06/21/13 3:00pm
06/21/2013 3:00 PM

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Oysterponds Elementary School principal Françoise Wittenburg saying goodbye to the students for the last time.

No more teachers, no more books.

Oysterponds Elementary School students boarded school busses home Friday to start their summer vacation.

Principal Françoise Wittenburg said goodbye to the students for the last time. She is stepping down from the position after announcing her pregnancy earlier this year.

Check out photos from the last day below:

05/03/13 1:00pm
05/03/2013 1:00 PM

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO |  Frieda Dean conducted after-school workshops at Oysterponds Elementary School.

The walls of Oysterpond Elementary School in Orient are covered in seaweed — well, paintings of the algae, anyway.

Resin, pastel and chalk paintings created by 18 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade were on display Tuesday evening in Oysterpond’s main lobby for its “Seaweed Galore” art exhibition, which is part of the school’s new Artist in Residence program.

“It turned out beautifully,” said school principal Francoise Wittenburg of the initiative. “We really like to enrich arts in the kids and they love it.”

Last winter, school administrators reached out to Frieda Dean, the resident artist at the William Steeple Studio in Orient, and asked her if she’d conduct some after-school workshops with interested students. The Augusta, Ga. native agreed enthusiastically to volunteer her time and helped the children create underwater-themed seaweed paintings during three Friday sessions.

“I brought in fresh seaweed for [the students] to hold if they didn’t remember what it felt like,” said Ms. Dean, who taught elementary school art in Augusta. She also brought in scarves to perform “seaweed dances” with the younger children, who she said finished their projects quickly.

“It was fun to see their responses to the different aspects of seaweed,” she said. “I really love the kids.”

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | A seaweed-inspired painting at Oysterponds Elementary School.

Students who participated in the project were equally pleased with the results.

“It was really fun,” said Nico Wittenburg, 10, a fifth grade student who is also Principal Wittenburg’s son. “I liked when we used pastels. We had freedom to use any color we wanted to.”

“We were supposed to have seaweed in motion, so I drew it coming out of different places, like a life jacket and a chest with bubbles,” sixth grader Addison Terry, 11, said. “It was a great experience. Even though I knew a little about art, Ms. Frieda Dean inspired me to learn more.”

“I wanted to give something back to the community,” Ms. Dean said. “The students are so full of creativity and energy. They’re really a joy to work with.”

Community members can view the “Seaweed Galore” art exhibition through June 31 in the main lobby of Oysterponds Elementary School.

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04/06/13 10:00am
04/06/2013 10:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | Oysterponds principal Françoise Wittenburg, in the STEMS lab with student Nate Busch, 6, of Orient, is leaving the district at the end of the school year.

Oysterponds Elementary School principal Françoise Wittenburg will say goodbye to the Orient and East Marion communities at the conclusion of this school year.

In a letter issued last week to parents of the preschool through sixth-grade district, Ms. Wittenburg cited personal reasons in her decision to step down from the post she’s held since 2011.

“As my reason for leaving, I’m excited to announce that I’m expecting my fourth child early this fall and I have decided that it’s time for me to focus on my growing family,” she wrote. “Additionally, we’ve been offered an opportunity to return home to our [extended family] in Maui and we’ll be relocating this summer.”

Superintendent Richard Malone said he was sad to hear about the decision by Ms. Wittenburg, who he said has played an important part in creating the district’s new 21st-century learning environment for students.

“She came to appreciate the Oysterponds school as a place where we could develop a personal learning plan for each child,” he said. “I feel very happy for her, but also sad because we’ve developed such a good relationship and I’m sorry to see that end.”

Mr. Malone said the school board is expected to vote on her letter of resignation at its next meeting on April 16. By that time, he said the district should have a better idea of how it plans to replace Ms. Wittenburg.

She is the second administrator to leave the district this year. In July, the Oysterponds school board hired Mr. Malone as the new superintendent after Joan Frisicano resigned. Prior to Ms. Frisicano and Ms. Wittenburg’s tenure, the district had combined the jobs of principal and superintendent. School officials said the decision to split the position was made a few years ago because the move was cost effective and enhanced staff support.

School board president Dorothy-Dean Thomas described the news of Ms. Wittenburg’s leaving as bittersweet and said she wishes her well.

“She put together plans to send the district into a positive direction,” Ms. Thomas said. “I admire her. A lot was thrown at her and she took them on and made good things happen.”

One of the challenges for Ms. Wittenburg has been working to overcome the school’s dwindling student enrollment. In addition to launching a preschool program this year in an effort to attract new families into the district, the school has also created a combined-grade classroom model they believe will enhance students’ learning experiences. The plan, school officials have said, provides enough support to give each student a “personal learning plan.” Some parents have criticized the proposal, fearing students would slip through the cracks in a larger class or fail to thrive in a combined grade setting.

The school’s administration has defended their recommendation and said the district’s size and resources provide an ideal environment for individualized teaching.

In an interview this week, Ms. Wittenburg said she believes most of those concerns have subsided after the school strengthened its communication with parents to help them better understand the changes.

“It’s a federal initiative to promote a personalized learning environment,” she said about the plan. “I think there’s been some fear because it’s new … In this job market, you need to have the ability to problem solve, critically think and innovate. If you don’t have a lot of kids to do that with, then your learning is compromised.”

Ms. Wittenburg said she’s proud of the diverse programing she helped launched during her tenure, including events that invited community members into the school to interact with students and teach them about local history and culture.

Co-PTA president Holly Mastrangelo, whose child is in a combined class, described Ms. Wittenburg’s contributions to the district as forward-thinking and believes her efforts helped to heighten students’ curiosity and strengthened the community’s sense of pride with events like the Oral History Project and Career Day.

“Her love for our children was just huge,” Ms. Mastrangelo said. “She always greets them with a smiling face.”

Ms. Wittenburg said she’s enjoyed her time in the district, is grateful for the experience and will miss her students.

“I really love the kids here,” she said. “I feel like I’m the luckiest principal because I’ve gotten to know every student’s name and a little bit about each one of them.”

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11/27/12 2:00pm

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The Oysterponds school has partnered with the Oysterponds Historical Society to create tomorrow’s Career Day.

The Oysterponds elementary school in Orient is holding a Career Day tomorrow morning to help students prepare for the future.

Principal Francoise Wittenburg said the school partnered with the Oysterponds Historical Society to create the new program in an effort to comply with the state’s new core curriculum standards.

“We’re so grateful [the historical society is] helping us meet the new standards while engaging activities with our local community,” she said.

Ms. Wittenburg said the program will help students to become college and career ready by the time they graduate. There will be guest speakers discussing different careers, including farming, town government and development. In addition, there will be 12 station areas with other occupational information.

The event is from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the elementary school. Parents and residents are welcome to attend. For more information, call (631) 323-2410.

Read more in the Dec. 6 issue of The Suffolk Times in both our print and electronic editions.

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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.