Cornerstone introduces lending library as part of Newburgh school district literacy initiative

In October a room full of educators, local officials and representatives from community organizations gathered at SUNY Orange’s Kaplan Hall for the launch of “Newburgh Basics,” a school district literacy initiative targeting parents of kids up to 3 years old.

The idea: recruit community organizations to distribute to parents and guardians resources – such as books and literacy-focused games – they can use to help their children build the basic cognitive, math and reading skills behind long-term academic success.

One of those community organizations, Cornerstone Family Healthcare, unveiled on Thursday one of its contributions to the initiative: a second-floor lending library stocked with books collected by schoolchildren.

“Every baby is born with potential,” said Dr. Avi Silber, Cornerstone’s chief medical officer. “There are simple things that everyone can do to help those babies reach their potential and those things don’t take money or even too much effort on our part – or the part of parents.”

Students from New Windsor School collected or donated the books under a service learning project undertaken by the school’s Leadership Club. Students from Newburgh Free Academy’s Construction Academy designed, built and painted the library’s bookcases.

A website,, includes videos covering topics such as creating healthy and nurturing environments for children and engaging them intellectually.

“Parenting can be hard and it can be lonely work,” said Alicia Pointer, a Cornerstone doctor. “Partnering with organizations like the school district is a great way to show parents that there are a lot of community groups that are able and excited to help parents nurture and teach their children.”

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Race dominates Newburgh school board forum

Five candidates for three Newburgh school board seats broadly agreed with the goals of boosting black and Latino student achievement, reducing suspensions and diversifying the district’s teaching staff during a forum Thursday evening.

Two incumbents – board President Carole Mineo and Darren Stridiron – will compete Tuesday for new three-year terms against one-time board member Mark Levinstein, former teacher William Walker and Sylvia Santiago, who unsuccessfully ran for a board seat last year.

Mineo and Stridiron cited the district’s rising graduation rates for black and Latino students, the opening of a third high school campus to reduce dropouts and the approval of an in-school suspension program that is scheduled to start next week.

Newburgh has also received $150,000 from the state’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which funds programs created to help minority males.

“The last three years, we’ve made big progress,” Stridiron said.

The Newburgh-Highland Falls NAACP, Latinos Unidos and Community Voices Heard were among a quintet of community organizations sponsoring the forum at Calvary Presbyterian Church in the City of Newburgh.

Sponsors also included Black Lives Matter, the Civic Engagement Table, N.U. Voters Movement and the Restorative Center.

One of their concerns – the lack of black of Latino teachers in a district where those students account for roughly 75 percent of the enrollment – is being partly addressed by a grant Mount Saint Mary College received to help recruit minority teachers, Mineo said.

“And then it’s incumbent upon us to keep these teachers here,” she said.

Levinstein, who lost a bid to regain a board seat in 2016 after finishing fifth in a race for four spots, named among his priorities improving graduation rates and ensuring graduates are ready to successfully move on to a career or college.

Santiago also ran unsuccessfully last year, finishing sixth. She is a member of the school district’s Education Advisory Team and the recently formed Equity Team, which was set up to examine how the district allocates resources for minority, poor and disabled students.

Walker, a former English language arts teacher whose 41-year career included 30 with the Newburgh school district, said teachers were integral to addressing many of the problems reflected in the questions, including high suspension rates for black and Latino students.

“Maybe, out of 41 years, I threw out 10 kids,” he said. “We have to understand that some of our kids are victimized.”

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Professor from Norway tours Newburgh Armory education programs

Professor Jette Steenson from Arctic University in Norway, left, and Michael Rosenberg, dean of SUNY New Paltz's school of education and a Newburgh Armory board member.

Restoring the gymnasium was at the forefront as philanthropist Bill Kaplan and other Newburgh leaders began the work of resurrecting the city’s abandoned armory on William Street in 2010.

Six years later, it is education that is the centerpiece of the Newburgh Armory Unity Center.

While kids still sprint up and down the basketball court and pound balls on the indoor soccer field, the Armory has also become a place where children take literacy classes and courses in subjects like art, music, chess and coding.

There are also English and computer classes for adults and workshops for parents of Newburgh school district students.

The transformation, done with partners that include the school district, Mount Saint Mary College and SUNY New Paltz, is not only drawing national attention, but international interest.

On Saturday Norwegian professor Jette Steenson spent the day touring the facility and meeting with Kaplan, members of the Armory board and city officials. Steenson, who teaches at Norway’s Arctic University, came across a conference presentation about the Armory’s programs and decided to visit.

Among her takeaways, she said, were that the Armory was a place where children felt accepted and gained self-confidence. She also liked that the Armory’s education programs serve as a training ground for students in teaching programs at local colleges.

“It’s very impressive,” she said.

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County funding boosts food programs for hungry, homeless students

Cans of vegetables and tuna fish.

Bags of dry beans and loaves of bread.

Jars of peanut butter and boxes of cereal and pancake mix.

Volunteers deployed around tables inside the food pantry of St. Francis of Assisi Church in the City of Newburgh rushed to fill a gaping need – stuffing plastic grocery bags and backpacks with provisions for hundreds of homeless and hungry school children in the Newburgh Enlarged School District.

For years the district has used the so-called “backpack” program to ensure children do not go hungry, especially when they’re home for the weekends and not able to eat breakfast and lunch at school.

It is a program celebrating an expansion, thanks to funding provided last year by Orange County. And Executive Steve Neuhaus stopped by the pantry to see the fruits of that funding – canned and dry goods that will feed more children than the program originally could serve.

About $375,000 was designated in September 2015 for “Orange Cares,” a new partnership with the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley. Funding has covered backpack programs in Chester, Highland Falls, Middletown and Newburgh. The goal is to expand the program to Port Jervis and Valley Central, Neuhaus said.

“I think it’s key because a lot of places are afraid of the stigma and they’re afraid to start the program because of the stigma they’re going to have with it,” he said. “At the same time, there’s young men and women and their families that are suffering.”

Newburgh’s school district started distributing care packages to students four years ago. Students are given backpacks and each week they receive food prepared and delivered by volunteers at St. Francis.

Roughly 30 kids were served the first year, said Bill Morgan, homeless liaison for the Newburgh school district. By the end of this year, the program will have served an estimated 560, he said.

Last year, the district identified 841 homeless students, the seventh-largest total among all districts in the state, Morgan said.

“We can’t have academic success until the basic needs of a student are met,” he said. “By having this backpack program, it just gives them one extra layer of stability so that, one day, they can have that academic success that they have the right to.”

Video: Orange-County-funding-helps-school-districts-in-Newburgh-and-other-jurisdictions-deliver-food-to-homeless-students

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Amid the shootings, something ‘beautiful’ in Newburgh

As a train of over 150 marchers in a peace rally began arriving at Delano Hitch-Park on Monday to decry the shooting deaths of two women at a Halloween party in the City of Newburgh on Sunday, they passed a parking lot where pastors Annette and Jose Vasquez, and a small army of volunteers quietly prepared for an event representing a different side of the city.

Three years ago the pastors heard how parents felt the city was too unsafe to take their kids trick-or-treating for Halloween, and how those who took their children to the surrounding towns felt unwanted and were stopped and questioned by police officers.

So the Vasquezes, who pastor Church at the Bridge on Broadway, decided to organize “Trunk or Treat,” an event in which businesses, firefighters and police officers, organizations and residents decorate their car trunks and vehicles, and hand out candy and other treats to kids at Newburgh’s Activity Center.

The event has blossomed, with attendance from the first to second years rising to 1,500 from roughly 900, and the number of decorated trunks increasing from 37 to 56. Over 2,000 were expected at this past Monday’s event, Jose Vasquez said.

The increase in volunteers and kids represents something bigger than just candy, he said. It represents a unique collaboration whose supporters include Newburgh’s recreation department, TEAM Newburgh and businesses from the city and towns.

“It’s a beautiful picture when people can come together – organizations, businesses, people in the community, children, families, government,” he said.

Despite being a city with a large number of children, Newburgh is not a great place for trick-or-treating, said parent Doris Lopez. Some parents worry about safety, and many residents choose not to stock up on treats and open their doors to strangers, she said.

Lopez remembers the first time she and other parents drove to the Town of New Windsor on Halloween. They were met by officers who wanted to know what they were doing in the area, she said.

“It makes you feel unwanted; it doesn’t make you feel welcomed,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong.”

Lopez started bringing her kids to “Trunk or Treat,” but is now is among the residents decorating their trunks and dispensing candy. Also participating are local businesses and organizations, Newburgh’s fire and police departments, and students from Mount Saint Mary College.

Rodolfo Camacho, a Newburgh resident and the owner of Liberty Locksmith, is one of the businesses who have sponsored a trunk all three years. He and his wife decorate their business’ truck for the event.

“We work here and we make money here,” he said. “We try whenever we can to give back to the community.”

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Newburgh police lieutenant closes door on 18-year career

City of Newburgh police Lt. Thomas Murphy officially retired after 18 years on Wednesday, with colleagues lining the sidewalk outside police headquarters and saluting as he exited the building.

Murphy had served as a lieutenant since 2008, and before that held the rank of sergeant. Previous assignments within the Newburgh police department included the Anti-Crime and K-9 units and the SWAT team.

“The heartstrings are pulling toward the officers and the people of the city, but it’s time to go,” Murphy said. “The stars are aligned.”

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Supporters press case for rehiring of fired Newburgh tax collector

Former Newburgh Tax Collector Helen Murphy is flanked by the Rev. Jeffrey Woody (left) and attorney Michael Sussman.

On a night when sign-carrying supporters of former Newburgh Tax Collector Helen Murphy continued to protest her firing, City Manager Michael Ciaravino suggested that a review of her case is part of the investigation triggered by former Comptroller John Aber’s arrest on a grand-larceny charge.

The Rev. Jeffrey Woody and attorney Michael Sussman were among those accompanying Murphy to Monday’s City Council meeting. For months Murphy and her supporters have waged a public campaign over her firing by Aber, who is alleged to have stolen cash paid by people to use the city’s boat launch.

Their end game is to see Murphy reinstated to the position, something Ciaravino raised as a possible outcome as the district attorney’s office and his administration investigate Aber’s office.

“We are going to proceed with a mind toward fairness and justice, and that also includes any disciplinary action that has been taken with regard to any employees,” Ciaravino said.

“If we find that, at the end, the information that we have indicates that a number of actions need to be undone or reversed, then we will do that.”

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Imaginations on display at Newburgh school district art show

Inside a section of Motorcyclepedia Museum on Wednesday afternoon, Meadow Hill art teacher Rachel Williams and a steady stream of proud parents admired the works that filled a wall: paintings, pencil and crayon drawings; and animation cells.

The fruits of Newburgh school district students’ imaginations are being shared with the public. Through May the museum is hosting an exhibit of works by elementary and junior-high students from five schools: Balmville, Gidney Avenue, Meadow Hill, Temple Hill and South Junior High.

As a Newburgh Free Academy graduate, Williams knows the paths art classes can open up for kids.

“They’re painting; they’re making clay sculptures; they’re doing a little bit of everything,” she said. “And when they see it up, they get excited.”

Christy Kirkpatrick, a graphic designer and volunteer coordinator for Motorcylepedia, was a schoolmate of Williams’ at SUNY New Paltz. Both studied arts instruction, she said.

They collaborated to bring student art to the museum for the first time. They initially approached Motorcyclepedia founder Ted Doering about exhibiting the art for part of May, but he suggested hosting the show for the whole month, Kirkpatrick said.

“It’s impressive – the variety of the different projects they’re doing,” she said. “We’re hoping to duplicate it on an ongoing basis.”

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Newburgh city manager says DPW head’s Facebook post to be ‘taken seriously’

Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino said a Facebook post in which Public Works Superintendent George Garrison seemed to vent about an unnamed employee or employees’ work ethic is taken “very seriously” and not going to be “swept under the rug.”

In a post last week, George Garrison wrote: “Wanted: If you are not ambitious, don’t want to work, show up once in a while, be a straight up scum… and lie through your teeth, please fill out an application with the City of Newburgh for openings. Again we are not looking for hard working honest people.”

During Monday’s Council meeting, Ciaravino used part of his regular update to address the post, which drew complaints from Councilwoman Cindy Holmes, DPW workers and the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents the department’s rank-and-file.

“It not only reflects on all of our employees, which I know the overwhelming majority of them not only work hard but they’re busting their backsides to get work done at rocket speed around here,” Ciaravino said. “I personally feel it reflects on me as well.”

Garrison defended the post, saying he has a First Amendment right to post what he wants on his Facebook page and that other Newburgh employees have posted disparaging remarks about him and city officials without punishment.

But Billy Riccaldo, president for the Southern Region of the Civil Service Employees Association, called the post a “rant” and a violation of DPW rules.

Under city workplace rules revised in 2012 and applicable to both union and non-union DPW workers,“ no employee shall publicly criticize or ridicule the City, Department, its policies or other employees by any manner, shape or form.”

“While this matter, by no means, is going to be swept under the rug, it’s not going to be hurried to a just conclusion,” Ciaravino said.

“We are going to handle this in the manner prescribed, and I can assure all of you that if you’re feeling even half of what I do, as it relates to how that reflected on our community, this matter’s going to be handled in the serious manner that’s required.”

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Safe Harbors launches capital campaign for Newburgh park project

Safe Harbors of the Hudson launched a fundraising campaign for its planned transformation of the long-vacant lot next to the Ritz Theater into a landscaped park and performance space with benches, gardens, trees and walking paths.

An official groundbreaking is set for May 2. The park, which is bordered by Broadway, Ann and Liberty streets, is expected to open in the fall and be a place where people can relax or enjoy public events, such as concerts and outdoor movies.

Safe Harbors has raised roughly $208,000 of the estimated $500,000 cost, including the land purchase. An Indiegogo page has been set up to collect donations. Contributions can also be made via Safe Harbor’s website or mailed to 111 Broadway, Newburgh, N.Y. 12550.

“This will be a transformative project,” Executive Director Lisa Silverstone told a crowd of supporters who gathered Wednesday inside the Ritz’s lobby for a press conference. “It will be a central square in our downtown.”

The project has already drawn support.

Central Hudson donated $85,000 to the project and local doctor Hannah Brooks helped with the land purchase. Members of the Bruderhof religious community will plant trees and plants during the landscaping phase and Jim Taylor of Taylor Recycling in Montgomery will donate machinery and labor to grade the property.

Taylor said he was born in a top-floor apartment of a building that used to be on the adjacent corner.

“We’re just so pleased and proud to be a part of this,” he said.

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