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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 14, 2007

Board reviews manuals for teacher training and school safety

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Teachers here get on-the-job training using "a reflective approach."

The term, which is explained in the professional development plan for 2007-08 currently being reviewed by the school board, is defined as "admitting problems, asking questions, exploring new perspectives, seeing alternatives and developing new understanding."

The inch-thick manual quotes Michael Fullan of the University of Toronto who wrote 15 years ago, "It is folly to act as if we know how to solve complex problems in short order. We must have an approach to reform that acknowledges that we don’t necessarily know all the answers, that is conducive to developing solutions as we go along."

Fullan’s tenets, as outlined in the Guilderland manual, include:

— "Change is learning — it is loaded with uncertainty;

— "A climate that encourages risk-taking is critical (if people don’t venture into uncertainty, changes will not occur);

— "Change is a journey, not a blueprint;

— "Problems are our friends; and

— "All large-scale change is implemented locally."

The Guilderland guide says, "As a district, we would like to go beyond a smorgasbord-like approach to professional development...We propose the use of cooperative learning as a lever to move professional development forward."

It calls cooperative learning "a powerful teaching model" and says it "promotes social development and teamwork as well as higher student achievement."

The plan includes charts, listing strategies and activities to meet different goals. Strategies for new teachers include summer training, a mentor program, training in violence prevention and awareness of sexual harassment; support on new curriculum, standards, and assessment; and brain-compatible teaching.

Other charts outline strategies for enabling teachers to use cooperative learning; to use technology as a tool for curriculum development; to meet the needs of diverse students in the classroom; to integrate state standards into the curriculum; to train staff and students at the high school on issues of sex discrimination; and to train administrators, faculty, and staff to recognize sexual harassment as well as all forms of bullying and hazing.

In presenting the updated plan to the school board last Tuesday, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress said, "Basically, it has not changed a whole lot."

The plan, which is required by the state, was initially approved by the board in 2000. It was first updated in June of 2002 and has been updated each June since. The board is slated to approve the plan at an upcoming meeting.

Project SAVE

Andress also presented the board with another updated plan for its review. The plan is required by the state’s Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act, known as Project SAVE, which became law in 2000.

The first page of Guilderland’s plan quotes Mahatma Gandhi: "If we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children."

The Guilderland plan says it "provides for the safety and security of all students and staff," stating, "It is an ongoing process that addresses long- and short-term safety measures to eliminate aggression and intolerant behaviors in school. Our basic goal is to create a positive and welcoming climate in which all member take pride.

"The climate is free of violence, drugs, intimidation, bullying, prejudice, fear and shaming. A healthy, positive school climate promotes the emotional well being and growth of every student and staff member. At the same time, our school provides fair and consistent rules, guidelines, and models for behavior."

The manual contains sections on a district-wide safety plan; building-level emergency response plans; a code of conduct; prevention and risk reduction; and staff training on violence-prevention education and on character education.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard from President Richard Weisz about the search for a new superintendent of schools; Gregory Aidala is retiring in the fall.

The board met in closed session for nearly two hours on May 29 to discuss the preliminary interviews conducted by the consultants from BOCES it has hired to help with the search and selection.

The field of more than 20 candidates has been winnowed to seven, Weisz said, and the board intends to meet with them to see if, in person, "They match their very qualified résumés."

He said, "We were very pleasantly surprised with the breadth of applications we received."

The board decided to eliminate candidates who did not have district-wide supervisory experience, such as school principals, but will consider candidates without doctorate degrees, said Weisz.

A committee, including community members, will be part of the interview process and the board plans to make an offer by August;

— Passed a bond resolution, authorizing the purchase of 11 new school buses and a maintenance truck. Voters had approved spending up to $835,000 for the vehicles;

— Passed a tax-anticipation note resolution, authorizing notes not to exceed $5 million in anticipation of the taxes to be levied.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders explained that the school’s fiscal year begins July 1 but tax revenue doesn’t come in until the fall so the money is needed to run the schools in the interim.

"Is $5 million going to be enough"" asked Weisz.

Sanders answered in the affirmative, explaining that the figure cannot be chosen arbitrarily;

— Accepted a monetary donation from Raymond and Laura McQuade;

— Approved bid awards for rubbish removal and rock salt as well as for baked goods and cafeteria supplies.

Linda Mossop, food service director, said the bid-on items meet the guidelines in the district’s new wellness policy;

— Heard from Aidala that he had received a letter from the State Education Department that Guilderland is being recognized as a "high-performing, gap-closing" school district.

He said that the district, Guilderland Elementary School, Guilderland High School, and Farnsworth Middle School, in "a fairly complicated" process, based on test scores, are being recognized for meeting performance indicators and adequate yearly progress.

He credited Andress, the staff, and students for "performing at a high level";

— Heard from Barbara Fraterrigo, who chairs the board’s policy committee, a request to re-approve the district’s policy on display of the American flag.

A high school student had written a letter to the Enterprise editor to object to the school’s flag being flown at half-staff to mourn the death of a student; he said it was not proper protocol.

The district’s policy states, "With the Superintendent’s approval, the flag may also be flown at half-staff to commemorate the death of an important local official, public servant, or contributor to the school community."

While the policy was based on the federal flag code, Fraterrigo said, "We found out in our research, New York State law allows the flag to be flown at half-staff."

"We had a policy in place and followed it and didn’t know it," said board member Colleen O’Connell.

The board voted to re-approve the policy.

Fraterrigo also said that the committee was discussing whether school-board candidates should be allowed to hand out campaign literature on school grounds. Fraterrigo was among the candidates who wanted to do so during the spring election but, on the advice of the school’s attorney, the superintendent forbade the long-standing practice.

"All agree it’s a board function; we can set the parameters," said Fraterrigo. The committee, however, has not yet agreed on what the parameters should be;

— Heard from Aidala that "non-intrusive" breath sensors were used at the school prom this year to check for alcohol consumption.

"It seemed to work very well," he said. "We had no complaints";

— Heard congratulations from Andress to the high-school teams that won Scholar-Athlete Awards for maintaining a team average of 90 percent or higher — boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, softball, boys’ tennis, and boys’ and girls’ track and field;

— Learned that Lynnwood and Altamont’s Math Olympiad team, coached by enrichment teacher Robin Michaels, won a National High Achievement Award, meaning it was in the 80th to 89th percentile nationally.

The team was also named to the Grade Five National Meritorious Achievement List, representing the top 20 percent nationally.

Fifth-grader Matthew Gu received the George Lenchner Medallion for a perfect score and also got a gold pin, indicating he was in the top 2 percent nationally.

Fifth-graders Matthew Cerutti and Justina Liu received silver pins, indicating their scores were in the 90th to 97th percentile nationally;

— Heard that Jill Dugan, a Spanish teacher at Farnsworth Middle School, received a fellowship from the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers to travel to the Cemanahuac Institute in Mexico, where she will study this summer;

— Learned that Lynnwood Elementary School received a $2,600 grant from Lowe’s to create a learning nature trail behind the school. Mike Schafer, physical education teacher, applied for the grant;

— Heard that Westmere Elementary School received a $1,000 grant from the Center for Arts in Education after a Westmere study group team — Micki Nevett, library media specialist; Liz Gingrich, second-grade teacher; and Beth Clement, first-grade teacher — attended an Arts in Education workshop at Hudson Valley Community College; and

— Learned that Guilderland High School juniors Denis Zunon, Valera Zacharenko, and Ethank Young won "Best Short Fiction" at the Reel Teens Film Festival for their short film, The Package, which they created in Guilderland’s Studio in Film Class. They won a trophy and $100 at the three-day festival in Hunter, N.Y. The festival received 485 entries, 42 from foreign countries; 73 finalists were screened.

Clenahan to represent Westmere

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — After nearly a decade of serving the town, Bryan M. Clenahan was appointed Monday night to represent Westmere in the Albany County Legislature.

Filling the unexpired term of Legislator Dennis Feeney, who moved into a new home off of Old State Road and out of District 30, Clenahan will seek the position permanently this fall in his first-ever public election.

In his run for the Democrat-dominated legislature, Clenahan has the endorsements of the Democratic, Independence, and Conservative parties, and says that, with his extensive experience of local issues, he is ready to work on those same issues on the county level.

"I’m very excited about it," Clenahan told The Enterprise. "I am looking forward to continuing my work on issues in the town on the county level."

Clenahan is ending his second session with the New York State Senate where he works as deputy counsel to the Democratic minority.

His responsibilities at the state capitol include reviewing and drafting legislation and proposals; researching and reviewing statutes, case law, position papers, and opinions; and advising senators and senate committees.

"I like it"It’s fun to be involved in all of these issues," said Clenahan. "With the new governor just in, there is a lot of stuff going on."

The workers’ compensation bill was one of the major issues he worked on during the 2007 session, Clenahan said.

Sending a résumé to the Albany County committee, Clenahan was nominated to fill in for Feeney’s term, and, in May, the Westmere Democratic committee voted to have him run for their district in the fall. Clenahan was the only nomination for the position.

Aside from working in the State Senate, Clenahan is a prosecutor for the town of Guilderland. He also chaired the zoning board of appeals for two years, served as a zoning board member for three years, and was the board’s counsel.

Clenahan started in town as an environmental advisory committee member.

With this background on Guilderland boards, Clenahan says he will be able to effectively legislate for his constituents.

"I will be working on the kinds of things that I have in past on the zoning and environmental advisory boards," Clenahan said. "These are the kinds of things that I’m familiar with and that people care about in Westmere — things like good neighborhood development, traffic issues, and safety."

Westmere was the site of the first heavy suburban development in Guilderland. The busy and commercially-saturated Route 20 runs through Westmere and Crossgates Mall is in its backyard. The New York State Thruway divides Westmere from neighboring McKownville.

"More work on these traffic and safety issues need to be addressed in the county legislature," said Clenahan.

All politics is local

Clenahan has been interested in law and politics for most of his life.

"I think I wanted to get into law since high school," Clenahan said. "I thought it was a good way to make a difference"and politics was just another natural step in that direction.

"I know there is cynicism about politics, but it’s still a great way to directly serve the community," said Clenahan.

After graduating from The Albany Academy in the spring of 1989, Clenahan went to Middlebury College in Vermont and majored in history and political science. He graduated cum laude in 1993 before going to Albany Law School where his graduated cum laude in 1996.

Clenahan was admitted into the New York State Bar in January of 1997.

Being in his 30s, Clenahan is one of the youngest members of the county’s legislature, but some of his colleagues are quick to point out that his résumé extends far beyond his years.

"He’s got a lot of experience on the town level and he lives in a growing area of town," said David Bosworth, co-chairman of the Albany County Democratic Party and chair of the Guilderland Democratic Committee.

"He’s been one of the young people who have been very active and enthusiastic in the community"People are very fond of him; he’s someone who can cultivate positive responses from people," Bosworth said. "He will bring a new face and new ideas to the legislature. A lot of other people don’t really have the experience he does."

Bosworth, who is also a Guilderland councilman, says that Clenahan reflects the area he is representing.

"Bryan is going to be an advocate for all people who live in growing and developing areas," he said. "He has been a very forceful advocate on issues like traffic safety. Here in town, we have a traffic safety committee"but we’d like to see something like this on the county level."

Bosworth said that Clenahan is "the perfect candidate" to help with such issues in the county legislature.

"I think Bryan became very tuned into these issues while he was working on the zoning board," Bosworth added.

County politics

Clenahan is very active in the county’s Democratic party as a committee member, and he has also volunteered for the Independence Party in the past.

"I think the county party is in a strong position for the fall elections," Clenahan told The Enterprise of Democrats. "People are very happy how its being run."

Praising the work of County Executive Michael Breslin, a Democrat, Clenahan also lauded Guilderland’s supervisor, Kenneth Runion, and the rest of the town’s all-Democratic board.

Recent tensions and disagreements in the county’s Democratic Party are over, said Clenahan, following last fall’s contested election between Bosworth and co-chair Frank Commisso.

The original election of Commisso was invalidated by a state Supreme Court judge following a lawsuit from Bosworth supporters. The contested election has been viewed by many as an ongoing suburban-urban power struggle within the party.

"I think since the co-chairmanship has been in place, the party has been run very well," said Clenahan. "Democrats are trying to make good government first, aside from these town and city disagreements."

Clenahan added, "A lot of these divisive issues have decreased in the last few months."

Growing up and living in Westmere, Clenahan said he is honored to now represent Westmere in the Albany County Legislature. Clenahan is unmarried, but described himself as being in a long-term relationship.

"I want to make it clear that, for anyone who has any questions or concerns, that I am here," Clenahan concluded. "The real goal is to be as available and accessible as possible. That’s what it’s really all about."

Gone country
Town calms fears on festival

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Countryfest is back on track for Altamont next month.

The event’s organizers are expecting to get a finalized traffic study from the engineering firm Clough Harbor and Associates today. The plans were created to alleviate village congestion and parking problems for the event, according to the WGNA marketing director, Salena Dutcher.

The required mass-gathering permit application is now moving forward in Town Hall.

At last week’s town board meeting, a group of Altamont residents lobbied against the event, which they said disrupted the village last year, attracting an estimated 30,000 people to the Altamont fairgrounds. The fair’s manager told The Enterprise such money-makers are vital to the fair’s survival.

Dutcher has said Countryfest is the largest one-day country music festival in the Northeast and described it as a "great family event."

Listening to a handful of village residents concerned about the festival returning to Altamont this July, Supervisor Kenneth Runion with Lieutenant Curtis Cox of the Guilderland Police held an informal meeting yesterday at Town Hall.

About 10 people attended, including members from the Altamont Fair’s board of directors, village residents, WGNA representatives, and the retired village police chief, George Pratt. The Village of Altamont Neighborhood Association president and founder, Norman Bauman, who had raised objections last week, was also present.

"Early on, WGNA contacted the town to coordinate issues," Cox told the small group. "We’ve taken the plans from last year and had to fine-tune them."

Cox said the new traffic plans will have "contingency options" and that emergency medical services will be putting up "a high profile program" with at least three full-time doctors on hand.

The lieutenant told residents that, after talking with Dutcher, the first draft of plans for the event "look good." The plans also include increasing the numbers of portable toilets from 50 to 250, increasing the number of shuttle buses, and adding off-site satellite parking, Dutcher said.

The traffic study completed today will be shared with the town supervisor and the state’s Department of Transportation, Dutcher said.

A town-wide fire coordinator will direct the various local fire departments and State Police, Albany County Sheriff’s Department, Guilderland Police, and Altamont Police, which will all work together during Countryfest, according to Cox.

Fire apparatus is also expected to be placed along the fair routes to ensure proximity and quick response times for any emergency, Cox told residents.

Solving problems

Residents’ concerns reported by The Enterprise last week were all addressed by Runion; Cox; Dutcher; and the fair’s manager, Marie McMillen.

Some of the concerns included traffic and safety issues, public drunkenness and public urination, alcohol, noise, garbage left behind, and people camping on the fairgrounds before and after the event.

Residents were reassured that the fairgrounds and WGNA are paying for any costs associated with Countryfest.

Runion said the problem last year wasn’t the volume of cars on the road, but how quickly they could be parked. Between 1,000 and 1,200 cars per hour came into the village last year, he said, but only between 300 and 400 cars per hour could be parked.

"The method of parking has changed this year"Last year, they filled up one lot then filled up another," Runion said. "This year, with multiple parking sites at once, it will change the formula to 1,000 cars per hour."

The town is expecting about 10,000 cars to come into the village next month for Countryfest, Runion said, with the peak traffic hours being between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m.

"It’s our ultimate goal that this year no car, if they follow the signs, will go through the village at all," Cox said at the meeting. "The idea is that we don’t want any cars going through the village."

"Once you’re in the fairgrounds, you’re in there for the duration. Once you leave, you can’t come back and you go home," Runion added.

Dutcher also said that last year’s problem with counterfeiting tickets, which also caused delays at Countryfest, will not reoccur because of a new ticketing system.

"Learning from our prior mistakes, things should move along much more smoothly," Runion said, but added, "Noise is something that is harder to control." Countryfest will be over by 7 p.m. and, with it, Runion said, the noise.

John Abbruzzese, a member of the fair’s board of directors, said "The Altamont Fair is a natural resource," and that its 140 acres of buildings and lots require a lot of capital to maintain.

Abbruzzese told residents that his board upholds community standards.

He cited turning down the University at Albany’s Parkfest because it was offensive and not "family friendly," even though its organizers offered the fair what he termed "an obscene amount of money."

Pratt agreed with Abbruzzese and said he supported the fairgrounds and therefore Countryfest.

"I came here because I read in the paper you were going to bring 200 people against it," Pratt said to Bauman at the meeting, referring to Bauman’s comments at last week’s town board meeting, reported in The Enterprise. "I don’t see them."

"The newspaper was in error," Bauman replied, denying a quote from the televised meeting. He went on later to critique The Enterprise story, headlined, "Villagers want to unplug Countryfest": "The word ‘unplugged’ was not our word"We have no intention of unplugging anything."

Abbruzzese quipped, "Why don’t you guys just wrestle and get it over with""

Fisher is home, village stays mum

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — The water is on again at Alice Fisher’s house, but she may soon be leaving.

A widow and a mother of six, Fisher was forced to leave her Gun Club Road house last December when the village shut off her water because of unpaid bills. She owed $6,732.

According to a recent letter from Altamont’s mayor, James Gaughan, to the county’s health department, Fisher has six months to complete repairs on the house, if she is to live there.

In a letter to the village this week, Fisher said, "It is my intention to put the property up for sale." It would cost thousands of dollars to do the repairs that are necessary on the house, the letter says.

George Pratt, Altamont’s former police chief who has been involved with helping Fisher, said that it might be better to level the house rather than fix it. He also said that he knew of someone who would be interested in buying the property, though he wouldn’t name the potential buyer.

According to the Guilderland assessor’s office, the 6319 Gun Club Road house is assessed at $228,000.

Local developer Jeff Thomas owns the neighboring property, on the corner of Gun Club Road and Route 146, but he said that he is not interested in buying Fisher’s parcel. He has, though, offered to help her out of her current situation. "We offered some services," he said, but added that she hasn’t yet accepted.

Thomas plans to build a mixed-use Victorian-inspired "gateway" to Altamont on his Route 146 property, he said.

Helderberg Safe Haven Inc., a not-for-profit organization helped negotiate the reinstatement of Fisher’s water. Safe Haven will house Fisher and her children in one of the apartments that it keeps, said Richard Umholtz, the organization’s president. He’d like to work out the family’s problems, he said, and help Fisher start again. Fisher’s husband, Robert Fisher, died in a tractor accident while working at Altamont Orchards in 1998.

She bought the Gun Club Road house later that year, and paid her water bill to the village until 2001, when she re-mortgaged her house and thought the water bill was included in the new mortgage payments that she made every month, she said. The Enterprise filed a Freedom of Information Law request on Wednesday to find out what date the village began recording unpaid bills, but it was not answered.

The village’s lawyer, Guy Roemer, did not know how long the bills were unpaid for, nor did Trustee William Aylward. Gaughan did not return repeated phone calls from The Enterprise and James Roemer, Guy Roemer’s brother who is handling the case for the village, said that he could not answer any questions without permission from Gaughan.

Similarly, The Enterprise could not find out from the village when it first contacted Fisher about the outstanding bills, but, according to her, she was first notified in a letter from the village in March of 2006.

By November of that year, the water flow to her house had been cut to a few hours a day and on Nov. 21, Gaughan and trustees Kerry Dineen, Harvey Vlahos, and Dean Whalen voted to accept a second mortgage on her house and a portion of her wages in exchange for returning full water service to her house. Aylward was not present at the meeting, according to the official minutes, and did not vote on the resolution.

After adopting the resolution, the village turned off the water completely. When asked about the decision-making process to turn off the water, Aylward said that he was not "privy" to the discussions about water flow to Fisher’s house. "Counsel was of the opinion that that would not work because of the other mortgages," he said of Guy Roemer’s advice to the village after he said he discovered on Nov. 30 there was more than one mortgage on the house.

"We would be getting a mortgage that basically has no value," Guy Roemer told The Enterprise last week.

The village of Voorheesville and the town of Guilderland, which both have municipal water systems, have policies similar to each other regarding unpaid water bills: If the bills are not paid after a certain amount of time, they will be re-levied onto the house’s property tax.

"We don’t shut anybody off," said William West, Guilderland’s superintendent of Water and Wastewater Management.

Altamont has the power to do the same within the village, but people on municipal water outside of the village, like Fisher, are not in a water district; the village would like to create one. The town of Guilderland has to create the district, Guy Roemer said, so he could not say how the project is progressing. Once there is a water district for users outside the village, he said, overdue water bills can be put on the property-owner’s town taxes.

Currently, people using Altamont’s municipal water outside of the village pay a minimum of $103 for up to 10,000 gallons of water per bill cycle, which happens twice a year.

Disregarding the Nov. 21 resolution "was based on the offered mortgage being a second mortgage and the village being provided with a title search showing it," Guy Roemer said this week. "That didn’t prove out and that’s all I’ve got to say about it."

Guy Roemer said that he did not recall discussing the issue with the village board, but, he said, "There was certainly discussion with the mayor."

When asked who made the decision to cut off the water, he answered, "It was an administrative decision."

When asked who the administrators were who made the decision, he answered, "My understanding is it was an administrative decision that probably should have occurred months sooner."

Oscar goes to the library to trespass freely and fearlessly

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — The red carpet was rolled out as reading got the royal treatment at Altamont Elementary School on Friday.

Teachers wore elegant full-length gowns and the principal presided over the affair wearing a tux.

"This is the real deal, boys and girls," said Principal Peter Brabant from the stage to a sea of upturned faces. Eager students, many of them in finery for the occasion, packed the gym floor.

Kids in kindergarten through fifth grade had voted by computer for their favorite books in different categories and the winners were about to be announced, Academy Awards-style.

"Are you ready"" asked Brabant.

"Yes!" came the loud, chorused reply.

First up was "Best Series" for the primary grades. Daniel Diamond and Melanie Teats walked the red carpet in style and mounted the steps to the podium where Diamond burst into a chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," much to the amusement of the kids.

He feigned surprise that the award wasn’t about the World Series which led Teats to comment, "The Yankees are always in it."

"Yankees! Yankees!" came scattered cheers from the crowd.

But the kids quickly quieted as the nominees for Best Series were read.

Brabant handed over a festive purple envelope. As the winner, Magic Tree House, was announced, huge cheers erupted from the crowd. A clay rainbow statue was presented and the applause continued.

Next up, was Best Series for fourth and fifth grades and Harry Potter was the winner.

The piano played as, pair by pair, teachers in the role of celebrities mounted the stage to announce each winner. The audience’s enthusiasm never flagged as the emcee kept the pace brisk and the patter lively, divulging little-known-tidbits about the celebs.

The cheers became deafening as Carol Preville and Annemarie Farrell walked the red carpet, bearing glittery signs that said, "Girls Rock" and "Girl Power." Several girls raised their fists in the air as a sign of solidarity and many roared their praise.

The duo announced the winner of "Best Female Character" — Junie B. Jones and the applause started all over again.

"Mrs. Farrell gave me a little prick with her girl-power thing," reported Brabant to the crowd as laughter rippled through the hall.

Later, after women bearing armfuls of stuffed animals had named the best animal characters — Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web and Shiloh from the book of the same name — Brabant opined, "It’s difficult, boys and girls, working with famous personalities."

After the "Best Friends" awards were made, during what Brabant termed "a commercial break," the kids sang about reading a book.

Then it was back to the awards as the Grinch, who stole Christmas, beat out even the Big Bad Wolf for the "Best Antagonist" award.

The "Best Pet Owner" award went to the man in the Yellow Hat from the Curious George books and to Marty Preston from Shiloh.

Kindergarten teacher Colleen Ciccarelli and art teacher Trisha Zigrosser gave out the "Best Illustrator" award for the primary grades. Zigrosser told the kids that book illustration originated in the 15th Century and Ciccarelli shared a rakish stick figure she’d drawn of Principal Brabant.

"I loved the art," gushed Brabant. "Remind me to talk about room assignment...next year." The winner was Eric Carle who illustrated The Grouchy Ladybug and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Diane McDonald and Suzanne Arduini, both in sophisticated black with strappy high heels, gave out the Best Illustrator award for fourth and fifth grades — to Chris VanAllsburg of Polar Express fame.

"Best Author" for the primary grades was announced to wild screams — it was the ever-popular Dr. Seuss. For the upper grades, it was Kate DiCamillo, author of Because of Winn Dixie.

The penultimate award, "Book of the Year," was presented by "two of the biggest readers in the building" — Michelle Rispole and Kathleen Goldberg. "The suspense is killing me," said Brabant. A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon was the winner.

"The accounting firm found a mistake," deadpanned Brabant.

Cries of "Uh-oh!" were heard throughout the crowd.

"Two other presenters had an equal number of hours — 4,365,982 — spent reading — yesterday," said Brabant, introducing Laurie Poelma and Susan Mulé.

They announced the Book of the Year for the upper grades is Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

Brabant took a deep bow as he accepted the award to waves of applause.

When the crowd quieted, he said in a serious and sincere tone, "Some of us...fly through it, some of us work very hard to read...Keep on reading."

Fourth-grade teacher Nancy Brumer, who organized the event, closed the show.

She described a meeting at the start of the school year. "All the people who care about you got together and asked, ‘How can we make this year extra special"’"

Autumn brought an assembly on the theme "Altamont Celebrates Reading," which ran throughout the year, culminating in Friday’s awards.

"We even read as an entire school this week — out on the field," said Brumer.

She closed with a thought from an author she told the grade-school students they would read in high school or college — Virginia Woolf.

"Literature is no one’s private ground; literature is common ground," quoted Brumer. "Let us trespass freely and fearlessly."

Haitian survival goes from school work to Pierce’s passion

By Rachel Dutil

GUILDERLAND – Amanda Pierce hopes to one day keep stats for her favorite baseball team – the New York Mets.

Amanda is a 16-year-old junior at Guilderland High School. Math is her favorite subject, she said. A recent English assignment, though, got her really thinking about how fortunate she is to be living in America.

Her English teacher, Aaron Sicotte, asked his students to write letters to persuade people to do something, Amanda said.

She wanted to ask people to do something important, she said. She thought about her aunt, Patricia Pierce, and the work she has done in Haiti, she said. Patricia Pierce, an occupational therapist, has done volunteer work with Fonkoze – the largest micro-finance institution offering assistance to the rural poor in Haiti – and has also worked on medical missions there through St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany.

"It started out as just a school project," Amanda Pierce said. But she realized that she "could actually do something to help someone," she added.

Amanda wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor, asking people to donate to the people of Haiti – the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. "I thought I could do something that would be good," she said.

"I wanted people to find out more information about it, and realize how fortunate they are," Amanda Pierce said. "Even donating a little bit, they can make a difference in people’s lives," she said.

"Land of hope"

Patricia Pierce has been to Haiti on five different trips, she told The Enterprise. The island is roughly 10,700 square miles and is located about 800 miles southeast of Miami. "Haiti is the land of hope," Patricia Pierce said. "There is so much potential there."

When Patricia first arrived in Haiti, she was stunned. "I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the poverty," she said, citing the high number of orphans, many of whom are malnourished and have no shoes.

"There are no opportunities there," she said sadly. "They don’t have a lot of industry."

The government – run by President Jean-Bertand Aristide – doesn’t do too much to help the people, either, Patricia said. "The government doesn’t seem very stable," she said.

There is no social welfare system, she said. "If you don’t work, you don’t eat." Haitians don’t have access to clean water; they don’t have a good source of electricity; and there isn’t much of a health-care system, she said. The average life expectancy for Haitians is about 50 years.

"It’s a pretty sad situation over there," Patricia Pierce said.

The people rely heavily on charity organizations like Fonkoze, she said. "They are sort of the backbone of Haitian survival."
Patricia Pierce is hoping to find a local church that would "twin" with a Haitian church to help provide support for the people there. She said that she also encourages people to travel to Haiti.

"It feels good to go over there," she said. Until you see it with your own eyes, it is easy to push it out of your mind, she said.

Patricia Pierce also traveled with her brother Ed, Amanda’s father, to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. There they met Tolrick, 12, and Zoreese, 7 – the two children that Ed Pierce, and his wife, Barb, sponsor. "The kids were so enthusiastic and appreciative," Patricia Pierce said.

Ed Pierce is also working on trying to get sponsorship for a book-mobile program similar to the one run through the Albany Public Library, he said. The main obstacle for Hiatians is the high rate of illiteracy, he said. "If you can’t read, you can’t learn," Ed Pierce said.

There’s a sort of simplicity that goes along with the poverty, he said. "There’s less of the rat race," he said, referring to the way Americans tend to work 60 or 70 hours a week to earn more money and buy material goods.

"There’s not a lot of college-educated folks in St. Vincent," Ed Pierce said. "What you see is a lot of people come here [to the United States] to get educated, and then it becomes too easy to stay."

"You don’t see that kind of poverty here," he added.

The best thing that people can do to help is to send money, Patricia Pierce said, adding that the Christian Children’s Fund is well organized. "Usually when you help people, you feel good" It’s a good balance," she said.

For Amanda Pierce, just knowing that she tried to help someone is rewarding, she said.

Free concerts at Tawasentha Park
Pedinotti tells stories through song, bluesy and blythe

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Summer nights at Tawasentha Park, starting today, hold the promise of musical entertainment and family fun. The Guilderland Performing Arts Center has invited acts both big and small to perform, including local songwriter Sarah Pedinotti, and the Russian American Kids Circus On Stage.

Sarah Pedinotti, phenom

Who is Sarah Pedinotti" Is she the woman with unruly and unusual hair seen brushing her teeth on the cover of her first album, or the radiantly beautiful young woman seen in the background of each page on sarahpedinotti.com"

Pedinotti, 23, said that she is both, and her stories encompass every person in between.

"I’m a singer-song-writer," she said. "I’m carrying on an old tradition of how we recorded history. Woody Guthrie told stories in the time of the dust bowl. Bob Dylan told stories of the ’60s." Pedinotti said that songwriters tell old stories, but in the language of their time.

Her own music has elements of rock, pop, and indie. At Tawasentha Park on June 21, Pedinotti will play her original songs with band members Tony Markellis on bass, Dave Payette on piano, and Chris Carey on drums. Markellis is a Grammy nominee known for his work with the Mamas and the Papas and Trey Anastasio of Phish.

Pedinotti has performed throughout the Capital Region at such venues as last year’s jazz festival at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and The Egg in Albany.

Her third album, City Bird, will be released July 20. Her first two albums were praised by Billboard Magazine.

Pedinotti’s songs tell the stories of our time, she said.

"Julio" is the sad story of a man she met at a train station on her way back from school in Boston. He told her his life story about being in a gang in New York City.

"I was so riveted. I felt this sort of empathy with his life," Pedinotti said. Soon after hearing his story, she awoke during a storm and wrote "Julio."

"I can’t take credit for it. It’s a type of song that really came through me, like lightning," she said. Songs like "Julio" have "messages that are older than I am," Pedinotti said.

Traditionally, she said, history was recorded in song. Pedinotti’s song, "A Day in the Life of an American Blues," is a satirical piece about consumerism in America, she said.

"It doesn’t sound fun, but living in the consumer world that we do"playing at clubs, people like it," she said. She delivers the song’s message by exploring a moral dilemma about buying underwear. For a family crowd, she said, she may not play that song.

Pedinotti will not be short of material. She has written over 100 songs, including "Meadowlark Meatloaf." She said this one is "my take on a love song" with a nod to the influence of Billie Holiday’s tragic love songs.

In the story, her lover wants to be rid of her, and he bakes a meadowlark into a meatloaf to give her the heave-ho, but the ploy does not work. "It’s a little weird," Pedinotti said with a laugh.

The song, though, has a more feminist angle than the Billie Holiday songs she grew up hearing.

"I love my man anyway, even if he’s a little bizarre," she said about the lyrics. "It’s a song about two twisted people."

At Tawasentha, Pedinotti will play songs from Bob Dillon, Bo Diddly, and "old songs from the bayou," as well as her own music. "People like to hear what they know," she said.

Pedinotti ought to know how to please an audience. She’s been performing at her parents’ Saratoga Springs bistro One Caroline Street with established artists since she was 12.

"I’m a song-writer in my soul," Pedinotti said. "If people want to sing your song, then you’ve succeeded."

While Pedinotti would be happy to sell her songs, her goals are more long-term.

"It doesn’t feel like separate songs to me," she said. "As you develop, it tells the story of your life. When I can deliver that to an audience, I feel like I’m doing the right thing. I’m a very story-driven songwriter."

Circus at the park

The Russian American Kids Circus On Stage will perform July 5. Based in New York City, the group of circus performers range in age from 6 to 16 years old. The circus played to crowds at the Millenium celebration at Disneyworld. The young performers have also been featured on Cyberchase and Reading Rainbow, shows for children on Public Broadcasting Stations.

The founder, Alex Berenchtein, was a circus performer with the Moscow Circus. He and his wife, Regina, and his mother-in-law, Olga Partigul, opened an academy in Brooklyn in 1994 to let children explore artistic self-expression and increase their self-esteem through performance skills. Some of those students became the Russian American Kids Circus On Stage, which has performed 1,500 shows all over the country and on television.

The performers do acrobatics, juggling, synchronized unicycling, aerial feats, and balancing acts.

Free to everyone

Claudia Gottesman, the publicity director for the Guilderland Performing Arts Center, said that the summer shows and parking are free to everyone, including those who are not town residents.

"It’s for everybody who wants to come," Gottesman said.

Gottesman said that the Joey Thomas Big Band is the final act of the summer, and the only returning group.

"It’s always a hit. That’s why we’re bringing them back," Gottesman said. "They’re the most popular big band act in the Capital Region."

The Joey Thomas Big Band plays music ranging from Benny Goodman to Tommy Dorsey, she said.

"That whole big-band era is a wonderful sound," she said.

Mecca Bodega, a percussion-driven group, kicks off the summer series today. The Guilderland Town Band will perform on June 28, July 19, and Aug. 9. On July 12, Work o’ the Weavers will perform.

On July 26, The Electric City Chorus will sing barbershop harmonies. The popular local band the Refrigerators will play on Aug. 2. The Nobby Reed Project, a powerhouse blues group, will perform Aug.26.


Tawasentha Park is located off of Route 146, just north of the intersection with Route 20. Concert-goers are encouraged to bring blankets or folding chairs to sit on.

Former UAlbany football players penalized for rape

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY COUNTY — Seven months after a gang-rape was reported on the University at Albany campus, two of the three accused men pleaded guilty to felony third-degree rape yesterday morning.

All three were freshmen from the South on the university’s football team. The rape victim was also a first-year student.

Lorenzo Ashbourne and Julius Harris, both 19, accepted a plea bargain agreement from the Albany County District Attorney’s office and will now face a maximum of six months in Albany County’s jail, 10-years of probation, and will have to register as sex offenders.

The two men pleaded before Judge Thomas Breslin in Albany County Court and will both be sentenced Aug. 8, according to District Attorney David Soares’s office.

The third man accused of the on-campus rape, Charles Guadagno, is still free on $50,000 bail in his home state of Texas, according to Soares’s spokeswoman, Heather Orth, who added that his charges are "still under investigation."

Orth said that the rape victim and her family were involved in the plea deal for Ashbourne and Harris and that everyone involved is satisfied with the sentences.

"It’s been worked on by all members involved, including the victim’s family," Orth said about the agreement. "The victim is the most important party in the plea and she and her family were satisfied."

Because of the plea agreement, the two men avoided a grand jury hearing and the victim does not have to testify in court.

The three men were expelled from their athletic programs and the university following the allegations and university officials condemned the incident as "unacceptable behavior."

Following the on-campus rape, the 17,000-student university announced the formation of the Task Force on Acquaintance Rape to target preventing rape by an acquaintance rather than a stranger.

Ashbourne and Harris were originally charged with felony first-degree rape, a charge which could carry a sentence of up to 25 years in state prison. Ashbourne and Harris were out on $50,000 bail prior to taking the plea-bargain agreement.

The charge of third-degree rape is defined as the defendant not giving consent or not being able to give consent to sexual contact, whether impaired by alcohol or drugs, or other circumstances, Orth said.

Harris surrendered himself to custody immediately following yesterday’s court hearing and Ashbourne turned himself in later in the day. They will be remanded to Albany County’s jail until their sentencing and will remain in jail for a maximum of six months.

Orth said it is unknown what level Ashbourne and Harris will have to register on the state’s three-tiered sex registry. Level 3 offenders are deemed the most likely to re-offend. Level 2 and Level 3 offenders are subjected to community notification; their whereabouts and history of their crimes are posted on-line on a state registry.

The two men will be evaluated and issued a level at their sentencing.

Ashbourne’s and Harris’s 10 years of probation will be handled by the New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, Orth said, adding that she is unsure of where the men will reside after they serve jail time.

Chief District Attorney Mark Harris handled the case and Orth told The Enterprise that Soares’s office is satisfied with guilty pleas and sentencing of Ashbourne and Harris.

The accused

The three football players were all attending the University at Albany on partial scholarships.

Ashbourne is a 5 foot, 9 inch, 165-pound former cornerback who graduated from Coral Springs High School in Coral Springs, Fla.

Harris is a 5 foot, 8 inch, 165-pound former flanker who graduated from Palm Beach Gardens High School in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Guadagno is a 6 foot, 2 inch, 210-pound former tailback who graduated from Gregory-Portland High School in Portland, Texas.

Guadagno’s high school coach, George Harris, said he was stunned when The Enterprise informed him of the rape charge in October. He has been coaching for 47 years, and is the head football coach at Gregory-Portland High School.

"Charles was a wonderful kid here," Coach Harris said at the time, "one of the most dedicated kids I’ve ever coached in my life."

Several students on the university campus described the men at the time as being "respectful to women" and "nice guys."

Calls from The Enterprise to the three men’s attorneys yesterday were not returned.

The assualt

Last October, the young woman who reported the assault said in a statement to University Police that she was raped repeatedly in the early hours of a Sunday morning at 103 Onondaga Hall, the room that Ashbourne and Harris shared. Two days later, Guadagno was arrested.

The statement graphically described a series of rapes as the woman went in and out of consciousness early that October morning.

The victim described the drinks she had that night – shots of vodka and beer. The arrest report for Harris and Ashbourne, filled out by University Police, states under a box on "condition of defendant" that they appeared normal. That category is checked rather than "impaired drugs," "impaired alcohol," "mentally disturbed," or "injury/ill."

The victim told police that she tried to leave Harris and Ashbourne’s room but that the two men grabbed her wrists and they both started kissing and groping her.

"I kept telling them to stop," she said in the statement.

She told police that, when she was raped by Harris and Ashbourne, she was partially conscious. She said in the statement that she woke up and that a third man was brought into the room. Police later identified Guadagno as that man.

The victim reported that Ashbourne then raped her again, according to her statement.

After the woman returned to her own dormitory room in the Indian Quad around 5:30 a.m., her suite-mates called a cab and took her to St. Peter’s Hospital, the statement said.

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