Jack Abrams School to Open as STEM Magnet School This September

Jack Abrams Intermediate School will reopen this September as a STEM Magnet School located on Lowndes Avenue in Huntington Station. The school was closed in the Summer of 2010 due to concerns about violence in the surrounding neighborhood.

Jack Abrams Intermediate School located on Lowndes Avenue in Huntington Station will reopen this September 2013 as a STEM Magnet School. The school, a 2-story structure that sits on 13 acres, was closed in the Summer of 2010 due to concerns about violence in the surrounding neighborhood.

In a 7-0 vote in favor, the Huntington School District #3 Board of Education tonight decided to move forward with the STEM Magnet School, villagetattler.com/2012/11/19/a-stem-magnet-school-being-considered-at-jack-abrams-school-building/, and will reopen Jack Abrams Intermediate this September 2013 for grades 3, 4, and 5, with a possible addition of grade 6 the following September 2014. Jack Abrams Intermediate School was closed in the summer of 2010, villagetattler.com/2010/07/19/boe-pulls-the-trigger-on-jack-abrams-kids-will-go-to-school-elsewhere-in-september/.

Tonight’s Board of Education meeting, the first of the 2013-2014 school year with returning trustee Bill Dwyer and new trustee Bari Fehrs, was held at Jack Abrams Intermediate School. On the agenda for discussion tonight were the STEM Magnet School Timeline and Testing Resolutions. Superindendent James Polansky discussed that the district did not know whether it would receive the federal grant money in time for the opening of the STEM Magnet school on September 4, and may not know until as late as September 30. But if the money comes through, noted Polansky, it most likely could not be held over until the following September 2014.

“We applied for other grants as well so we have many resources covered by these grants, including $40,000 in Bullet Aid, to be used for anything,” said Superintendent Polansky at tonight’s meeting. Polansky estimates that the district needs $241,000 just to open the school for this September. “Would I like to open with $12 million in hand? Absolutely,” noted Polansky. “But we can move ahead. Right now, the reward is greater than the risk of possibly not getting the grant.”

Board of Education member Xavier Palacios questioned if opening this September without the grant money would compromise the program to be implemented at Jack Abrams School. “And will it hurt any other programs?” asked Palacios. To which Polansky responded, “No, other programs will not be affected. We are not going to rob Peter to pay Paul. Coaches, staff, curricula are in place already. And we are not focusing all our energies on just this school.”

All board members were in favor of reopening Jack Abrams as a STEM Magnet school this September. “We take a leap of faith,” said Palacios. “This is our moment. I am all for it.”

Polansky added that letters were prepared and could go out as early as tomorrow, letting parents know about the  September opening of Jack Abrams and STEM Magnet school placements.

Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School will have a heightened focus on science, technology, engineering and math instruction and activities, as well as encompassing English, social studies and other areas of traditional education that are featured in the district’s elementary schools. Inquiry-based instructional strategies will be utilized.

As a magnet school, students will be able to participate in the STEM program regardless of their regular elementary attendance zone. The district has petitioned the State Education Department to open and operate the magnet school.

According to the district website, www.hufsd.edu, the district is looking into the possibility of creating partnerships with corporations, colleges and research labs and related organizations. Plans have been developed to renovate the school’s science laboratories to provide students with cutting edge facilities.

Another important item on the agenda of tonight’s Board of Education meeting was State Testing Resolutions. President Emily Rogan read the Testing Resolutions and all seven board members voted 7-0 in favor. “We must cut back on the over reliance on testing,” said Superintendent Polansky. “The connection to staff assessments is problematic to say the least. There’s more to education than testing and numbers. Standardized testing jeopardizes education and is adversely affecting some students.”

The board showed strong support in favor of the resolution against over reliance on state testing. Michele Kustera, PTA Co-President at Flower Hill for 2012-2013 school year, thanked the Board of Education for passing the Testing Resolutions. She was the only person to speak during the second public commentary. “Parents must stay engaged and continue to write letters,” stated Kustera in regard to State Testing issues. “There is strength in numbers. This is a great step forward for our district.”

 

 

 

ShotSpotter’s Shield of Secrecy: Where Are We $1.25 Million Later?

 

Shot spotter screen shot

Shot spotter screen shot

Promoted with great fanfare by former Suffolk County Legislator Jon Cooper (D – Lloyd Harbor) and touted by the Huntington Town Board as one of the answers to the area’s increasing gun violence, ShotSpotter™, a gunfire-listening device capable of pinpointing the location of firearm noise, appears to be less than the big bang it was hyped to be when the trigger was pulled by local pols in April 2012.

Village Tattler filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request on December 20, 2012, seeking basic information about the effectiveness of the ShotSpotter monitoring devices that were installed in Huntington and Huntington Station last year.  At a reported cost of more than $1,250,000 ShotSpotter was purchased to stem the area’s shootings and to take gun-toting criminals off the streets. However, based on the information released in the Suffolk County Police Department’s (SCPD) response to our FOIL, it appears that the devices have not met with much success.

We originally asked for a range of data points and details including

  • Date and time that an incident (alert) was recorded
  • Location of the ShotSpotter that recorded the information
  • Findings of the responding sector car. (i.e.; founded; unfounded; inconclusive)
  • Findings of the follow-up investigative team (i.e.; founded; unfounded; inconclusive)
  • Arrests made (if any) including name, DOB and residence of arrestee
  • Charges filed against the arrestee

In the SCPD’s initial response, FOIL Officer Janine Keleghan, related that the ShotSpotter system reported a total of one hundred thirty seven (137) “alerts” in the coverage area between April 1 and December 15, 2012.  In a letter dated March 8, 2013,  Keleghan, taking fully eighty-one (81) of the ninety (90) days allowed by law for FOIL responses, related only that “none were confirmed gunshot incidents.” Keleghan declined to provide answers to any of our other questions.

In our March 15 answer to Keleghan’s letter, the VT research team objected to the meager information that she provided and demanded a “complete” response to our original request.  She replied on March 21, claiming that the provisions of Public Officers Law 87 2(e) I (sic), ii, iii and iv (http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/excerpts/pbo87.htm ) constituted the basis for her denial. Keleghan further claimed that she had included a copy of “SCPD PDCS-5414-1a” with her March 8 answer as an explanation for the rejection. No such copy of SCPD PDCS-5414-1a could be found by the research team.

On April 5, 2013, VT  lodged a formal request with the FOIL Appeals Officer of the Suffolk County Attorney’s Office seeking a reversal of FOIL Officer Keleghan’s denial.  In an effort to certify the validity of our research, the request to the County Attorney included a copy of “Crime, Citizenship and Illegal Housing In Huntington Station,” (villagetattler.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Crime-Citzenship-Illegal-Housing-in-HS.pdf ) a 2005 analysis directed at uncovering some of the underlying causes of the increasing crime rate in and around Huntington Station.  The study provided a foundation for the assessment of the impact that unlawful apartments and absentee landlords have on the quality of life in the Town and was written by the same investigative team currently trying to examine the ShotSpotter data.

On May 10, 2013, FOIL Appeals Officer Christopher M. Gatto responded to VT’s request, upholding Keleghan’s original refusal to provide the stipulated material. Citing specific sections of Public Officer’s Law 87 2(e) iii and iv, FOIL Appeals Officer Gatto indicated that the information sought is “exempt from disclosure when it is compiled for law enforcement purposes (and) which, if disclosed, would . . .  identify a confidential source or disclose confidential information relating to a criminal investigation.”

In VT’s final attempt to secure the ShotSpotter incident information, our investigative team revised their request on May 30 and asked only for the date and time of each of the 137 incidents along with a listing of the intersections nearest to the reported alerts.  Again, the request was denied by Keleghan.

VT attorney, Matthew Touhy, one of Long Island’s most respected criminal lawyers, is preparing an Article 78 lawsuit seeking a Court order to compel the Suffolk County Police Department to comply with our request.

While the wheels of justice grind slowly forward, the bigger question asks WHY the Suffolk County Police Department continues to hide behind a shield of secrecy.  Police Departments in other sections of the country routinely publish the results of their ShotSpotter alerts on line and disclose information specific to the efficiency of the equipment.  Cities like Oakland, California (http://www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca1/groups/police/documents/webcontent/oak040914.pdf ),

and Minneapolis, MN (http://www.minneapolismn.gov/police/statistics/crime-statistics_codefor_shotsfired) commonly tell their taxpayers how the investments they make in public safety equipment are meeting their objectives.

Going beyond the defense that VT’s FOIL-ed data is privileged, the SCPD’s refusal to release the information about the efficiency of ShotSpotter suggests that there is something about the efficacy of the product or the effectiveness of the SCPD’s response that they’re unwilling to discuss.

The ShotSpotter website says that the equipment, a product of California-based SST Inc, has assisted law enforcement and government agencies around the globe in reducing gun violence by using gunfire alert and analysis solutions. The company says that their product detects gunfire incidents in real-time, delivering “critical data and actionable information, and enabling public safety and law enforcement agencies to respond quickly and efficiently to gunfire incidents.” SST’s promotional material says that ShotSpotter Flex enables “data-driven policing strategies that achieve tangible results such as high value arrests; witness interviews; crime gun seizures; critical evidence collection; and victim assistance.” And finally, the company’s website indicates that reported incidents are “forensically sound, producing court accepted data that has been critical in facilitating fair and efficient prosecution for gun crimes.”

By their own admission, the SCPD has information derived from 137 ShotSpotter alerts. The data is public record.  It is vital information if the Huntington School Board is to make a prudent and informed decision about the reopening of Jack Abrams Intermediate School as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) magnet school.

When the requested ShotSpotter information is disclosed, it can be analyzed and evaluated by any number of stakeholders. Community groups, the School Board, Town government, concerned residents and others might uncover a pattern that could prevent disaster.

If, as reported by Keleghan, all 137 alerts are exempt from disclosure then potentially, ShotSpotter is not delivering the service that the community, our elected representatives and Huntington Union Free School District #3 officials expect.

As cited earlier, ShotSpotter reportedly cost Suffolk County taxpayers $1.25 million for the three-year length of its contract.  If, after its first eight (8) months use, we cannot accurately define even one of its Huntington–area alerts as definite evidence of gunfire, then we have wasted an enormous amount of money and created myriad false expectations.

Providing the requested information will permit Huntington taxpayers, elected representatives, School officials, first responders, residents, civic leaders, real estate professionals and business owners to more clearly understand the environment in which we live.

Scrutiny will yield preparedness. Preparedness could prevent tragedy.

What do YOU think?

Busing, School Safety, and STEM School at Jack Abrams

Huntington School District 3 Board members kept busy during their public meeting this past Monday night, listening to presentations on school safety and security and the district’s mileage limits for the bus transportation of students.

District officials recently conducted a top-to-bottom review of security in every school building. The review utilized the services of a Suffolk Police officer. Superintendent James W. Polansky explained some of the review’s findings and what the district intends to do as it moves forward.

With the district’s bus contract expiring at the end of the school year, trustees have expressed interest in holding down future costs. An analysis of the district’s current transportation limits and how they are aligned with state law was provided during the meeting.

Trustees also discussed possible changes to the district’s previously adopted 2013/14 school year calendar. The calendar might need to be modified as a result of scheduling conflicts created by a recent decision announced by the State Education Department.

Mr. Polansky also provided an update on the STEM Magnet school initiative for Jack Abrams School, which has drawn interest from about 215 parents. The superintendent has been meeting with elementary grade level faculty members about the possibility of establishing a STEM school.

Finally, trustees wrapped up their discussions by considering what to do with the modular classroom complex at Woodhull Intermediate School. The district is in the final year of leasing the structure. It will have to decide whether to have the rooms removed from the grounds, continue leasing it for a period that can run up to 60 months or to buy the structure.

Trustees also took the following actions:

• Authorized school psychologist Nancy DeVito to be reimbursed for her district related travel between buildings.

• Appointed Thomas Massone as a long-term substitute science teacher at J. Taylor Finley Middle School, effective January 8 through approximately January 25.

• Appointed Peggy Gallagher as a long-term substitute librarian at Woodhull Intermediate School, effective October 23 through approximately February 11.

• Appointed John Patrick Murphy as a long-term substitute music teacher at Southdown and Washington Primary Schools, effective February 25 through approximately April 18.

• Appointed Robin Murphy as a business manager, effective February 4. She replaces Eugene O’Hara who retired.

• Appointed Karen Welsh O’Neill as a 12-month senior clerk typist in the J. Taylor Finley Middle School special education office, effective February 11.

• Approved a special education services contract with the Harborfields Central School District to provide for the education of a school age student residing in Harborfields and being educated in the Huntington School District.

• Approved a contract with Music Idol Entertainment of Baiting Hollow, New York.

• Approved extra-duty assignments for Camille Tedeschi (freshman class advisor), Erik Bruckbauer (freshman class advisor), Patricia Dillon (sophomore class advisor), Gina Colica (junior class advisor), Victoria Lombardi (junior class advisor), Lauren Desiderio (senior class advisor) and Donna Nugent (senior class advisor).

• Approved additional work for science teachers Dame Forbes and Edward Florea to conduct a chemical inventory at Huntington High School during the 2012/13 school year.

• Approved a consultant services contract with Education, Inc. of Plymouth, Massachusetts to provide tutoring services for hospitalized students at the rate of $49 per hour.

• Appointed Matthew Harris as a substitute stage manager for the 2012/13 school year.

• Approved senior accountant Eugene O’Hara to work up to 15 days assisting with the transition for the district’s new business manager.

• Authorized Francisco Pereira and Jerome Merkerson to serve as supervisors at athletic events. They will be paid $31.70 per hour when they work.

• Authorized teacher Robert Barca to provide high school Regents scoring services. He will be paid $48.97 per hour for up to seven hours of work.

• Approved Claudia Mingin and Christine Lofaro to serve as substitute teachers in the early morning reading program. They will be paid $48.97 per hour when they work. The program is funded through a special state legislative grant.

• Authorized Caroline Rivas to work as an aide in the K-2 Saturday Academy and approved teachers Angela Berner, Donna Marie O’Shaughnessy, Vivian Joseph, Claudia Gonzalez Butler, Karen Melara and Luz Marotta to hold K-2 Saturday Academy related parent meetings. Ms. Riva will be paid at the rate of $20 per hour for up to three hours per session. The teachers will be paid $48.97 per hour each for up to 16 hours of meetings. The program is funded through a Title III grant.

• Approved retired nurses Marlene McKenna and Connie DeGrassi to provide screenings during the district’s kindergarten registration sessions. They will be paid $35.11 per hour each for up to six days of work.

• Authorized the addition of Penny Brown, Jacqueline Germain, Peter Palacio and Cynthia Vitulli to the district’s substitute teacher aide list. They will be paid $9 per hour when their services are needed.

• Authorized the addition of Adrian Jarvis and Zonia Ortez to the district’s substitute food service worker list. They will be paid $9 per hour when their services are needed.

• Authorized the addition of John Patrick Murphy to the district’s substitute teacher list. He will be paid $90 per day when his services are needed.

• Approved a New York State geographic information systems cooperative data sharing agreement.

Source: Public Information Office

Huntington Station Hood Gets Sixteen Years

U.S. District Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein sentenced former Huntington Station resident Edwin Morejon, 22, and co-defendant Angel Cordero Jr., 29, of Deer Park to 16 years in prison after the pair pleaded guilty to charges of gang-related conspiracy to commit assaults with dangerous weapons; attempted assault with a dangerous weapon; and illegal possession of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence.

Law enforcement sources close to the case related that, under Cordero’s leadership in 2009 and early 2010, members of Huntington’s Latin Kings shot four people they believed were rival gang members.  The FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, with assistance from Suffolk County Police detectives, was able to collect enough evidence to convict the pair after a two-year investigation. Stemming from a March 25, 2010 coordinated law enforcement operation, the FBI Long Island Gang Task Force and Suffolk County Police Department Special Operations Team arrested eight suspected Latin King gang members in Huntington Station and Deer Park on various federal charges. All eight of the subjects were taken into custody without incident and appeared in the Eastern District of New York Federal Court later that day.

According to information released by US Attorney Loretta Lynch, Cordero “participated in multiple attempted shootings” in Huntington Station.  Among them was the September 1, 2009, shooting near Jack Abrams Intermediate School. The incident ultimately led to the school’s closing– a decision that caused considerable controversy within the Huntington School District #3 School Board, initiating discord among parents and civic groups.

Attorney Lynch commented that in his attempts “to own the streets of Huntington Station, Cordero turned those streets into a shooting gallery, unleashing gunfire throughout the community, including near a school.”

A STEM Magnet School Being Considered at Jack Abrams School Building

Huntington School District officials are continuing their investigation into creating a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) magnet school at Jack Abrams School. Since administrators and trustees discussed the idea earlier this month at a public meeting of the Huntington School Board, the community has been buzzing about the concept.

If the district decides to move forward with the initiative, it would eventually establish “a rigorous, engaging and inquiry-based program,” Superintendent James W. Polansky said. The school would most likely be populated with students on several primary/intermediate grade levels.

But, just what is a magnet school? It is a public school that exists within a district without the usual attendance zone boundaries. Students enrolled in any of the district’s elementary buildings who are in one of the grades that will be educated in the magnet school would be eligible to attend the new program.

Magnet schools were first created more than 40 years ago and have been popular educational choices in urban areas. They typically offer some sort of specialized instruction or academic program. Magnet schools offer open enrollment geographically, regardless of attendance zones.

The Huntington School District is looking into the academic program that might be offered at its STEM magnet school, how much it would cost to establish and operate and what grants are available to underwrite such an initiative.

Source: Public Information Office