05/16/13 8:00am
Riverhead bus barn

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The bus garage is used for mini-bus storage and houses the Riverhead School District’s transportation and maintenance departments.

To the Editor:

We write in response to critics of our approach to address longstanding structural deficiencies at the bus garage. We understand the anger that some feel about the proposal; and with those concerns in mind, we want to explain our reasoning.

Without a doubt, the existing bus garage will need to be addressed in some way in the near future. As photographs posted on our website show, the 1920 transportation department building is deteriorating. We felt the best way to handle this was through the use of a capital reserve, which functions as a savings account. The reserve allows us to save money over time to address the problem rather than incurring more debt. The savings account is budget neutral and does not increase taxes. Thus, Proposition 1 is on the ballot for your approval.

[Previous Coverage: New school bus barn draws opposition]

There are several options on how to best replace our aging facility. One is to renovate in place. Another is to relocate the facility to a different location, thereby creating athletic fields at the current site. In looking for a new location, we had three criteria. The land needed to be: 1) non-residential; 2) centrally located within our 100-square-mile district; and 3) affordable.

[Previous Coverage: Editorial: Riverhead schools mishandled bus barn planning]

We saw many properties that met the first two criteria, but none that were also affordable. Therefore, we investigated using land far behind the Phillips Avenue School for our facility. Property we already own there is large enough for our buses. Solely in order to move the buses without impacting any residents, we are seeking permission to purchase two small tracts of land between Phillips Avenue and Enterprise Zone Drive, an industrial park on Flanders Road.

Critics of this plan have said that it was not properly studied before going to the voters. We feel, however, that it is improper to spend taxpayer dollars on a study before we know if the voters are in agreement with the idea. The ballot proposition to buy the land is just to secure the option to make that purchase. A traffic study will be the first order of business if Proposition 2 is approved by the voters.

We hope that you will take the time to vote on May 21. We hope you will join us at future Board of Education meetings; and we invite you to attend the many wonderful events occurring at Riverhead Central School District schools.

Riverhead Board of Education Members

To read more letters to the editor, pick up a copy of this week’s Riverhead News-Review or click on the E-Paper.

03/14/13 1:00pm
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Riverhead Board of Education vice president Greg Meyer cuts the ribbon Thursday to unveil the new library at Phillips Avenue Elementary School.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Riverhead Board of Education vice president Greg Meyer, left, cuts the ribbon Thursday to unveil the new library at Phillips Avenue Elementary School.

Riverhead School District officials unveiled the new library at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School Thursday, marking the first completed facility upgrade paid through a $78.3 million bond approved in 2011.

Work began at Phillips – the second oldest school in the district — this summer with reconfiguring the parking lot and bus drop-off loops, beautifying the entrance and gutting the school’s library to make room for a new “21st century” center.

The former 850-square-foot library has been expanded into a 2,000-square-foot space complete with designated learning spots, including a stadium seating section for readings, a collaborative-learning area with tables to conduct research projects and a computer lab.

The library is also slated to receive new windows, which will be paid through an energy performance contract.

In addition to new flooring and furniture, each of the three sections has a separate smartboard.

Phillips principal Debra Rodgers said she’s pleased with final results because it will encourage students to read more and to think creatively.

The new research area.

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “The community deserves this.”

Riverhead resident Bobbie Brown, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, said he believes the space is the ideal environment for students to learn.

“This is gorgeous,” he said. “The transformation is just incredible.”

Phillips librarian Melanie Ash gave a tour to her students Thursday prior to the ribbon cutting ceremony and explained to them how they should use each section of their new space.

After showing her students how the library book checkout system works, Ms. Ash asked them to pick something to read.

William Pippin, 8, with a book he picked out at the new library.

“Here’s the Star Wars section, but some of these books can be a little rough,” she told her student William Pippin, 8.

“I can try,” he said. “I like those stories. My friend has Star Wars books and we read them on the bus.”

After the group of students picked something out, Ms. Ash read to them in their new read aloud area.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Superintendent Nancy Carney said about the completed project. “This is a wonderful day for Riverhead and I can’t wait for the work to progress on our other buildings.”

Ms. Carney said the Riley Avenue Elementary School will undergo a similar transformation as Phillips and the Aquebogue Elementary School will receive a new cafeteria. Capital improvement projects are scheduled to being at Riverhead High School this spring and at the middle school next fall. Construction at Roanoke and Pulaski elementary schools will start in spring 2014, she said.

jennifer@timesreview.com

02/13/13 10:00am
COURTESY PHOTO | Photo Captions: Ms. Siller's students with their new iPads. (Mrs. Siller next to Robert Hines, Director of Technology--far right)

COURTESY PHOTO | Special education students at Phillips Avenue School school with their new iPads.

Special education students at Phillips Avenue School received iPad 2’s this week, which were purchased in part with an anonymous donation from a local business, Riverhead School District officials said.

During the Riverhead school board meeting Jan. 8, the school board accepted the donation of $3,360 to purchase seven iPads and cases.

The district later matched the gift to in order to purchase a total of 15 iPads, officials said.

Teacher Gene Siller said he has been using his personal iPad during his lessons in conjunction with a Smartboard and believes the new Apple products purchased for his classroom will help his students improve their writing skills.

“The iPad’s touch screen and keyboard is easier for students with fine motor difficulties to use,” he said. “This gift will enable them to hold and use an individual iPad on their laps or at their desks for a variety of classroom activities.”

Principal Debra Rodgers said students are excited to use the new devices and described the donation as “a gift that will keep on giving for years.”

“It’s also a gift that other generous businesses and individuals could replicate,” she said.

jennifer@timesreview.com

12/28/12 8:00am

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court in May with his lawyer John Ciarelli.

In April, a fourth-grade Riverhead teacher and basketball coach with a prior criminal conviction was arrested in Southampton after he was allegedly caught driving drunk with a loaded, illegal semi-automatic pistol in his car.

Joe Johnson, 38, of Southampton, who taught at Phillips Avenue School at the time, was stopped by a police officer April 21 in Southampton Village after he was seen driving a 2008 Mercedes Benz erratically, according to a criminal complaint.

Police found Mr. Johnson was intoxicated, and with a loaded, 13-round, high-capacity ammunition magazine inside the Springfield Armory XD semi-automatic .45-caliber pistol allegedly found in Mr. Johnson’s car, reports show.

He took a pre-screen breath test at the scene in the Southampton Village arrest, which indicated a blood alcohol level of .14, prosecutors said at his arraignment on a grand jury indictment in May, adding that he later refused a blood test at the police station.

The grand jury indictment included charges of second-, third- and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, driving while intoxicated, second-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and traffic infractions for crossing a yellow line, talking on a cell phone while driving, and driving on the road shoulder, according to court records.

In 2006, Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to a driving while ability impaired charge in Riverhead Town, which was pleaded down from driving while intoxicated.

Ten years earlier in Thomas County, Kansas, Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to a criminal trespassing charge that was reduced from weapon possession and criminal possession of stolen property charges, according to prosecutors.

The original charges stemmed from Mr. Johnson’s being found in possession of a handgun that had been reported stolen. He was only convicted on the misdemeanor trespass charge, prosecutors said. Mr. Johnson pleaded not guilty to the charges, and was released after posting $15,000 cash bail. He was removed from the district payroll in October and is due back in Suffolk County court Jan. 10.

READ MORE STORIES ABOUT MR. JOHNSON’S ARREST

10/10/12 3:00pm

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court in May with his lawyer John Ciarelli.

The Phillips Avenue fourth-grade teacher who’s facing weapons and drunken driving charges has been removed from the district’s payroll, school officials said.

Joe Johnson was taken off the payroll through Feb. 1, 2013, said Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney.

Mr. Johnson, who had been a high school basketball coach prior to his arrest and was the keynote speaker at the annual “Say No to Drugs” march in 2006, faces multiple gun charges after police allegedly caught him driving drunk in Southampton in April with an illegal loaded semi-automatic pistol in his car.

The top charge Mr. Johnson faces is a Class C violent felony punishable by up to 15 years in jail, authorities said.

He was indicted by a grand jury in May on criminal possession of a weapon and driving while intoxicated charges and pleaded not guilty.

In 2006, Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to a driving while ability impaired charge in Riverhead Town, which was pleaded down from DWI.

“The district will continue to monitor the proceedings involving Mr. Johnson in Suffolk County Court and will take appropriate action upon the conclusion of the matter in criminal court,” Ms. Carney said.

She could not provide additional details about Mr. Johnson’s case.

In July, the school board approved the hiring of a substitute teacher to replace Mr. Johnson, who was reassigned to his home after the arrest.

09/05/12 5:00pm
Riverhead Central School District, Phillips Avenue Elementary School

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary School principal Debra Rodgers welcomes back fourth-grader Mahki Adams with a warm hug.

Phillips Avenue Elementary School principal Debra Rodgers welcomed back students during the first day of classes Wednesday in Riverhead schools.

She gave out some hugs and also chided some of the children who did not respond when she said, “Good morning children, welcome back.”

About 550 students arrived by bus, cars and also by taxi to the Riverside elementary school.

The new kindergarten students lined the entrance corridor until teachers and aides could check their tags and steer them into the correct classrooms.

With seven schools in the district there will be almost 5,000 students attending class this year.

Also, Tuesday, Sept. 18 is open house at Phillips at 7 p.m. and the school’s parent-teacher organization, which uses the acronym P.A.C.T. (People Advancing Children Together), will have its first meeting Thursday, Sept. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

photo@timesreview.com

/ 11