07/24/13 9:15am
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | SWR Superintendent Steven Cohen explains some of the changes the district is considering.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | SWR Superintendent Steven Cohen explains some of the changes the district is considering.

Briarcliff Elementary School as a kindergarten-only building. Online courses in the middle and high schools. Sorting students through the district’s elementary schools by grade, not location.

It may be the early planning stages, but these were some of the ideas the Shoreham-Wading River school board floated to the public at an open forum held at the board’s meeting Tuesday night.

The mid-summer discussion was designed to get parents and community members talking about ways to “preserve district programs” while also cutting back on costs and keeping the district under the state’s tax levy cap.

The plans, if approved by the board, would not be implemented until at least the 2015-16 school year.

Board members cautioned that districts across Long Island were at a “tipping point” and were having to make decisions about where to cut spending.

Because the district has roughly $9 million remaining in reserve funds and another $9 million due from prior un-awarded state aid, school officials said the district has another two or three years left before those funds run out and the district must begin cutting programs.

School board trustees said they hope to have a plan in place by then that would limit the damage.

“Any change requires sacrifice from the community,” said school board vice president John Zukowski “The community has to decide what it’s willing to sacrifice to keep our programs and whether or not it’s worth it.”

One of the proposals discussed at the forum was the “Princeton Plan,” a system that would divide students up between the district’s elementary schools by grade. All kindergarteners would attend Briarcliff, while all grades 1-3 would attend Miller Avenue school with all of grades 4 and 5 in Wading River Elementary.

Superintendent Steven Cohen said the plan would keep average class sizes the same, but would allow the district to eliminate clerical and teaching positions that would be deemed as excess after the switch.

However, some district parents at the meeting said they were wary of such a plan because of increased times on bus schedules and asked for the board to consider other options.

Mr. Cohen said the district had not yet determined how much would be saved under such a plan, adding that the idea was “not set in stone, or even ink.”

The superintendent also raised the idea of collaborating with local school districts to use online learning to save electives that might have otherwise been dropped due to lack of enrollment.

District officials said even if online courses were approved, teachers would be used in the classroom to re-enforce the material.

Discussions about the district’s plans, as well as a potential school bond to pay for repairs at the district’s buildings, will continue into the fall, school officials said.

“We have to keep in mind the melancholy reality that the changes are going to happen,” Mr. Cohen said. “Our choice is for us to be in control of that process or for us to be passive and be forced to do something that we’re not going to like.”


06/23/13 5:35pm
06/23/2013 5:35 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | A pair of friends was rescued off Hulse Landing Beach in Wading River Sunday afternoon.

The Wading River Fire Department’s water rescue team rescued two people almost a mile off Hulse Landing beach in the Long Island Sound Sunday afternoon.

A woman sailboarder who entered the water in Shoreham was beginning to struggle on the sailboard, and her male friend swam out to help her.

The man, who declined to give his name to a reporter, as did the woman, said he was swimming for about 45 minutes before he finally reached her and told her to hang onto the board while he pulled her to shore. He said he used to be a lifeguard and is a strong swimmer.

Police at the scene said the sailboard was about three quarters of a mile out to sea in the Long Island Sound. A Riverhead Town police officer on a four-wheel drive beach vehicle was alerted by people on the beach, who said the couple appeared to be struggling.

The Wading River Fire Department got the call at about 4 p.m. and initially called for mutual aid from the Riverhead and Rocky Point fire department’s water rescue teams, as well, but they canceled the request after they quickly located the pair in the water. A Suffolk County Police rescue boat also responded.

The pair was safely brought to shore by the Wading River Fire Department boat and both were uninjured and did not need medical attention.  The woman told police she had been in the water since 11 a.m.

The man told a reporter the rescue team “did a great job.”


05/28/13 7:15am

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River students, from left, Amy Sopko, Michaella Aliperti, and Olivia Treiling discuss a letter from Martin Luther King Jr.

More than 30 Shoreham-Wading River High School students took over an after-school classroom discussion earlier this month. As English teacher John Mitchell looked on, listening closely, the teenagers took turns debating among themselves the meaning of a letter Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a Birmingham, Ala., jail. But it wasn’t an act of mutiny or disobedience on their part.

Earlier, Mr. Mitchell had written a list of concepts on an easel: morality, law, power, liberty, religion, dignity, justice, politics, suffrage, democracy, equality, responsibility, society and civil disobedience. The only direction he gave his group was to read Dr. King’s letter, identify which of the concepts listed were addressed in the text, and where, and decide their order of importance.

No need for the students to raise their hands before speaking; the teacher gave them permission to take turns stating their opinions among themselves. Most spoke to each other directly, instead of addressing Mr. Mitchell.

“I think that morality is number one,” 10th-grader Michaella Aliperti said to her peers as a dozen educators and administrators eavesdropped from the room’s outskirts. “Law is important. You can get into a lot of trouble when you don’t obey it, but when it’s morally wrong you have to take a stand in order to get rid of it.”

Fellow student William Adote disagreed about which concept should be ranked first.

“I feel dignity is very important to this piece,” he said. “If Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t think that Negroes had dignity, I don’t believe he would have been as encouraged to fight and take action.”

Mr. Mitchell’s May 8 discussion was intended to demonstrate a “Socratic seminar” for fellow educators, so that they can incorporate the teaching technique in their own classrooms. The Socratic style differs from a typical lecture because it involves creating an open forum for students to share ideas and discuss opinions with very little input from the teacher. “I try not to say anything,” Mr. Mitchell said in an interview after the seminar. “I usually explain to them why I don’t talk. It’s their forum. We also encourage them to address one another. When they first start doing Socratic seminars, they always look straight at the teacher.”

Although students direct the discussion in these seminars, Mr. Mitchell said his role is to encourage shy students to express their opinions.

During the recent seminar, for example, he noticed that junior Francesca Varuolo wanted to say something during the debate about dignity, but she held back.

After some coaxing from Mr. Mitchell, she finally said, “If you just go along with what society thinks, then you don’t really have a sense of dignity.”

“I like where you’re going,” the teacher replied.

Mr. Mitchell explained later that he’d invited Francesca into the discussion because he picked up on her body language.

“She was leaning forward and pointing to something in the text,” he said. “You can tell she wanted to speak. I invited her in and then other students invited others in. That’s the best, when students invite each other in.”

In addition to working with the new teaching model, Mr. Mitchell said he collaborates regularly with other high school teachers to share ideas as part of their professional development.

School officials have said they believe efforts of this type will help teachers receive top ratings in the state-mandated annual professional performance review plan, or APPR. The teacher evaluation requirement originated in 2010 after New York State received a grant of nearly $700 million under the federal Race to the Top program. The state now requires school districts to implement their own APPR programs in order to qualify for a portion of that grant money.

The state later approved legislation requiring school districts to replace their two-tier teacher evaluation system — satisfactory or unsatisfactory — with a four-tier rating structure that identifies each teach as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. A mathematical formula combines observations from the principal with student assessments to determine a teacher’s score.

Mr. Mitchell said that because Socratic seminars give students the opportunity to direct the learning process, this type of approach will help teachers achieve a “highly effective” ranking in the state’s eyes.

Students are tested on the seminar material by writing “reflection papers” in which they discuss the seminar process and what they thought some of the students’ key points were. They’re also asked to address a specific argument someone made and explain whether they agree or disagree with it, Mr. Mitchell said.

What he enjoys most about the seminars is that they encourage students to work through the material themselves, rather than simply being told answers and repeating them back.

“The kids are thinking in their heads, ‘Which one was [the correct answer]?’” Mr. Mitchell said after the seminar. “They’re still debating it right now as they walk away.”


05/15/13 8:00am
05/15/2013 8:00 AM


The new owners of famous inventor Nikola Tesla’s Long Island laboratory opened its gates Monday afternoon to share the history of the site and let outsiders on the property for the first time in years.

The Wardenclyffe property off Route 25A in Shoreham was sold last Thursday for $850,000 to the nonprofit Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, who hope to turn the property into a museum and science center to honor Mr. Tesla’s legacy.

The purchase was paid for by a state reimbursement grant and almost $1.4 million in online contributions from more than 33,000 contributors from 108 countries.

Mr. Tesla, a rival of Thomas Edison and a pioneer in the use of alternating current, conducted experiments at the Wardenclyffe laboratory, built in 1901, in hopes of providing free, wireless electricity to the world.

The tower designed to provide the electrical energy was torn down in 1917 and, after Mr. Tesla’s death, the property was later leased to a photography company, which dumped waste on the land.

Today the property shows the age and neglect. Graffiti marks up the walls and there are signs of squatters who lived in the vacant buildings.

Nonprofit officials said they have obtained permission to see the original blueprints for Mr. Tesla’s lab, and plan to use the designs to restore the property. The project is expected to cost $10 million in total.


05/08/13 4:30pm
05/08/2013 4:30 PM
COURTSEY PHOTO | The Wardenclyffe laboratory in Shoreham was built in 1901 by renowned architect Stanford White.

COURTSEY PHOTO | The Wardenclyffe laboratory in Shoreham was built in 1901 by renowned architect Stanford White.

Seven months after an online fundraiser raised $1.4 million to save the last remaining laboratory of famed inventor Nikola Tesla, the nonprofit group that organized the drive has purchased the property to build a museum and science center.

The sale of the Wardenclyffe property, off Route 25A in Shoreham, marks the end of a nearly 20-year effort by the group, Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, to prevent the property from falling into the hands of owners who would demolish the lab.

“I think we can all say despite the ups and downs it was well worth it because here we are,” said group president Jane Alcorn. “Almost 100 years ago, Tesla lost this property to foreclosure. We have just reached the point where we can say we’ve purchased it in his name.”

Last year, more than 33,000 contributors from 108 countries contributed to the fund, called “Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum.” The online fundraiser was featured by the creator of the popular webcomic The Oatmeal, Matthew Inman, who encouraged his fans to donate.

Mr. Tesla, a rival of Thomas Edison and a pioneer in the use of alternating current, conducted experiments at the Wardenclyffe laboratory, built in 1901, in hopes of providing free, wireless electricity to the world.

The tower designed to provide the electrical energy was torn down in 1917 and, after Mr. Tesla’s death, the property was later leased to a photography company, which dumped waste on the land. Wardenclyffe was later purchased by an imaging company, which sold the 16-acre property for $850,000 last Thursday, Ms. Alcorn said.

A reimbursement grant from New York State will cover the full cost of the purchase, allowing the remaining funds to go toward clearing the property and beginning construction of the science center and museum, Ms. Alcorn said.

The group announced the purchase at a press conference at the New Yorker Hotel last Thursday, as the audience gave a standing ovation and cheered.

Among the biggest contributors to the cause was Joseph Sikorski, a local filmmaker who plans to produce a film about Tesla’s work called “Fragments from Olympus.”

Mr. Sikorski and his film crew donated $33,333, all the production’s seed money, during the online fundraiser. He is now working on a documentary about the efforts to save Wardenclyffe, called “Tower to the People.”

Mr. Sikorski thanked those gathered at the press conference for their support, praised Mr. Inman for making the comic that raised awareness of fundraiser and jokingly kissed the larger-than-life cardboard cutout of Mr. Tesla on the shoulder.

“It’s a very happy day today, but it’s very important to understand it’s just a beginning,” he said. “Wardenclyffe really needs a lot of restoration, a lot of TLC.”

Over the next few months, the group will clean up the site and preserve Tesla’s existing lab, Ms. Alcorn said, adding that they will need the continued support of Tesla admirers to build the science center.

The group has allowed the Suffolk County Police K-9 unit to train their dogs on the property, which Ms. Alcorn said gives the site much-need security. The group plans to determine which structures, in addition, to the lab can be rehabilitated and which must be torn down.

After the site is cleared, the nonprofit will organize volunteers to help rake the property and mulch flower beds.

Ms. Alcorn expects the full project will cost about $10 million, and she is hopeful that businesses will step forward to donate.

“We have an enormous task ahead of us,” she said.


03/26/13 2:00pm
03/26/2013 2:00 PM
TIMES/REVIEW FILE PHOTO | North Shore Public Library's budget vote is Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO | North Shore Public Library’s budget vote is next Tuesday.

The North Shore Public Library in Shoreham will ask voters next Tuesday to approve its proposed $3.68 million spending plan carrying a 1.9 percent increase to the tax levy.

Library director Laura Hawrey said by prioritizing projects and applying reserves such as fund balance, the budget fit under the state mandated 2 percent cap. The tax levy — the amount of cash the library collects from taxpayers — is expected to increase to $3.46 million.

“We spent a lot of time going over the budget and we’re very proud we’ve had minimal spending increases,” she said.

Ms. Hawrey said the tax hike is the result of the library increasing programs, online resources and its E-books service. The changes are needed in order to meet the demands of residents, she said.

During the 2011-12 fiscal year, the library raised the tax levy for the first time in four years. If approved next week, Ms. Hawrey said the proposed budget will cost approximately $7 per year more than last year for the average household.

Registered voters in the Shoreham-Wading River and Rocky Point school districts can vote in the North Shore Public Library budget vote from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Scroll down to read the North Shore Public Library’s budget proposal.

North Shore Public Library 2013-14 budget proposal

02/11/13 5:00pm

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | This weekend’s snowfall and the dangerous road conditions that followed forced Riverhead and Shoreham-Wading River schools to close Monday.

Children across Riverhead Town had a ball in the white stuff earlier this week, but they’ll pay later to make up for those snow days.

Both Riverhead and Shoreham-Wading River school districts are already out of snow days due to multiple school closures during Hurricane Sandy and the storm’s aftermath.

And school officials are now finding themselves reducing vacation days.

To make up for Monday’s snow day, officials said the Riverhead School District will be open March 25, which was part of a five-day spring break. The Riverhead school board designated two other spring break vacation days, March 27 and March 28, as regular school days if the district requires any additional snow days.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated the region in late October, school districts across Long Island revised their calendars after closing for several days. This was done to comply with the state’s mandate of requiring districts to offer a minimum of 180 school days.

The Riverhead school board revised its calendar, requiring students to make up Sandy-lost days on Nov. 6 and May 28, both superintendent’s conference days.

The Shoreham-Wading River School District, which lost five school days due to Sandy, has already declared mid-winter vacation days, Feb. 21, Feb. 22 and one spring break vacation day, April 1, as regular school days. Since the district was closed on Monday and Tuesday due to the blizzard, it will now also be opened for classes Feb. 19 and Feb. 20.

The diminished five-day mid-winter break leaves students with only one day off on Feb. 18, Presidents’ Day.

If the Shoreham-Wading River School District needs to declare any additional school days, the school board has designated, in this order, March 27 and March 25 as days that would become regular school days.

When asked why the district required an additional snow day this week, Superintendent Steven Cohen said, “Buses simply can’t negotiate the streets safely.”

Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney also said Riverhead schools were closed because of unsafe driving conditions.

Ms. Carney also confirmed the boiler at Riley Avenue Elementary School broke down sometime during the blizzard and has since been fixed.

None of five school districts in Southold Town closed this week due to the storm, but each had a two-hour delayed opening Monday.

The delayed openings do not affect any vacation days.


02/07/13 5:00pm
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Superintendent Steven Cohen presents the budget forecast for next school year at Tuesday's school board meeting.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Superintendent Steven Cohen presents the budget forecast for next school year at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

By making one-time cuts and reducing professional services in their 2013-14 school budget, the Shoreham-Wading River school district will be able to stay within the state tax levy cap without having to cut school programs, according to a preliminary school budget.

But district officials warned that eventually there will be no more areas left to cut and administrators may have to make the “hard decisions” as early as next year about which school programs will go.

“The 2 percent tax levy cap is forcing districts all over New York State to think about what the important elements of their program are,” said superintendent Steve Cohen during a presentation at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

The nearly $66 million 2013-14 school year budget forecasted in Mr. Cohen’s presentation is a roughly 5.3 percent increase from this year’s budget. The tax levy — the total amount of money collected from residents — will rise 1.9 percent, keeping it within the state’s limit.

But Mr. Cohen said that the budget is higher mostly because of hikes in the state-regulated pension contribution rates.

The district’s contribution to the teacher retirement system jumped 38 percent from last year, while employee retirement contributions rose about 13 percent from 2012-13, according to the presentation. Health insurance costs are also expected to rise by at least 15 percent, Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Cohen said the district administration’s budget forecast would preserve district programs by making decisions to reduce $1,650,000 in costs that don’t affect student’s education in the budget.

One example was removing the overlap in federal grant money, Mr. Cohen said. In previous years, the district has budgeted in money that the federal government had promised them in grant funding in case the grant money is not delivered.

Now the district will not budget in the overlap in funding, which reduces flexibility in the budget if the grant funds are less than projected, he said. Once those one-time cuts are made, the next budget would be set at that new lower baseline.

Some programs will be improved in the new budget. Athletic teams will no longer use the district’s mini-buses to get to athletic events; the district will sign a contract with an outside company to hire newer buses with better safety measures to transport the teams, officials said.

Board member John Zukowski said the board must make sure they are getting all the necessary taxes from new construction projects like the proposed J-Power natural gas power plant in Shoreham.

But even if the district is getting the right amount of taxes, the board will still have to choose whether to cut programs or pierce the tax cap within the next few years, board president Bill McGrath said.

“Eventually we’ll either run out of money or the philosophy will be if we want to maintain this educational program that works to the benefit of our kids, then we’re actually going to have to start having a discussion about how do we go about piercing the cap,” Mr. McGrath said.

And the longer the district waits to pierce the cap, the higher the tax levy will jump and the harder it will be to pass a budget, officials said. If programs aren’t cut, the tax levy could rise to about 10 percent or higher as expenses increase and the district’s fund balance and state aid dry up in the coming years.

“We’re building the hill before the cliff,” Mr. McGrath said.