12/13/13 1:32pm
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Head custodian Carl James in the hallway of Pulaski Street Elementary School, where he started working almost 54 years ago.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Head custodian Carl James in the hallway of Pulaski Street Elementary School, where he started working almost 54 years ago.

When head custodian Carl James opens the door to the basement at Pulaski Street School, a setting very familiar to him, he’s greeted by the sound and warmth of humming boilers.

Across from the massive heating equipment is Mr. James’ office, where a large, shiny-black chair, found for him by a friend about 25 years ago, towers behind his desk. The chair, with armrests desperately held together by duct tape, dominates the space between Mr. James’ desk and the desk that once belonged to his former boss, Walter Budd, who hired him nearly five and a half decades ago.

“For some reason, I just held on to it,” said Mr. James as he opened a top drawer filled with keys that go as far back as the 1930s and open locks that no longer exist. He keeps the functional ones — three rings of about 50 keys each — in his own desk.

As Mr. James scanned the room — walls plastered with his achievements and old photos — he called the 10-by-15-foot office his “little home away from home.”

Now 78, he has been a Riverhead School District employee for 53 years — longer than any other school district staff member from Riverhead to Orient. In February, he’ll celebrate both his 79th birthday and his 54th anniversary at the school.

“I’ve been doing it so long, it’s like what I should be doing,” Mr. James said. “This is just my way of life.”

After graduating from Riverhead High School when it was located at Pulaski Street School, which now serves about 700 fifth- and sixth-graders, Mr. James joined the U.S. Army and toured Europe with his unit. After serving for two years, he returned to Riverhead.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Head custodian Carl James has three key rings like this full of keys and some in a couple of desk drawers in his office.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Head custodian Carl James has three key rings like this full of keys and some in a couple of desk drawers in his office.

At that time, some schools in this country were still segregated, although Mr. James said he’s never encountered prejudice in his workplace. However, racism is not unknown to him.

“It somewhat bothered me because I had been in the service and there were still places [in Riverhead] that I wasn’t allowed to go,” he said. “I couldn’t understand that. I’m not one to make a lot of stink about things, but if you go downtown, you had to go over there. If you wanted a drink of water, you drank over there and the other ones drank over there.

“I’m wearing Uncle Sam’s uniform and I gotta go through this? It just bothered me a lot, even until today,” he said.

Although he wanted to become an electrician, Mr. James accepted a custodian job at Pulaski Street School when he was 23 years old.

“I was hired right on the spot in the hallway,” Mr. James said. “They asked if I could start the next day. I said, ‘I can start today.’ ”

His first responsibilities, he recalled, included the hallway with rooms 112 through 118. A bathroom was also added to his workload. After about 12 years, he was promoted to head custodian and later started a professional office cleaning business on this side. That folded in 1993, however, when downtown offices began to close in a struggling economy.

An education and a career weren’t the only things Mr. James found at Pulaski Street School.

He and his wife, then Rose Cherry, met there and got to know each other better through church. They’ve been married for 41 years and have four daughters — Lisa, Carlene, Tina and Doreen — and nine grandchildren.

Family is very important to Mr. James, the second-oldest of five children. He and his older brother would work on farms along Sound Avenue, picking fruit before and after school.

He said his mother, Estelle, who lived to the age of 101, “taught me that you have to work hard for the things you want in life.”

Mr. James said he treasured his mother’s guidance and support and would go out to lunch with her downtown during his break.

He even went the extra mile by building a home in Northville that would have allowed his mother to move in, should her health decline.

“I told her that if anything happened to her, she didn’t have to worry about nothing,” Mr. James recalled, holding back tears.

Luckily, he said, his mother was “blessed with good health” and even continued to drive until she was 95. She moved into a nursing home during the last two years of her life, Mr. James said, and the family gathered around her bedside right before she died.

Just as his family helped shape Mr. James into the person he has become, he’s helping others who cross his path at Pulaski Street School.

Custodian Tony Madonia, who has worked at the school for six years, said Mr. James is always there to lend a helping hand.

“He has knowledge about everything that is going on here,” Mr. Madonia said. “It’s very unique because this is a building that should have at least two head custodians.”

Claude Pragliola, a 1982 Riverhead High School grad who also attended Pulaski Street, started as a custodian at Pulaski Street about 28 years ago. He said he enjoys working with Mr. James.

“He’s wonderful,” Mr. Pragliola said. “He’s a great man. A great man. He puts up with a lot from a lot of angles and I try to learn his patience.”

Mr. James said his workday starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. if he’s lucky, although he may not be not be coming in much longer.

At his family’s request, he is thinking about retiring this summer, though members of his staff will say they don’t believe he’ll go through with it.

“I’ve heard him say ‘one more year’ since I started in 1995,” said custodian Taylor Wayland. “He’s got about five more years.”

Soon after Mr. Wayland made this statement, Mr. James got a call on his walkie-talkie: “Carl, there’s a puddle in the boy’s bathroom.”

“OK,” Mr. James responded. “I’ll send Taylor.”

“You heard that Taylor?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Mr. Wayland said from down the hall. “I heard.”

Asked if he gave Mr. Wayland that task as payback for bugging him about staying with the district until he hits the 60-year mark, Mr. James laughed and said, “Of course.”

But even though his staff of seven custodians fondly pressures him to stay on, Mr. James admits he thinks about retiring every year.

“I might just say, ‘OK. That’s enough,” he said of the possibility he really will retire at the end of this school year. “But if things look promising and upbeat, I may say, ‘One more,’ like I have been saying for the last 20 years.”

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12/03/13 5:11pm

BARBARAELLEN FILE KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead High School band director Lee Hanwick conducts ninth-graders Jessica Sisti (left) and Kayla Myers in playing ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ during the school’s March concert. The orchestra and senior band also performed.

The Riverhead School District has announced its upcoming event and concerts.

• Phillips Avenue’s concert is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the school.

• Riley Avenue’s concert is scheduled for Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• Aquebogue’s winter concert will take place Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. in the school.

• Pulaski Street’s winter concert is set for Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• Roanoke Avenue’s winter concert is scheduled for Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. in the school.

• The middle school’s eighth-grade winter concert will take place Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• The middle school’s seventh-grade winter concert is set for Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• The middle school’s choir, chamber orchestra and jazz band will perform at Martha Clara Vineyard on Dec. 21 at 11 a.m.

• The high school’s chamber choir is scheduled to perform at House of Praise on Hubbard Avenue in Riverhead on Dec. 11, at 6 p.m.; and the Jamesport Meeting House next Friday, Dec. 13, at 6 p.m. On Dec. 15, the chamber choir will also perform at Diliberto Winery at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church located on Northville Turnpike in Riverhead.

• The high school’s winter concert is set for Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at the school. Performances include full choir, and 10th-12th grade band and orchestra.

• The high school’s chamber orchestra is scheduled to perform at Long Island MacArthur Airport on Dec. 19 at 4:30 p.m.

• The high school’s ninth-grade band and orchestra is set to perform the second winter concert on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium.

• Riverhead Free Library is currently exhibiting student art work. Pieces from Pulaski Street will be on display this month; Roanoke Avenue next month; Aquebogue in January; and Phillips Avenue in February. Riley Avenue and high school students’ art work will be displayed in March.

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12/03/13 11:15am
FILE PHOTO | Whooping cough cases have been confirmed at Riverhead High School and Pulaski Street School.

FILE PHOTO | Whooping cough cases have been confirmed at Riverhead High School and Pulaski Street School.

An unidentified amount of whooping cough cases have been confirmed at both the Riverhead High School and Pulaski Street School, according to a voicemail message sent to parents by the district Monday night.

Assistant superintendent of personnel David Wicks said in the voicemail, “At the time the cases were confirmed, the individuals were no longer contagious.”

“We will be taking necessary precautions to ensure the health and well-being of the students and staff of these buildings,” he continued. “These precautions include, but are not limited to, sanitizing desks and other surfaces throughout the building. If your child develops a severe, uncontrolled cough, you should call your doctor immediately.”

No other details about the reported respiratory illnesses, technically called pertussis, were mentioned in the voicemail.

Mr. Wicks and Superintendent Nancy Carney did not immediately return an email request seeking further details.

The only whooping cough case posted on the district’s website as of 10:30 a.m. was of the district’s last reported case on Nov. 13, in which a case of whooping cough was confirmed at Riverhead High School.

Whooping cough, which health officials have described as “highly contagious,” is transported through the air by coughing and can be fatal for infants.

Early symptoms of whooping cough are a mild cough, a runny nose and a low fever, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the disease persists the traditional symptoms of a high pitched “whooping” cough, vomiting and exhaustion after coughing fits may appear. Coughing fits may persist for weeks, health officials said. The best way to prevent the disease is immunization, the CDC states on its website, though those vaccinated can still be infected as vaccination “wanes over the years.”

Adults and children, however, may develop pertussis even if they are up to date on their vaccination since immunization wanes over the years, according to the health department. If you suspect that your child has contracted whooping cough, it is urged you contact their physician and request your child is tested for the disease using a special nasal/throat swab.

Those suffering from whooping cough are asked to stay home until he or she has completed five days of antibiotic treatment, according to the county health department.

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10/02/13 12:47pm
FILE PHOTO |

FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School District’s Project Fit America program will be unveiled next week at Pulaski Street Elementary School.

The Riverhead School District will hold its Project Fit America opening day celebration Oct. 10 at Pulaski Street Elementary School.

Officials said Riverhead is the state’s first school district to launch the Project Fit America program, a nonprofit a national charity dedicated to promoting children’s fitness, health and wellness in schools.

The program will be implemented in each of the five elementary schools, officials said, and physical education teachers will learn the program’s lesson plans.

The district is also expected to receive exercise equipment under the plan.

In addition, the district is collaborating with Peconic Bay Medical Center and Suffolk County Lions Club Diabetes Education Foundation to create the new fitness initiative.

The event is scheduled to take place between 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

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06/15/13 4:52pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Fifth Grader Daniel Arias reads his essay at the Juneteenth Day picnic held in Ludlam Park in Riverside Saturday afternoon.

The theme of the annual essay writing contest for Pulaski Street School fifth graders is remembering our nation’s struggle with slavery and the reason why it took two and a half years for the slaves of Texas to learn of the Emancipation Proclamation to gain their freedom.

The Juneteenth Day celebration is named for the June 19 state holiday which commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas.

The event, now in its 11th year, is sponsored by the East End Voters Coalition and coordinated by retired school teacher Maryanne Harroun. The students, who study the Civil War as part of their American history curriculum, have to follow a particular writing format, with a certain number of words, and write the essay in the first person as a diary entry as if they were a slave. This year, 120 essays were submitted.

Ultimately, Juneteenth Day is a celebration of freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862 but some slaves in the Confederate states didn’t learn about it until June, 1865.

On June 19, 1865 a Union general announced that “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, that all slaves are free.” Ms. Harroun asked the students to describe in their essays their reaction to that news and what it means for them to grow up free.

The essay contest winners are Angelina Casado, 11, Daniel Arias, 10, and Nadia Rebentisch, 11. Ms. Casado ended her essay with this sentiment, “I smile and know I will now grow up free.” The three winners were given a certificate of appreciation and $50 by EEVC co-chairman Robert ‘Bubbie’ Brown and Larry Williams at a picnic held in Ludlam Park in Riverside Saturday afternoon.

The special guest speaker was Riverhead Charter School executive director Raymond Ankrum. In his remarks he said, “In 2013 we have made a lot of progress, but we still have more to do. We need to focus on  how important education is. This holiday is so powerful it deserves the attention of all.”

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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12/27/12 3:32pm

Riverhead Police received another report of a man trying to lure underage girls into a sedan outside a Riverhead school last Friday, Dec. 21.

The latest incident took place at about 3:13 p.m. outside the Pulaski Street elementary school, according to police.

That’s when an Hispanic man with his hair “spiked up in front” attempted to lure two juvenile females into his car, according to police.

Police said three female students were walking near Pulaski Street and Osborn Avenue and were yelled at by a man who stopped his car as the girls were crossing the street and said, “Hey mamas, come on in my car,” according to police.

The girls ran back to the school gym and the car headed south on Osborn Avenue, police said.

The suspect was driving a newer model silver Nissan sedan with tinted windows and had two other Hispanic men in the car with him, police said.

In addition, a third juvenile female who was in Carlo’s Pizza, not far from the school, reported being “watched closely” by a Hispanic male with haired spiked up in the front, police said.

It was unclear when that happened in relation to the other report.

On Dec. 5, a 17-year-old Riverhead High School student reported being repeatedly asked by an Hispanic man in a black sedan if she needed a ride to school. That incident also took place near Pulaski Street and Osborn Avenue, according to police.

The girl in the Dec. 5 incident repeatedly refused the offer, and flagged down a passing deputy sheriff after the car pulled into a nearby bagel shop, and explained what happened. The deputy sheriff then went looking for the suspect.

The suspect in the Dec. 5 case was described as a “clean cut man with a slight Spanish accent,” who was wearing pajama pants, according to the girl.

It was unclear if the two cases are connected.

No arrests have been reported in either case.

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10/13/12 12:00pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | PFC Garfield M. Langhorn’s mother Mary Langhorn (left) at the 8th annual Langhorn Essay Contest assembly with the winners (from left) Stephanie Hayes, Kadarus Gainey, Sarah Anne Fried and Ella Malanga at Pulaski Street Elementary School Friday morning.

The auditorium in Pulaski Street School was silent as sixth-grader Kadarus Gainey approached the podium on the stage Friday morning and began to read his essay about how a local war hero who gave his life to save others in Vietnam inspired him.

“He was probably afraid but he still did his part for his country,” Kadarus said. “Someday, if I have to do that, I hope I will have the courage to do the same thing he did.”

This year, 262 sixth-graders — nearly three quarters of the whole class — wrote essays for the eighth annual PFC Garfield M. Langhorn essay contest. It was the most entries in the contest’s history, school officials said.

“Every year its grown,” said Mary Anne Harroun, a retired Riverhead teacher who helped start the contest. “I’m just so touched that it’s become a part of the Riverhead landscape. Each year the teachers look forward to it, each year the students look forward to it.”

The contest was formed to honor Pfc. Langhorn, a local war hero who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after he jumped onto an enemy grenade to protect his fellow wounded soldiers in 1969.

Pfc. Langhorn, who attended Pulaski Street School when it was used as the town’s high school decades ago, has been honored with a library in the school and the town’s post office was named in his honor in 2010.

The contest asked students to describe how they are inspired by Pfc. Langhorn’s sacrifice. Principal David Densieski said the contest helps remind students of a part of their town’s heritage.

“I think especially in this day and age, it’s just so important that kids understand he was a hero here … amongst them,” he said.

Mary Langhorn, Pfc. Langhorn’s mother, attended the assembly and told each of the four winners that they did a “job well done.” She was given flowers and a copy of each of the winning essays as the crowd of teachers and students stood to applaud and cheer.

Ms. Harroud said the student’s essays show that the student’s have “heard the message” and have “walked a walk with Garfield.”

“Most kids my age don’t realize that the smallest things can make the biggest difference,” wrote Ella Malanga in her winning essay, “Donating your things to less fortunate, making money for causes, helping a neighbor clean up are all things I am a part of that don’t require a lot, other than a heart!”

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BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Mary Anne Harroun (left) and Mary Langhorn.