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School Board: Parents advocate for combined teams; new business leader hired

JULIA BRENNAN PHOTO The school district’s new business leader, Idowu K. Ogundipe, was officially hired at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. Mr. Ogundipe, who begins work here on October 4, is an account for the Uniondale Public Schools.
JULIA BRENNAN PHOTO The school district’s new business leader, Idowu K. Ogundipe, was officially hired at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. Mr. Ogundipe, who begins work here on October 4, is an account for the Uniondale Public Schools.

Christine Finn had just been sworn in as the Island’s new superintendent at the Board of Education meeting Monday night when she accepted an award from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association naming Shelter Island as a “School of Distinction,” prompting her to joke “this is the only ahtletic award I will ever have.”

Not so fast, said Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio who then presented an “Award of Excellence” from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Board President Thomas Graffagnino noted that Mr. Gulluscio has been invited to make a presentation to a national athletics conference about the challenges of running sports programs in small schools, a topic a dozen or so parents in attendance had come to discuss.

First, the board tackled a hefty agenda that included making official the hiring of Idowu Ogundipe to a four-year probationary position as school business leader at $120,000 per year.

Mr. Ogundipe, who joins the district October 4, is an accountant for Uniondale Public Schools.

With the floor open for comments, parents advocated for reconsideration of the 2013/2014 cost-cutting decision to discontinue participation by Island students with off-Island students in combined teams.

Dave Gurney, who as a student here was a multi-sport athlete, recalled being on the 1989 Suffolk County Class C champion combined cross country team with students from Greenport and Southold. While the runners faced “a lot of bus and travel time,” Mr. Gurney said they learned dedication.

The love of sports that he developed “led me to giving back to different programs like the Shelter Island Little league and, right here, to our school baseball program through the Shetler Island Bucks.”

An informal survey Mr. Gurney conducted of former Island athletes found the school had combined teams with six schools in 11 sports and “brought home numerous banners and championships.

“But, most of all, in talking with my friends and coaches, the experience and the friendships that were the result of getting off the Island were important,” he said.

The school doesn’t have enough players for a varsity softball squad, leaving his daughter Lauren, a standout since 7th grade, to seek experience on a travel team.

“At an age of worrying whether our children are getting enough exercise and getting away from the phones and video games … I think we need to bring back combined sports,” he said.

Christine Gallagher, a former teacher here and past president of the Shelter Island Educational Foundation, PTSA and pre-school, said, “In addition to academics, a complete school experience needs to include sports.

“It was short-sighted to eliminate combined sports which has a long history of offering great opportunities to so many,” she said.

She and her husband, cross country Coach Bryan Gallagher, see the adverse impact the loss of combined teams has had on their daughters, Lindsey and Emma, and other students, she said.

Because the Island doesn’t offer spring track, Lindsey, a senior, “missed the opportunity of spring track in her critical junior year” when colleges assess an athlete’s running abilities.

While not all students pursue sports after graduation, combined teams offer benefits beyond enhanced competition, she said.

“Our students live in a very insular world and combined sports” provide “the chance for making new friends, forging new relationships and experiencing other communities.”

“We often question our decision to remain at Shelter Island,” she said. “We can’t help but think that there could have been better opportunity for them elsewhere.”

For his two young sons, Mr. Gurney said he faces hard choices about whether to look elsewhere for better opportunities.

Board members were sympathetic. Mr. Graffagnino said they’d give the matter serious thought but cautioned that limited community resources must be shared equitably, and fees and travel expenses to participate in combined teams can be prohibitive.

Mr. Gulluscio said neighboring schools sometimes aren’t interested in combining teams, but he’ll explore options with other athletic directors before a February 1 sports scheduling deadline.

Meantime, offers by parents to raise funds, or to drive kids to practices as a way to defray costs, while appreciated, would not likely not pass legal muster, board member Linda Eklund said.

In other business:
• Teachers Jessica Bosak and Keith Brace described upcoming music field trips to “The Nutcracker” and an opera
• Doreen Clark, Linsday Rando, and Maryellen Oslen were hired as full-time equivalent teacher aides for special education
• Christopher DiOrio, Kelci McIntosh, Elena Fedorova, Nicole Gorman and Thomas Hashagen were hired as substitute teachers
• Libby Liszanckie was hired as substitute teacher aide
• Mr. Gulluscio was appointed attendance officer, Laura Mayor as grade 9 advisor and ESL/ENL/ELL translator, Jeremy Stanzione, advisor for video game development/club programming, John Kaasik as play producer and director, and Sean Brennan and Peter Miedema as debate team co-coordinators.

The board approved: an annexed agreement with non-aligned personnel, all recommendations of the Commission on Special Education, and the 7th grade class field trip to Block Island for Setpember 29.

It adopted a conference travel expense policy and updated fourteen other policies.