08/30/12 1:58pm

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Oysterponds principal Francoise Wittenburg and student Nate Busch, 6, of Orient in the school’s new STEM lab, which is replacing the old computer center.

North Fork students can expect a more high-tech learning experience when they return to school next week, now that most districts have invested in laptops and iPads.

School officials believe the use of new technologies in the classroom is crucial to preparing students to learn current research techniques.

Here’s a roundup of what else is in store for the coming school year, which begins on Wednesday, September 5, for the Mattituck-Cutchogue, New Suffolk, Southold and Greenport districts. Oysterponds reopens on Thursday, September 6.


Superintendent Dick Malone, who was hired this summer after Joan Frisicano resigned, said the district is focused on teaching students to learn through new technologies.

The library has been replaced with a “literacy center,” which Mr. Malone said will give students an opportunity to enjoy reading outside a formal classroom setting.

“We want to create an environment where students will develop a love of reading and learning,” he said, adding that the literacy center will include quiet reading corners.

The district has also created a lab to enrich the school’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics program, known as STEM.
A lab teacher will coordinate with students and teachers on research projects, Mr. Malone said.

Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders will also learn research and reading techniques on iPads this year.

In addition, former board member Kathy Syron will teach the district’s new preschool, which was spearheaded by Ms. Frisicano to attract new families into the K-6 district, as well as to nurture students’ interests and natural curiosity.

Within the past school year, Oysterponds enrollment decreased from 81 to 72. The district’s total K-12 enrollment has declined from 174 last year to 165, a number that includes the pre-K program.


Greenport high school principal Len Skuggevik said teachers were trained on iPads this week, and each of the district’s ninth- and tenth-graders will receive one.

Textbooks and free scientific calculator applications will be downloaded to the iPads, which Mr. Skuggevik described as an opportunity for students to learn how to use new technology and research techniques. It’s also a cost savings move, he said.

“When you put it all together, it works out cheaper and better for our students,” the principal said.

Fifth- and sixth-graders will receive donated laptops the school received through a private grant.

In addition, the district’s sixth grade will now be a part of the secondary school. Those students will now have an opportunity to take secondary school courses, such as technology and home economics. Seventh- and eighth-graders will receive about 2,500 extra minutes of math and English through a new lab course.

Mr. Skuggevik said student enrollment for the 2012-13 school year is about the same as last year, with 636 students.


New Suffolk Board of Education president Tony Dill said newly appointed superintendent Michael Comanda, who is also Greenport’s superintendent, is helping the district obtain the tools it needs to prepare students for the future.

Mr. Dill said the district received 25 donated laptops, which students will be allowed to take home, through a private grant secured by Mr. Comanda. In addition, a third smartboard was purchased this year, so that each classroom will now have one.

Mr. Dill said he’s pleased with Mr. Comanda’s vision of enriching the students’ learning experiences through new technologies.

“[Mr. Comanda has] been working since the close of school and has made a big impression already,” Mr. Dill said.

Within the past school year, New Suffolk elementary student enrollment decreased by two students, from 18 to 16. The district’s total K-12 enrollment decreased by one student, from 29 to 28 students. The older students continue their education in the Southold system.


Southold expects to have roughly the same number of students as last year, nearly 890, though that number was still in flux as of late August.

“In general terms, enrollment is pretty stable, with 55 to 60 students per grade level,” Superintendent David Gamberg said at an Aug. 22 board meeting.

Teachers in the Southold and Greenport districts spent Aug. 28 at a meeting sponsored by Eastern Suffolk BOCES and the New York Institute of Technology to discuss new digital learning opportunities that they hope to unveil in the classroom this fall.

“The goal is to leverage technology in the service of quality learning engagement and not view technology as a substitute for effective teaching and learning practices,” said Mr. Gamberg.

Southold is working to increase the use of the Parent Portal, an Internet-based program that allows parents to view their children’s report cards and other education-related documents. Mr. Gamberg said that high school schedules were not sent out on time and the district made them available online instead.

“We’re rolling it out in various stages. We want at the very least to provide opportunities to send home quarterly reports [online],” he said.


The Mattituck-Cutchogue School District is concentrating on new state-mandated Common Core Learning Standards, which go into effect this year. The district will hold a meeting for parents to discuss the changes on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. in the high school library.

“The purpose of it is to try to involve more context-based reading and writing across the curriculum, whether in wood shop or social studies or English,” said Superintendent Jim McKenna.

Mr. McKenna said he expects enrollment to be up slightly over last year, with larger kindergarten and seventh-grade classes, though he said the district won’t have final enrollment numbers until after the first day of school.

Seventh-grade orientation will be held Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Back-to-school nights will be Thursday, Sept. 13, for seventh- and eighth-graders and Wednesday, Sept. 19, for grades 9 through 12, both at 7 p.m.

In the elementary school, parent night will be Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. for grades K through 2; Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. for grades 3 and 4; and Wednesday, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. for grades 5 and 6.

The district is also holding a mandatory information night for the parents of student athletes at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6, in the high school auditorium. At the meeting, coaches will discuss the sports that will be offered, the athletic handbook, concussion management and medical clearance policies.

02/01/13 8:00am
02/01/2013 8:00 AM

Ten steps taken here since Newtown

Here’s a summary of what North Fork schools and the Southold Town Police Department have done since the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

1. Southold Town police officers are retaking active-shooter training.

2. All school floor plans can be accessed on patrol car computers.

3. The Greenport School District allocated $3,800 for additional security.

4. Oysterponds School hired a part-time security guard.

5. Visitors to Mattituck-Cutchogue schools must present a driver’s license.

6. New Suffolk School is installing an additional video camera.

7. The state mandated that districts post security plans online by Jan. 22.

8. Police and town officials are exploring a ‘rapid-response team.’

9. Schools are conducting evacuation and lockdown drills.

10. Police recommend that all schools install buzzer/camera security systems.

02/01/13 8:00am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO |  North Fork schools have been enhancing their security systems and emergency plans over the past month following the shooting in Newton, Conn.

The door is locked.

You push a button, identify yourself through a video camera and you’re buzzed in. A greeter asks you to sign a book, put on a name tag and wait for an escort. In some cases, you’re asked to surrender your driver’s license. You’ll get it back when you leave.

For most people accustomed to visiting a North Fork school, this might seem like an unusual set of steps to gain entrance.

But this is the new reality.

This procedure has become the norm here since 27 people — including 20 children and the gunman — were killed Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

School districts have been enhancing their security systems and emergency plans over the past month, as they come into compliance with a new state mandate. On Jan. 15, the state gave schools seven days to post security plans on district websites. For protection, those postings don’t include certain details, such as building plans and hiding locations.

School officials aren’t the only ones gearing up to prevent potential tragedy.

During an interview with The Suffolk Times Friday, Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said photos and maps of school grounds have been uploaded to computers in each patrol car and officers are visiting schools to become more familiar with their layouts.

“Most of the officers here have kids in school, so they are just as concerned as every other parent,” he said.

Related: 10 steps taken to secure North Fork schools

Related: Rising to the challenge

Chief Flatley said he believes it’s important for schools to narrow access points down to one entrance and monitor visitors through buzzer and camera systems. He also warned that many school shootings have involved someone who “has been associated with the school or a student themselves.”

“The illusion that it’s a guy walking up to the door with a trench coat and a machine gun underneath with a black hat on is not the case,” he said.

The districts have begun to come into compliance with the new state mandate, though some school boards have not yet met to approve their plans.

The Southold Board of Education unanimously approved its district-level security plan last Wednesday night.

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO  |  Mattituck High School security guard Gary Spath secures the doors after school Tuesday.

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Mattituck High School security guard Gary Spath secures the doors after school Monday.

During the board’s regular meeting, member Scott DeSimone questioned the state mandate and described it as “ridiculous.”

“It makes them look like they are doing their jobs by making us put something up [online],” he said.

Board president Paulette Ofrias described the district plan as a template the board received from BOCES. It was posted online last Thursday.

About a week after the Newtown shooting, the Southold board approved funding to install new locking safety doors at the elementary school.

Most school districts already have buzzer systems in place and many are adding video cameras.

New Suffolk school officials said that while there are cameras outside the tiny district’s one building on Fourth Street, another camera will be added to the exterior of the main entrance. It currently has a peephole in the door.

New Suffolk board president Tony Dill said the district also has an intercom system at the entrance and the school secretary’s desk is located in the main lobby, where she can monitor visitors.

“When we put the camera system in, we didn’t include that area because we concentrated on areas where you couldn’t see,” Mr. Dill said. “The biggest advantage we have is that there’s only two doors into the place, so that we don’t have multiple entrances and exits we have to monitor. Our problems are far, far simpler than would normally be the case with other schools and other districts.”

Greenport has allocated $3,800 to improve its security system with new video cameras and two five-inch video monitors visible to main office personnel.

In addition, the district is in the process of replacing its handheld walkie-talkie radios with either shoulder or earpiece radio sets for audio quality reasons.

Substitute teacher Frank Musto is volunteering his time to help keep Greenport students safe by monitoring each person entering the school. He’s working with school officials to develop a volunteer security program and hopes other community members donate a few hours to the cause.

Chief Flatley said he liked Mr. Musto’s idea and believes it could work because many retired police officers reside in town.

“For somebody like that to step up, I think it’s great,” the chief said.

At the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, which has a part-time security guard in each of its two buildings, officials said they’re in the process of getting quotes to install a buzzer and camera system.

High school principal Shawn Petretti said during a Jan. 17 board meeting that some offices along the main lobby have been rearranged to improve hallway visibility.

The district is also requiring visitors to surrender their driver’s licenses. The thought is to encourage visitors to exit via the main entrance, Mr. Petretti said.

All exterior doors are locked during the school day. New signs have also been added to each door that read: “Do not open this door during school hours for anyone.”

“Schools were designed to educate kids and not be fortresses,” Mr. Petretti said. “Typically, if an adult knocks on a door and asks ‘Can you open the door for me?’ students are going to comply because that’s how they were brought up.”

The Oysterponds School in Orient installed a buzzer and camera system at its main entrance this summer and hired Jacob Bogden as a part-time security guard. Mr. Bogden is a seasonal town police officer.

During the Oysterponds school board’s Jan. 15 meeting, Superintendent Dick Malone said the position is needed to make sure visitors sign in upon entering the building.

“Although everyone knows each other, this sets a serious tone that there needs to be a tightening of who’s entering and leaving,” he said.

None of the security guards at North Fork schools is armed.

Some parents have called on school districts to hire armed security since 20-year-old Adam Lanza blasted his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School with a .223-caliber rifle and caused the second-deadliest school shooting in the nation’s history.

Chief Flatley said that although he’s heard some school board members and residents push for armed security, he doesn’t believe it’s a solution.

“I’d rather see the schools spend their time and effort on controlling access points with cameras on the outside and making sure only certain people are admitted,” he said.

The chief said he disagrees with the National Rifle Association’s call for Congress to fund armed officers in every American school, describing the measure as impractical.

“We don’t have the manpower to put an officer in every school and I don’t think the schools have the resources or the money to hire armed security guards,” he said.

Anti-gun advocates have said adding armed security isn’t the answer since an armed sheriff’s deputy was assigned to Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., the day of the 1999 massacre there, which left 15 people dead — including 12 students, a teacher and both gunmen, who committed suicide after a rampage lasting nearly 22 minutes. Similarly, Virginia Tech’s police force was unable to stop the violence in 2007, when a gunman killed 32 people and himself on the Blacksburg, Va., campus.

“They had armed security and it still happened,” Chief Flatley said of both incidents. “Having armed security, obviously, is better than not having someone there, but it’s certainly not going to be a fail-safe way of securing the school.”

Since the tragedy at Columbine, the chief said, all town police officers have undergone “active shooter” training, which teaches officers how to identify where a threat is, how to enter a school through tactical formations and how to clear rooms. It also offers instruction on how officers can protect themselves with a shield.

The town police department has arranged additional active-shooter training sessions, which are scheduled to begin next month. All local school districts have agreed to allow police to practice at their facilities after school hours.

While Chief Flatley stressed the best way to handle a school shooting is through proactive measures like implementing new security, practicing evaluation and lockdown drills and providing additional active-shooter training to police officers, he said his department is thinking about creating a “rapid-response team.”

This team would be trained in tactical situations for which heavy artillery is required, he said.

Southold currently uses Suffolk County Police Department’s SWAT services in those situations, as well as sharing its homicide and aviation services.

The chief said the idea of creating a local rapid-response team grew out of concern about the time it could take the county police department in Yaphank to respond to a shooting on the North Fork.

“No matter how you look at it, the response time is going to be delayed,” he said. “Would I like to have my own emergency services? I would love to have it but, feasibly, how often would we use it? The amount of training, the amount of manpower to staff it, the type of equipment you need; that’s why we have the shared services with the Suffolk County Police Department.”

Supervisor Scott Russell described creating a rapid-response team as an “excellent idea” and said the police department would have to submit a proposal to the Town Board.

“Obviously, when you live geographically isolated like we do, that’s always going to be a concern,” the supervisor said. “But I have a great deal of confidence in the local police department and if there’s a concern regarding response time from county services, then maybe we should just look at creating a solution locally.”

Chief Flatley said even if the department creates a rapid-response team, he believes it won’t take the place of active-shooter training since it’s the officers on patrol who will respond first to a shooting.

School districts practicing evacuations and lockdowns are also important and recent drills have gone well. If such procedures are ever needed in an emergency, Chief Flatley said they won’t be difficult to execute because it has become “second nature” for parents and teachers.

During lockdown drills, he said, teachers and students practice getting out of hallways and into classrooms to stay out of view of someone walking down the hallway.

“They’ve all been instructed to lock their doors and look out only at certain angles,” the chief said. “They all have good hiding locations. The kids know where they are supposed to go.”

[email protected]

01/18/15 8:00am
01/18/2015 8:00 AM
Chancellor Meryll Tisch (left) alongside Regent Roger Tilles at a Common Core forum in Eastport in November 2013. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

Chancellor Meryll Tisch (left) alongside Regent Roger Tilles at a Common Core forum in Eastport in November 2013. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

Ordinarily, letters exchanged between governors and high-level bureaucrats don’t make it to the top of The New York Times bestseller list. But, sometimes, one comes across a letter that makes one sit up and say, “Whoa, what’s going on here?” I refer to a recent letter about education reform sent by Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch to Gov. Cuomo’s office. (It was also signed by the new “acting” commissioner of education, Elizabeth Berlin.)

What’s striking in Ms. Tisch’s recommendations to the governor is the unstated proposition that there is a big difference between public education and state education, and that state education is far superior. From the chancellor’s point of view, public education hasn’t just failed poor, black and Hispanic children the most, but has somehow even failed kids in Great Neck, Jericho, Scarsdale and Garden City — even though many of them go on to the best universities in the nation.

The remedy? State education. (more…)

01/07/13 12:24pm
01/07/2013 12:24 PM

NYS EXECUTIVE CHAMBER COURTESY PHOTO | Governor Andrew Cuomo in Albany Wednesday during his first cabinet meeting of the new year where the New NY Education Commission released its preliminary action plan.

Consolidate small school districts, develop a “bar-like” teacher exam and extend the school day and year are some of the recommendations a commission convened by Governor Andrew Cuomo has made in a report released last week.

Mr. Cuomo has said there’s a need for education reform because New York graduation rates lag behind most states, even though it spends more per pupil than any other state. Although New York spends over $18,600 on average per student, about 74 percent of students graduate from high school and nearly 36 percent are college ready, according to the 92-page report titled, “The Preliminary Education Action Plan.”

While the commission recommends that small school districts consider consolidation in order to increase savings and services, it recognizes the pitfalls of such a move.

“More than half of New York’s nearly 700 school districts educate fewer than 2,000 students, and yet many have their own administration and back office functions, often leading to unnecessary and expensive duplication of services,” the report states. “However, there are obstacles that stand in the way of school district consolidation, including potentially different tax rates between communities and the desire to maintain a sense of identity in small communities.”

Prospective teachers looking to enroll in preparation programs will need at least a 3.0 GPA and would have to pass a “bar-like” exam before entering into the education profession under the state’s preliminary plan. The new standards aim to ensure educators are ready to teach the Common Core Standards, which is a program that integrates learning in different subject areas while focusing on the literacy and mathematics skills needed for problem solving throughout educational settings.

As for the school day and year, the commission found New York should no longer operate its schools on agrarian and factory traditions.

“We must fundamentally rethink whether students need six months off from school every year,” the report states. “New York can, and must, do better to ensure that we are supporting students by providing quality, extended learning time in order to improve student achievement.”

The report also stresses the importance of providing pre-kindergarten programs and creating community hubs in school facilities by integrating local health and social services.

In addition, the commission recommends the state create more competitive grants for technology investments. The monies would be award to school districts that propose innovative ways to use technology, according to the report.

In April, the governor established the “New NY Education Reform Commission,” comprised of education, community and business leaders, tasked with developing an education plan from pre-kindergarten through college and career. Since then, officials said the commission has held public hearings throughout the state and has received thousands of written comments from students, parents, educators and residents.

The 25-member commission includes state Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport), senate education committee chairman; John King, state education department commissioner; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. The commission is chaired by Richard Parsons, former chief executive of Time Warner Corp.

Officials said the commission plans to further develop its recommendations and is expected to submit a final version of the reform plan this fall.

Scroll down to view the complete report. Read more in the Jan. 10 issue of The Suffolk Times in both our print and electronic editions.

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NYS Education Action Plan, 2013