The first board of education meeting of the new school year focused almost entirely on the debate over whether Salem Elementary School should be renamed, and if so, what it should be called.
The meeting led off with a 45-minute session of community comments dominated by members of local veterans' groups backing a bid to rename Salem "Douglas T. Jacobson Elementary School." Bart Cosolito and Jerry Sears, veterans and longtime Port residents, outlined the achievements of Douglas T. Jacobson and their long time bid to rename Salem. President Harry Truman awarded Pfc. Jacobson the
Congressional Medal of Honor on Feb. 26, 1945 for his heroic efforts on Iwo Jima. Jacobson was the first Medal of Honor winner in Nassau County, Port Washington's only recipient of the award, and one of only about 350 people to be so honored in World War II. A packet distributed at the beginning of the meeting contained the citation for the medal and several articles about the veterans' bid. Sears said that the group had approached the board first in February 2001 when they found out about the reopening of the Salem School. In 2002, the group submitted a petition with more than 1,000 signatures supporting the change. The group had submitted letters to the board several times and were later notified that their bid had been lost. Sears read aloud letters from local groups, including the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, the Polish Legion of American Veterans, the American Legion Post 509, and the United Veterans Organization, all supporting the bid.
Other veterans spoke, all echoing the call for Salem to be renamed in Jacobson's honor and following the central theme of providing a hero for kids to identify with, someone who they said personified such virtues as volunteerism, leadership, selflessness and strength. Among these speakers were Arthur George and Arthur Wade, officers in the American Legion Post 509; Nassau County Legislator Craig Johnson; Mike Kummer of the Marine Corps League; and William Eisen. However, there were opposing voices. Maria Carpinelli, local attorney Edward Pakel and Noreen Tannert all spoke in favor of naming the school after another Port person. They advocated renaming the school for Lillian Gallo Kane, a member of a citizens advisory committee who objected to the sale of the Salem property, and her advocates said, single-handedly saved the property for district use. Carpinelli maintained that she would prefer that the building remain as South Salem School, but that if the board was considering a name change, it shouldn't be to honor a war hero. In particular, she said that the name would advocate violence and that she was just "not sure that naming a school was the right way to go" in terms of honoring Port's veterans.
Cosolito spoke again, this time reading from the board's policy on naming facilities. Jacobson fit the criteria, he said. The criteria, which are subjective, aim to ensure that the person for whom a facility is named is appropriate to the building's usage.
During this speech, board member Roy Nelson rose and left the Schreiber auditorium. Cosolito stopped and said that he and Nelson had had some "altercations" before. He called for Nelson to sit out the eventual vote on the naming. Following Cosolito's comments, the board approved several action items, including a late request for transportation from a private school and personnel additions and moves.
On a 4-3 vote, the board tabled the appointment of D. Pagan Communications to serve as the public relations firm for the district. Board members said that there was no value lost by tabling the vote because the current contract does not expire for some time.
Then the board turned to the potential Salem renaming. Board member Robert Seiden led off the discussion, saying that as a student, he was "proud to be on the Rail Splitters football team at Abraham Lincoln High School."
He said that naming the elementary school was an appropriate honor for Jacobson.
Board member Mark Marcellus tentatively supported the idea but said "it would be hasty to [vote on the issue] tonight because we need a process of putting that out there and inviting community input." He proposed a superintendent's task force, noting that there was plenty of time before the official opening ceremony.
Board member David Strom concurred, adding that he felt conflicted because the district just suspended several high school students for violence, and he was hesitant that students might interpret renaming the school as the administration's condoning violence.
Board member Dean Nardone also felt that Jacobson legacy is not appropriate for elementary children, but that people could "talk to [him] about high school or middle school kids."
Board president Nancy Cowles was in full support of the bid, recalling her childhood memories of the war and telling about her father, who was also a decorated veteran from the war. She disagreed with the calls for a special task force, calling this matter a board decision.
Finally, the board discussed staffing. The director of guidance for the district, Ronni Smithline, asked the board for a reallocation of counseling hours in the elementary schools. Shifting half days into full days would increase the time that counselors spend with students instead of traveling from one school to another.