December 13, 2006

Crash kills SUNY Cortland freshman


Staff Reporter

GROTON — Two local school communities mourned the loss of a SUNY Cortland freshman and recent Groton High School graduate who was killed in an auto accident Tuesday morning.
Danielle Hopkins, 19, was turning left from Chipmans Corner Road in Groton onto Route 38 at about 7:30 a.m. when her car collided with a tractor-trailer traveling north on Route 38, according to the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department.
“She had the stop sign, she stopped, and unfortunately she pulled out in front of the truck,” said Capt. Mark Dresser. “It’s just a real tragedy.”
Hopkins graduated from Groton High School in June, and was a freshman business economics major at SUNY Cortland.
Both school communities were shaken by news of the accident.
“Hers is a life taken much too soon,” said Kathleen Burke, an assistant professor of economics at SUNY Cortland who taught Hopkins and served as her academic adviser.
Burke said she believed Hopkins was heading back to campus for a final exam in Political Economy and Social Thought scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, after a weekend of studying at her home in Groton.
“I think she probably went home because she wanted some peace and quiet,” Burke said. “Danielle was really a great student we had high hopes for her and she had high hopes for herself.”
At the Office of Alumni Affairs, where Hopkins worked for the fall semester as part of a work-study program at SUNY Cortland, employees lamented the loss of someone who had quickly become a member of the family.
“Just last Thursday we got together and gave her gifts, cookies, brownies — we wished her luck on her finals, and now this — it’s just devastating,” said office manager Robin Wheeler. “Danielle was just a sweetheart — she was a little shy at first, but then she kind of broke through that, and we came to love having here.”
Hopkins was looking forward to returning to Alumni Affairs for work in January, office workers said.
“She was very hard-working, working on the side to pay for her education I’d be proud to be her parent,” said Doug DeRancey, executive director of alumni affairs. “She did all kinds of things around here for us, and every task she was assigned she did with a smile on her face.”
Hopkins’ smile was remembered fondly by Groton Superintendent of Schools Brenda Meyers, who said the whole district was shaken by the accident.
“Danielle was just a wonderful friend, you always knew when she was around because she just had such a great smile,” Meyers said. “We’re all going to miss her smile.”
A crisis response team was on hand Tuesday to offer counseling services for anyone in need, Meyers said, and all after-school activities were canceled Tuesday afternoon so students could be with friends and family.
While at Groton, Hopkins was an honors student, a member of the varsity softball team and a member of the cheerleading squad, Meyers said.
“This is obviously a hard time for everyone,” Meyers said. “She was an amazing young woman, and we’re going to miss her desperately.”
SUNY Cortland will hold a memorial service in Hopkins’ honor at 6 p.m. today at O’Heron Newman Hall on Calvert Street.
Zirbel Funeral Home in Groton is handling funeral arrangements, and details will be announced in the coming days.
The investigation of the accident, done in conjunction with State Police’s Commercial Vehicle Inspection Unit and Accident Reconstruction Unit, shut down traffic on Route 38 for five hours Tuesday morning, Dresser said.
No tickets were issued to the driver of the truck, Christopher D. McKane, 23, also of Groton, Dresser said.
“He actually did everything he could to try to avoid the accident, but he wasn’t able to,” Dresser said.
McKane was driving for Moravia-based Alnye Trucking, according to police, and was not injured in the collision.



Groton voters OK $14.4 million school renovation project

Staff Reporter

GROTON — Voters approved a $14.4 million capital project by a 3 to 1 margin Tuesday night that will include new security systems, a new elementary school roof and renovation of the seventh and eighth grade science classrooms.
“We greatly appreciate everyone’s help, input, and thoughtful questions throughout the process,” said Groton Superintendent of Schools Brenda Myers after the vote, which was 289-88.
Myers said the district will form small design teams to work with architectural firm Ashley McGraw and the construction management firm to finalize all of the project specifications, drawings, materials list and construction timelines and to prepare submissions to the state Education Department.
Myers said the district hopes to begin the project in March of 2008 after state approval, which would take five months, and the design period would also take five months.
“It will be about a year until we get all the figures put together. It will be about another year for the beginning stages,” said Board of Education President Dave Parsons.
The elementary school will receive a new partition, wall padding and lighting in the gym, while drainage and roofing around the building will be fixed and security will be improved.
At the middle/high school, renovations include direct digital control of all heating ventilation and air conditioning equipment. Door sensors and exterior security cameras and motion sensors would also be added at the middle/school.
Both schools will have asbestos floor tiles replaced with linoleum.
In the bus garage, two hydraulic bus lifts will be replaced along with roofing.
The majority of the project, 90.7 percent, will be funded by state aid. The district received $338,000 in Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning aid. EXCEL aid can be used to cover the taxpayers’ portion of the capital project.
The project cost to taxpayers would add approximately $38 for 16 years to the tax bill of a home assessed at $100,000.




O’Shea dedicated her life to teaching

Staff Reporter

Being a dedicated teacher was the common denominator for anyone who knew Elizabeth Sheridan O’Shea, who continued to tutor children and adults even after retiring from the Homer school district in 1981, after 32 years of teaching.
She turned to St. Mary’s School, where she volunteered in the reading program, and to the Cortland City Board of Education, where she served as a school board member from 1983 to 1992 and was elected president of the board in 1988, a position she held for three years.
O’Shea died suddenly Friday at her home  at 59 W. Main St. in Cortland at the age of 86. She was born July 31, 1920.
“She was always a teacher,” said Sister Harriet Hamilton, principal at St. Mary’s.
O’Shea tutored at St. Mary’s and in her home after school hours and during the summer until she had a stroke and it became difficult for her to talk, Hamilton said.
“She’s my idol,” said Margaret Perfetti, who said O’Shea was ahead of her time, continuing to teach through six pregnancies when the standard practice was to resign and hope you would be rehired.
Perfetti, who did resign for her first pregnancy, said O’Shea led the way for other teachers. “She loved teaching.”
O’Shea taught her younger peers a lot, she said, and would tell them what she thought. “She was boss of her space.”
Perfetti said she used to seek O’Shea’s help when her high school English students were not performing up to standards. O’Shea, who taught elementary school and then went on to teach reading, would advise her on how to reach those students.
Hamilton said she remembers O’Shea saying, “‘There’s no such thing as a child that cannot learn. It is our job to figure out how a child can learn.’” O’Shea had that gift, she said.
O’Shea was a loyal alumna of St. Mary’s and was a member of the Mother’s Club, Hamilton said, which pre-dated the Parent Teacher Association, while her children attended the school. She had graduated in 1937, the principal said.
Michael McGraw, who followed O’Shea as president of the Cortland City Board of Education, said he’s known her for 50 years, and grew up with her sons. O’Shea was den mother for his Cub Scout unit.
“She was a dedicated educator … she loved people,” said McGraw, who added O’Shea had strong convictions.
McGraw, director of financial aid at Tompkins Cortland Community College, said he and his friends recalled they “got scolded from her as well as our own parents,” when they did something wrong.
McGraw said after O’Shea retired from teaching she started tutoring adults at the Cortland Free Library. “She never did it for any recognition. She had such a value on education,” McGraw said, noting she would pick a quiet spot like the magazine section.
O’Shea also worked for SUNY Cortland, evaluating student teachers for many years, McGraw said.
O’Shea decided not to run for re-election to the board after serving nine years. “I think she really felt you could be there too long,” McGraw said.
“She was a very fair person,” he said.
One issue she worked on during her time on the board was redrawing the lines for the city elementary schools to balance class sizes.
“She worked for over a year to figure out ways to better distribute students,” said McGraw. “It was controversial.”
McGraw also said O’Shea was constantly attentive to the city school budget, wanting a reasonable tax rate while still providing students with a solid education.
He said she was also instrumental in the search for a replacement for Superintendent of Schools Harvey Kaufman, who retired in June 1992.
Perfetti said she took O’Shea’s lead again when she joined the Homer Board of Education. “She had all kinds of energy,” Perfetti said. Perfetti said O’Shea had even planned her funeral Tuesday ahead of time.
Even in death she has not forgotten about education. She requested donations, in lieu of flowers, go to St. Mary’s School.
“She’ll be missed,” McGraw said. “Her accomplishments will be her legacy.”



CHAC plans move to Delaware Avenue

Staff Reporter

The Cortland Housing Assistance Council plans to relocate its office from 159 Main St. to the corner of Taylor Street and Delaware Avenue, in the former Cortland Press building.
CHAC Executive Director Gary Thomas received approval for the project from city Planning Commission Tuesday night.
“We’ve rented for years, and the rent kills our operating costs,” Thomas said. “A good part of the building would be for storing our handicap ramps,” which are currently housed in several locations around the city.
Thomas hopes the move will happen by the end of January. CHAC has received a $110,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Program for the project.
Thomas told the Planning Commission that $50,000 of the grant would be used for reimbursing the cost of purchasing the building, and $60,000 would go toward renovations.
The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals had granted a variance on the residential-zoned lot at its meeting Monday evening, said city Zoning Officer Amy Bertini. The approximately 7,000-square-foot building has been vacant for about nine months.
After some initial hesitation about the parking surrounding the building, which amounts to about 14 spaces available for use by the six full-time employees and the approximately four walk-ins a day that CHAC receives, the Planning Commission approved the site plan and change of use proposal, provided that CHAC give the city Code Office the location and positions of the parking spaces once the lines are painted in their permanent location.
The housing authority’s board of director’s can apply for nonprofit status for the property, Thomas said. He would not speculate on whether the board would do so.