06/02/13 1:00pm
06/02/2013 1:00 PM
The new research area.

Phillips Avenue Elementary students in the school’s research area in March.

A recently released state report shows that two Riverhead elementary schools with poorer and more diverse student bodies are underperforming on English-language arts and math assessments.

The state issued its annual “report cards” for all school districts in March. The reports comprise district demographics, enrollment and student assessment performance information. The number of students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch is also included in the report.

Of Riverhead’s four elementary schools, which educate pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade students, Phillips Avenue and Roanoke Avenue lagged behind Aquebogue Elementary and Riley Avenue in Calverton. Test scores and information about the Pulaski Street School, which educates the district’s fifth- and sixth-graders, was also included in the report.

While populations of both black or African-American and white students have slightly decreased slightly in the Riverhead School District since the 2010-11 school year, the Latino student population has increased significantly.

Last school year, 2011-12, the Latino student population was 1,384, an increase of 191 students over 2010-11. There were 907 black students enrolled in the district last year, down by 67, and 2,585 white students, a decrease of 35.

Phillips Avenue Elementary in Riverside and Roanoke Elementary in Riverhead had the highest numbers of minority students, and the highest amount of students meeting federal economic standards to qualify for free lunch. The state also reported that Phillips Avenue students had the poorest performance on English-language arts and math assessments.

Following is a summary of report findings for each school.

Phillips Avenue

• The report found that Latinos made up 46 percent of Phillips Avenue’s student population in 2011-12, with 258 students. There were 160 black students and 126 white students. Of those enrolled, 409 students, about 73 percent, were eligible for free lunch and 39 students were eligible for reduced-price lunch.

• About 35 percent of Phillips Avenue third-graders and 23 percent of fourth-graders scored below the state’s English-language arts proficiency standard. About 22 percent of students in third grade and 15 percent in fourth grade didn’t meet math proficiency standards. Nearly 11 percent of students who took the science assessment at Phillips Avenue scored below the state’s proficiency standards.

Roanoke Avenue

• According to the report, 182 Latino students, 124 white students and 66 black students were enrolled at Roanoke Avenue in 2011-12. Of those, 237 students were eligible for free lunch and 24 qualified for reduced-price lunch. Free lunch eligibility nearly doubled compared to 2010-11, up by 116 students.

• Nearly 23 percent of third-graders and 25 percent of fourth-graders scored below state proficiency standard in English-language arts, the report found. In math, about 10 percent of third-graders and 8 percent of fourth-graders failed to meet the state standards. Nearly 8 percent of the students who took the science assessment scored below the state’s proficiency standards.

Aquebogue Elementary

• The report counted 247 white students, 136 Latino students and 71 black students at Aquebogue. Among this population, 189 students qualified for free lunch and 25 for reduced-price lunch.

• Nearly 14 percent of third-graders and 10 percent of fourth-graders scored below the state’s English-language arts proficiency standards, according to the report. About 11 percent in third grade and 6 percent in fourth grade didn’t meet math proficiency standards. Nearly 6 percent of fourth-graders who took the science assessment scored below state standards.

Riley Avenue

• Riley Avenue’s student population included 485 white students, 98 Latino students and 39 black students. Of those, 185 students were eligible for free lunch and 38 for reduced-price lunch during the 2011-12 school year.

• Riley Avenue had the highest percentage of students who met or exceeded state state’s proficiency standards for English-language arts and math. About 5 percent of third-graders and 4 percent of fourth-graders scored below the standard for ELA and about 4 percent in third grade and 2 percent in fourth grade did so in math. All 121 students who took the science assessment scored above the state’s proficiency standards.

Pulaski Street School

• The report found 380 white students, 192 Latino students and 128 black students were enrolled in the school in 2011-12. A reported 285 students qualified for free lunch and 55 for reduced-price lunch.

• In fifth grade, 10 percent of English-language arts assessments and 7 percent of math exams received scores below the state’s proficiency standard. In grade 6, about 8 percent of English-language arts scores and 4 percent of math exams fell below the standard.

Districtwide results

• About 40 percent of all district students, or 2,021, were eligible for free lunch during 2011-12 and another 357 for reduced-price lunch. Those numbers compare with 1,833 students and 336 students, respectively, during the previous year, 2010-11.

• Nearly 12 percent the Riverhead School District’s elementary enrollment during the 2011-12 school year — 596 students — were considered limited English proficient, or LEP, according to the report. That’s an increase of 55 students over the 2010-11 school year, the report shows. LEP refers to students who have not yet developed fluency in reading and writing because their primary language is not English.

• Phillips Avenue had 160 LEP-designated students; Roanoke Avenue had 120; Aquebogue had 73; and Riley Avenue had 60. The Pulaski Street School had 51 LEP students.

• According to the report, the district’s black, Latino, LEP-designated and economically disadvantaged students in grades 3-8, as well as students with disabilities in those grades, failed to make adequate yearly progress in English-language arts assessments. Adequate yearly progress, or AYP, indicates progress toward proficiency for all students.

The same classifications of students in those same grades also failed to make AYP in mathematics last school year.

As for science, as measured in only grades 4 and 8, the district’s black and white students achieved AYP. Riverhead’s secondary students achieved AYP in both English-language arts and math.

• The report also addressed enrollment and graduation rates, documenting a total district enrollment of 5,010 students during 2011-12, up 112 students from the previous year. There were 328 Riverhead High School graduates in 2012, up 20 students from the previous year. However, the total number of dropouts was also up by 10 students, to 71.

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06/01/13 2:00pm
06/01/2013 2:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Harry Wilkinson gives children a ride on the ‘trackless train’ he built this past winter.

This past winter Harry Wilkinson of Riverhead engineered a “trackless train,” playfully dubbed the Ole Glory Express. Using a 20-horsepower lawn mower engine, Mr. Wilkinson powered his train Saturday to provide some entertainment for children.

The train was one of many attractions at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School’s Community Festival Saturday. The third-annual festival featured performances by children’s entertainer Brady Rymer and ‘The Little Band That Could.’

Money raised from the event helps fund bringing in visiting artists to the school for cultural affairs as well as funding next year’s event.

Other attractions included a bouncy house, face painting, balloon animals by teacher Kevin Carroll, rock climbing wall and music from volunteer DJ Sergio Falcones of Deer Park. The First Baptist Church’s Family Community Life Center’s volunteers cooked up some hamburgers and sausages and other goodies.

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s department gave away 200 free bike helmets, which were provided through a grant from the Governor’s traffic safety department. The sheriff’s were supposed to hold a bike rodeo to teach the children the basics of bike safety, but postponed it until the fall when the weather is cooler.

Principal Debra Rodgers said she was pleased with the turnout.

“Its bigger and better than ever,” she said. “Its an amazing opportunity to come and have fun playing together as families.”

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BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Hannah Jaccard, 5, a Phillips pre-k student of Flanders, gets her face painted by Brittany Rocco of Flanders.

05/31/13 2:00pm
05/31/2013 2:00 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary students

COURTESY PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary students at last year’s community festival.

Educators, parents and local residents are ready for the annual community festival at Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside scheduled for Saturday.

The family-friendly event will feature a performance by children’s entertainer Brady Rymer, a BMX stunt show, bike rodeo and petting zoo.

The Carnival of Fun includes: rock wall climb, football throw, bouncy house, face painting, hula hoop contest and other activities.

Members of the local fire departments, Riverhead Parks and Recreation Department and business owners will also have booths at the event to share information with the community.

There will more than 20 vendors, a silent auction, food and beverages.

Tickets cost $3. There is no charge for Phillips Avenue students and children under 2.

The event is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The rain date is June 2.

For more information, call 631-369-6786.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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.