12/14/2013 10:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO  |  The existing cinder track at Mattituck High School.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | The existing cinder track at Mattituck High School.

Less than two months after Mattituck-Cutchogue School District voters approved a $925,000 bond to fund a new track at the high school, administrators announced at Thursday’s school board meeting that the project has already run into some unforeseen problems.

District business administrator Michael Engelhardt said the district has been hit with $30,000 in costs because the makeup of the soil under the existing track is “not compactable.” About 2 1/2 feet under the entire length of the track needs to be dug up and refilled before the new all-weather, polyflex track is installed, he said.

However, the surprise isn’t expected to put the project over budget, as funds to pay for the extra work will be taken out of the bond’s $120,000 contingency budget, Mr. Engelhardt added.

School board member Doug Cooper said he’ll reach out to Southold Town officials and find out if they’re interested in purchasing the removed soil and use it to fix some dykes damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

As for the track’s color, Mr. Engelhardt said there’s four choices: black, green, red and blue.

Although many school board members’ ears perked up when he mentioned blue was a choice (since the school’s colors are blue and gold), Mr. Engelhardt suggested they go with a different color because the shade of blue the track comes with is more like a baby blue. He added red is the most popular color for track facilities.

Although the school board didn’t make a color decision for the track Thursday night, it did approve an agreement for finance advisory services from Munistat in Port Jefferson Station and a $6,800 contract to secure a rating from Standard and Poor. Both measures will help the district get a better rate on the bond, Mr. Engelhardt said.

In other school board news, 11 new athletic coaches were hired. Most notably, John Amato has been picked to coach varsity boys lacrosse.

Last month, parents protested the board’s decision not to hire controversial coach Mike Gongas for the post.

No one spoke during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting about Mr. Amato’s appointment. The board also approved hiring him as a substitute teacher and a teacher assistant, as well as a long-term leave replacement special education teacher assistant from January through June.

The rest of the new coaches hired for the current school year include: Mathew Litchhult and Steve Vandood as junior high girls basketball coaches, Meghan Cereola as varsity girls lacrosse coach, James Hoeg as volunteer assistant girls lacrosse coach, Kelly Pickering as varsity softball coach, Kim Gerstung as junior varsity softball coach, Steve DeCaro as varsity baseball coach, Gene Rochler as volunteer assistant baseball coach, Michael Huey as varsity boys tennis coach, and Cory Dolson as junior varsity boys tennis coach.

[email protected]

06/13/13 10:00am
06/13/2013 10:00 AM

Big-jump-in-state-aid-for-North-Fork-school-districts-March-20131

As goes Oysterponds, so goes the North Fork?

For reasons we can debate ad nauseam, Southold Town appears to have lost its much-coveted designation as the place to live for families with school-age children.

There was a time not all that long ago when, in response to a sharp spike in student enrollment, the Mattituck-Cutchogue and Southold school districts embarked on large and costly building expansion programs. Given that you can seat only so many students in a classroom, there really was no other choice. Residents recognized that and supported the various bonding resolutions. In Greenport, the only other Southold district with a high school, the issue was not space but improving the building’s condition, also a costly proposition that residents there supported as well.

But the enrollment boom has gone bust, and the number of incoming kindergartners for next year is significantly smaller than the number of high school seniors graduating in the Class of 2013. That’s a cause for concern that extends far beyond the prospect of unused or underused school space. Fewer students also means a reduced need for teachers, teacher aides and a host of support services. And if school officials are correct in their assumption that families can’t afford to live out here, especially with a scarcity of well-paying jobs, we can’t write off the shrinking classes as a statistical anomaly.

Unless school enrollments increase dramatically over the next few years — and there seems little to no reason to anticipate that — this is a situation we’ll have to live with for quite some time.

But what to do? Out in Orient, the Oysterponds school board voted Tuesday night to lay off four teachers and reduce physical education, music and other positions from full-time to part-time. Superintendent Richard Malone suggested the cutbacks in response to falling enrollment, but the vote was all but a formality since the reductions had been built into the school budget voters approved in May.

Will other districts follow suit, either next term or in subsequent years? Will the combination of smaller student bodies and the fiscal restrictions of the state’s 2 percent cap on property tax increases provide the tipping point on school consolidation? That topic has been discussed off and on for decades, but has never generated a groundswell of popular support.

It seems big changes are coming to North Fork classrooms — and they’ll be far more profound than the addition of iPads and other high-tech devices.

04/25/13 8:00am
04/25/2013 8:00 AM

North Fork high school students are not only consuming more alcohol than most teenagers across the country, they’re also doing more binge drinking, a new survey has found.

The North Fork Alliance, a nonprofit community advocacy group in Greenport, conducted the area’s first comprehensive survey of teenage drug and alcohol abuse this fall. More than 1,270 students in grades 7 through 12 from the Mattituck-Cutchogue, Southold and Greenport school districts volunteered to take the survey. That’s a participation rate of 82.5 percent.

The Prevention Needs Assessment Survey was developed, and the results tallied, by Bach Harrison, a Salt Lake City company that provides survey, research and evaluation services. It was published earlier this month.

[Scroll below to read the entire 2012 North Fork Prevention Needs Assessment Survey]

Laura Jens-Smith, the alliance’s program coordinator and a members of the Mattituck-Cutchogue school board, told The Suffolk Times last week that she believes the most startling discovery was the amount of underage binge drinking that’s occurring.

[Related: Administrators, parents react to survey]

According to the report, 53.5 percent of high school seniors surveyed in September said they’d consumed alcohol within the past 30 days. When asked if they’d consumed five or more alcoholic beverages in a row within the past two weeks, 35.5 percent answered “yes.” The 2011 national average for binge drinking among 12th-graders is 21.6 percent, the report states.

“The most disturbing statistic is we are higher than the national average for alcohol use,” Ms. Jens-Smith said of the study’s findings. “There’s a lot of binge drinking that’s going on.”

In addition to alcohol use, the survey asked students if they’d gotten behind the wheel after consuming alcohol within the 30-day time frame.

About 3 percent admitted to drinking and driving and nearly 18 percent said they’d been in a car with a drunk driver. Those stats are below the national average, which shows 9.4 percent of teens around the country admitting to drunk driving and 26.7 percent stating they’ve been in a car with a drunk driver.

As for drug and tobacco use within the 30-day time period, 14.9 percent of North Fork students surveyed admitted to using marijuana, 9.2 percent said they smoked cigarettes, 2.3 percent took sedatives, 0.6 percent used cocaine and 0.3 percent used heroin.

The survey’s findings highlighted the importance of early intervention and addressing risk factors. It also found a link indicating that parent or peer disapproval tends to reduce underage usage.

Ms. Jens-Smith said she believed the major causes of teen alcohol and drug use are a lack of activities for teenagers in the area and poor public transportation. Another factor is peer pressure.

“Kids need to be aware that there’s a lot of kids out there who aren’t drinking and that it’s socially acceptable to not drink,” she said. “That has to come from everybody in the community: the schools, parents, police and businesses.”

Over the past few months, the North Fork Alliance has created several initiatives to combat teen drug and alcohol abuse.

It recently launched an online network for parents called Safe Homes, which allows parents to unite by pledging “no use” of alcohol and drugs by minors in their home. Signing up with the network provides a platform for parents to communicate with each other about reported underage drug and alcohol abuse, Ms. Jens-Smith said.

“[Safe Homes] provides another set of eyes,” she said. “You’re basically saying to the other parents, ‘I know I can’t be everywhere and I’m letting you know it’s OK to give me a call if you saw my child drinking.’<\!q>”

Other projects include a media campaign through the alliance’s new Facebook page, NFA Teens, an “Above the Influence” student art contest, a prom and graduation safety talk and a medication take-back event this Saturday.

The North Fork Alliance also plans a second survey in two years to measure the impact of its efforts and aims to continue to raise awareness about the area’s current problem.

“It’s important for parents and everyone to be aware of these issues out here, from Mattituck all the way out to end of the island,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “As a community, we need to pay attention to it … We want people to contact us and get involved.”

[email protected]

Mattituck-Cutchogue UFSD Profile Report

04/25/13 7:59am

FLICKR/ARVINDGROVER PHOTO

Some local educators and parents were shocked this week by new statistics showing rates of drug and alcohol abuse among local teens higher than the national average, and agreed that providing more activities for teens and encouraging dialogue among parents is crucial to reversing the trend.

The North Fork Alliance, a Greenport nonprofit, recently published the area’s first comprehensive survey on teenage drug and alcohol abuse, which yielded some startling results — especially about rates of alcohol consumption and binge drinking.

Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said Wednesday that he district’s social worker plans to give students an overview of the survey.

[Related: North Fork teens drinking more than others, study says]

“There’s definitely a concern that the numbers are elevated compared to the national average,” Mr. Gamberg said. “We have work to do to make sure our students make good choices.”

One way the district tries to discourage drinking is by breaking out a Breathalyzer, which Mr. Gamberg said the district has had for years, during school events if there’s a suspicion of intoxication.

“At school functions, we make students aware we might check,” he said.

Alliance officials believe a major cause of teen alcohol and drug use a lack of things for young people to do.

Southold PTA president Angela Tondo agreed that keeping students busy with positive projects is a good way to deter self-destructive behavior.

“We have two movie theaters and only one is open in winter,” she said. “That’s about it.”

Ms. Tondo said more intervention at the middle school level would also be beneficial, such as expanding the DARE program. She added that she understands budget constraints may affect the feasibility of such a move and believes the most crucial factor in discouraging drug and alcohol abuse is parents talking to children about the consequences.

“I think a lot of children say, ‘My mother never said not to’ and then they think it’s OK,” she said. “That’s step one. I think you have start in your home.”

Over the past few months, the alliance has created several initiatives to combat teen drug and alcohol abuse.

Greenport PTA president Laura Hoch said she supports the Alliance’s new online parents’ network, Safe Homes, and believes it will help generate North Fork-specific solutions.

“I grew up in a rural area and understand how it’s hard for teenagers to stay busy doing healthy things,” Ms. Hoch said. “The PTA is on board to distribute [the alliance’s] information and we will do whatever we can to increase awareness in the community.”

Mattituck Superintendent James McKenna and Greenport Superintendent Michael Comanda both said they hadn’t received the alliance’s report as of Wednesday morning.

When asked about the online parent network, Mr. Comanda said liked the idea because it will give parents a great opportunity to discuss their concerns.

As for other ways to combat teenage drug and alcohol abuse, Mr. Comanda said Greenport provides students with a number of activities, including sports, an expanded drama and musical program and community service projects.

Mr. Gamberg said that while portions of the survey paint a gloomy picture, it did include some positive numbers, such as the percentage of students not involved with drugs or alcohol.

“On the flip side, there are a large number of kids who aren’t experimenting or using substances,” he said. “Those kids are to be congratulated.”

[email protected]

With Tim Kelly

03/08/13 1:50pm
03/08/2013 1:50 PM

School closings and delays, March 8, 2013

Updates on school closings, early dismissals and school event cancellations and postponements. Be sure to click the links below for any cancellations made between updates:

As of 2:00 p.m. Friday:

• The Oysterponds, Southold and Greenport school districts have cancelled all after school activities for Friday. Greenport school officials said the district’s Military Ball will still be held Friday night.

• The Bishop McGann-Mercy High School and the Mattituck-Cutchogue and New Suffolk school districts haven’t made any decisions.

02/11/13 2:29am
02/11/2013 2:29 AM
FILE PHOTO | Check back here for school closing updates.

FILE PHOTO | Check back here for school closing updates.

Updates on school closings, delayed openings and school event cancellations. Be sure to click the links below for any cancellations made between updates:

As of 2:30 a.m. Monday:

Mattituck-Cutchogue, Greenport, Southold and Oysterponds school districts will have a two-hour delayed opening Monday morning. The Greenport School District has also rescheduled its musical performances of Guys and Dolls to March 1 and March 2, both starting at 7 p.m. Officials said prepaid tickets will be honored at either performance.

• The New Suffolk School District will have a delayed opening staring at 10:30 a.m. on Monday.

Our Lady of Mercy  school officials said the Cutchogue school will have a delayed opening at 11 a.m. Monday.

Check back for more updates.

02/08/13 3:17am
02/08/2013 3:17 AM
North Fork school closings

FILE PHOTO | Check back here for school closing updates.

Updates on school closings, early dismissals and school event cancellations and postponements:

• Mattituck-Cutchogue, Greenport, Southold and Oysterponds school district superintendents told The Suffolk Times Thursday afternoon that they are following the storm and haven’t made any school closing or early dismissal decisions for Friday. Be sure to click the following links for any cancellations made between updates: Mattituck-Cutchogue, GreenportSouthold, Oysterponds.

• The Greenport School District will have a regular dismissal on Friday. All after school activities and events scheduled for Friday have been cancelled. The district has rescheduled its Friday performance of Guys and Dolls to Sunday at 2 p.m. Officials said Saturday’s performance is still scheduled for 7 p.m.

New Suffolk Elementary School students had an early dismissal Friday. All after school activities and events scheduled for Friday have been cancelled.

Bishop McGann-Mercy High School dismissed students early on Friday at 1 p.m.  Mercy has cancelled all Friday and Saturday after school activities. The school has also rescheduled Saturday’s registration event to Wednesday, Feb. 13, from 2 to 6:30 p.m. Officials said parents will also be able to register during the school’s open house event, which is set for March 10 from 12 to 2 p.m.

• The Mattituck-Cutchogue School District has cancelled all after school activities scheduled for Friday. The musical performances of Once Upon a Mattress scheduled for Friday and Saturday have been cancelled. The performance has been rescheduled to Sunday at 1 p.m. Mattituck High School has rescheduled Friday’s annual Empty Bowls Project dinner to March 15 from 5 to 7 p.m.

• Southold School District has cancelled all after school activities and events — including all community group activities — scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Oysterponds Elementary School District has cancelled Friday’s after school activities and the Evening Dance event.

Our Lady of Mercy has cancelled Friday’s aftercare and Movie Night event.

All school sports are cancelled Friday and Saturday. The Section XI Division II wrestling championship at Center Moriches High School will now begin at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

Check back for more updates.

04/06/11 2:36pm
04/06/2011 2:36 PM

The state Education Department calls it “a non-credible threat,” but still advises school districts to take precautions in the wake of threatened terrorist activity involving school buses, state office buildings and the  State Legislature.

The threat was received by state officials and some members of the media from an unknown email account, according to education department officials.

In a letter emailed Wednesday to district superintendents, associate education commissioner Ken Slentz and assistant commissioner Charles Szuberla Jr. wrote: “Although authorities are treating this threat seriously and continue to investigate, they are not considering this a credible threat at this time.”

The state advises that “suspicious activity or communications” should be reported to the New York State Intelligence Center at 1-866-723-3697.

Local school districts responded by calling and/or sending notices to parents and speaking with bus drivers who work either for individual districts or for Sunrise Coach, which serves the schools here.

The Sunrise Coach Lines in Greenport, which provides school bus service to most Southold Town districts, has made all of its employees aware of the threat and is asking bus drivers to be extra-vigilant in their daily morning inspections of their buses, a company official said.

Sunrise buses are not kept in a gated lot and cannot be locked, he said, adding that drivers already take their daily safety inspections seriously because of those inherent insecurities.

“No matter what your gut tells you, you have to take it seriously,” New Suffolk Superintendent Robert Feger said. “Our bus drivers know all of our children.”

Calls were made to Greenport parents to “alert them, but not alarm them,” said Superintendent Michael Comanda. He also has spoken to bus drivers, Sunrise Coach officials and Southold Police Capt. Martin Flatley about the threat and said district officials will “step up our vigilance” and remind parents to be cautious and vigilant.

Similarly, Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said he has notified parents and bus drivers to take extra precautions and has spoken to officials at Sunrise who were reviewing their policies to assure that students are safe.

Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Jim McKenna sent a telephone message out to parents mid-day Tuesday, despite receiving word Tuesday morning from education department that the threat was not considered credible.

“We’re on guard. No threat was made directly to the district,” he said. “We’re cautioning vigilance and the reporting of suspicious behavior. It gives us a chance to review our safety procedures and protocols.”

The Oysterponds school sent out a similar phone message to parents Tuesday.