districts to the west,” she said. “To cope with these challenges, we need to continue to be creative in our financial and educational planning to meet the new mandates from the state education department.”

Ms. Cornine is a past PTA president and has volunteered with North Fork Community Theatre for the past several years. She’s lived in Southold Town for 49 years and has in Greenport for 31 years. Both of her children attended school in the district and she has also worked in the district’s business office.

Ms. Cornine has served on the school board for the past three years and believes her experience working in the district helps the board address students’ financial and educational needs.

TDaniel Creedon (incumbent)

Mr. Creedon has served on the school board for the past six years. He’d like to continue serving, in part, to find ways of enhancing programs through shared services, particularly in recent partnerships with the Southold school district.

He said he’s happy about the district’s recent success at cutting costs while increasing student opportunities through shared programs, including athletics and drama.

“We have done this while at the same time insisting that each school district maintain its identity and unique experience for kids,” he said.

Mr. Creedon has lived in Greenport for 24 years and has three children. He’s attended school board meetings for the past 16 years — ever since his eldest child entered kindergarten.

He’s been teaching high school earth science in the Islip school district for 27 years and is a volunteer with the Greenport Fire Department and Rotary Youth Exchange.

CHECK OUT THE MATTITUCK-CUTCHOGUE BUDGET AND CANDIDATES:

05/19/15 10:00am
Civic president Paul Cacioppo at the New Suffolk ballfield Thursday. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Civic president Paul Cacioppo at the New Suffolk ballfield Thursday. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

New Suffolk Civic Association members have launched a volunteer effort to restore their neighborhood baseball field in hopes of having Little League games return to the waterfront community’s lone green space.

During the New Suffolk school board’s meeting Tuesday, civic president Paul Cacioppo said his group and other residents have been saddened by the field’s sorry state. He said the civic group has volunteers lined up to turn it back into a regulation field, as well as a nice green space residents can enjoy. (more…)

05/15/15 3:00pm
New Suffolk Elementary School principal tk, center, discussing the district's new policy of releasing public documents at Tuesday's meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

New Suffolk Elementary School principal Christopher Gallagher, center, discussing the district’s new policy of releasing public documents at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Following an excessed teacher’s recent requests for documents, the New Suffolk school board has adopted its first-ever public information policy.

During the board’s meeting Tuesday, principal Christopher Gallagher recommended that the district require people who seek school documents through the state’s Freedom of Information Law to fill out a standard request form.  (more…)

05/06/15 3:00pm
The New Suffolk school board (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

The New Suffolk school board met last week to adopt the 2015-16 budget. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

The New Suffolk school board has adopted a $1.09 million 2015-16 budget proposal that would carry an estimated increase of $12,250, or 1.58 percent, over this year’s tax levy.

The school board unanimously approved the proposed budget, which includes a reduction in spending of nearly $44,000, at a special meeting last Thursday. (more…)

05/05/15 5:00pm
George Gaffga, a retired pastor from Mattituck, judging last year's spelling bee. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

George Gaffga, a retired pastor from Mattituck, judging last year’s spelling bee. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder file)

The second annual Community Spelling Bee event is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 22, at the historic Jamesport Meeting House.

Twenty-five people participated in last year’s contest. That inaugural event raised over $4,500 to restore the 284-year-old meeting house, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

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05/04/15 10:00am
The First Universalist Church is expected to be torn down this week. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

First Universalist Church is expected to be torn down this week. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Before the rubble at First Universalist Church in Southold is hauled away this week, the community gathered Sunday afternoon to say farewell to the burned-down building.

Pastor Jef Gamblee asked the crowd to respond with the words: “We bid the building at the bend farewell.”

The historic church, located along an arcing stretch of Main Road, was lost in a fire March 14.  But while the building is no more, congregants say they believe the sense of unity the church has provided lives on.

During the portion of the service when people were asked to share their memories, Melissa Pond said the church was important to her because she never felt judged.

“I was a pretty weird kid growing up and the church was the one place where I didn’t feel weird,” she said. “It’s not the building that’s important. It’s the people.”

After the Rev. Donald McKinney made his remarks about the church, he told a reporter that he focused his comments on its windows because he would marvel at them.

“Every single time I come into that church, I think of those windows and their power to make you think that the world is with us all the time — with its goodness and all its problems,” he said. “The church, of course, is its people, but that building did more to express what people’s faith is all about than most buildings.”

The church was founded in 1835 and the building was designed by William D. Cochran. A 1989 article in The Suffolk Times credits architect Richard Lathers with designing a restoration of the church in 1907. The church steeple was restored in 1989, several years after sustaining damage in Hurricane Gloria, according to an earlier Suffolk Times article.

Church president Susi Young said First Universalist leadership is gathering information and community input about rebuilding.

“We haven’t made that decision, but that’s what we hope,” she said. “There’s a lot of different ideas and we have to listen to everybody. The community has been just wonderful to us and that’s been very gratifying.”

Pastor Jef, as he’s known, said he believes that feelings people have about the church would have stayed in their hearts and souls even if the church hadn’t burned down.

“As we look at the burned-out wreckage, Yoda comes to mind,” he said. “And a comment he might make: ‘The memories are strong with that one.’ And they are.”

jnuzzo@timesreview.com

Rev. Donald McKinney.

Rev. Donald McKinney.

Pastor Jef Gamblee.

Pastor Jef Gamblee.

Rev. Peter Kelley, First Presbyterian Church of Southold.

Rev. Peter Kelley, First Presbyterian Church of Southold.

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04/30/15 10:00am

The village recreation center is relocating to the former Perry Day Care Center space at Clinton Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church.

Mayor George Hubbard said Eastern Long Island Hospital notified the village in November that it would not renew its lease for the current rec center space. The lease expires at the end of May, Mr. Hubbard said.

The village currently pays $1,000 per month in rent plus utilities; the mayor said the arrangement at the church will be the same.

Perry Day Care Center closed in August 2013 due to financial hardships.

Last Thursday, the Village Board approved a resolution to hire Margaret DeVito as the new recreation program director. She’s replacing Catherine Matthews, who has held the position since 2012.

jnuzzo@timesreview.com

04/30/15 8:00am
Mitchell Park in Greenport. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Mitchell Park in Greenport. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

The moratorium for Mitchell Park events will end this week.

The Greenport Village Board voted 3-2 during its meeting last Thursday to end the moratorium on mass public assembly permits for Mitchell Park as of May 1. Deputy mayor Jack Martilotta and Trustee Doug Roberts voted against lifting the ban.  (more…)