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Superintendent Emails and Updates - July & August 2022
August 26, 2022
Dear Syosset Community,
It was wonderful to see students in the halls of South Woods and the high school yesterday (I didn’t quite make it to HBT) for 6th grade and 9th grade orientation events. It’s a reminder that the start of school is just around the corner and we’re looking forward to welcoming back all of our young people next Thursday alongside our kindergarteners and new residents.
After more than two challenging years, we continue to restore even more of the programming our students find so meaningful, while retaining much of what we’ve learned during the last two years, particularly in the area of instructional technology. We’re not out of the woods completely yet, and this week’s new COVID guidance from New York State is a reminder that we must continue to exercise judgment and caution, but as long as the variants in circulation remain less severe, it appears it will be easier to co-exist with the virus.
We’ve produced an FAQ document to highlight the protocols in place for the start of the year, but the changes from last June are modest.
The bus driver shortage is not quite as dire as it was last year, but despite heavy recruitment efforts by our bus company, staffing levels are not optimal. The most visible impacts will be the frequent presence of substitute drivers and an ongoing inability to assign drivers for interscholastic athletics until 4:00 p.m. or so, after the elementary runs are complete.
Open House events and PTA meetings will be in person, and we anticipate more opportunities for parents to resume on-campus events. Field trips, including the 8th grade trip to Washington DC will also resume and we’re excited for students to experience these opportunities!
Although we are experiencing a labor shortage in our cafeterias too, staffing levels have increased enough to enable a broader range of menu items, and a return to cafeteria seating in elementary school.
Looking over the last 2 ½ years, I’m extraordinarily proud of how our community pulled together and indeed pulled through this challenging time. I am amazed at how our faculty and their leaders navigated all of the twists and turns of remote, hybrid, socially distanced, and tech-enabled learning to maintain students’ educational momentum, and equally impressed at how the staff who support all of our infrastructure made it their mission to ensure our buildings and classrooms would be as safe and supported as could be. No one could have predicted how the last few years would test us; and while at times we bent, we never broke.
New Staff Members
This week marked our New Teacher Institute. I was delighted to welcome these new staff members to our faculty. In my welcome, I reflected on the remarkable community of educators they were joining – and my own observation that my predecessors had hired well – along with an acknowledgement that they, in turn, will be the future of Syosset, keepers of our tradition of educational excellence and “whatever it takes” approach. Having interviewed each new faculty member and administrator, I’m confident that in some distant future, our successors will pay us the same compliment of observing that we “hired well.” Please make these new staff members feel welcome to our tight knit community.
A word of appreciation for the returning students who served as orientation group leaders. I was at the high school giving a colleague from a nearby school district a tour of our new Fitness Center. Right on cue as I was sharing that the enthusiasm generated by the facility reached well beyond our athletes, group after group entered and their student leaders proudly introduced our freshmen class to the space. Thanks, student leaders for giving up a beautiful summer day to help to welcome our freshmen to the high school!
We’ll see everybody back next week!
PS - For those enjoying the summer read-alouds, the latest (!) has been posted.
August 19, 2022
Dear Syosset Community,
On Monday night, we had one of my favorite culminating activities for summer school - the annual performance of our “Summer Stock” theater students at the Board of Education meeting. They shared selections from the musical “Hats,” and while the songs are lighthearted, the themes of individuality and acceptance are profound. Bravo!
Even though that performance signals the end of summer school, the pace of administrative and facilities work actually picks up this time of year. I reported to the Board of Education on the facilities projects underway, including:
- solar power at the high school,
- roof replacements at the high school and South Woods,
- improvements to the walkway at Pell Lane to make it safer for pedestrians and athletes,
- boiler replacements and underground fuel storage tank removals, and
- two exciting athletics projects: refinishing the high school main gym floor (which is now complete) and adding lighting to the new turf field, which we hope to have operational in early October.
Next week, we welcome our new teachers and administrators for a 3-day orientation institute, and the following week, we welcome back our entire staff for professional development and preparation for the start of school. We’re hoping to strike a celebratory tone as the pandemic restrictions continue to recede and we have fewer impediments to doing our best work with students.
Speaking of reopening, we were notified by the State that new school reopening guidance (based on the new CDC guidance released last week) will be forthcoming in the next 2 weeks. The CDC’s changes were limited and while we can’t predict what the State will do, we are proceeding as though the State’s changes will be modest as well.
Nassau IDA and Amazon
Also at the Board meeting, President Tom Rotolo and I each reported on our recent interactions with the Nassau IDA, which last Thursday voted to end the tax breaks they had granted for the Amazon warehouse project on Robbins Lane. Seeing media reports suggesting that such a decision might be forthcoming, we alerted the IDA to a potential unintended consequence – the school budget was adopted by the public last May, so any change to the PILOT payment (one of the IDA’s tax breaks gives Amazon’s landlord the ability to substitute reduced “PILOT” payments for property taxes) could result in a significant loss in revenue to the school district after the school budget is already set. Nassau IDA Chairman Richard Kessel acknowledged the issue at their meeting last Thursday and assured us that they would “work with us” to avoid a negative impact on the school district. We are appreciative of this assurance and counting on their skill and expertise to find a way to do so.
We’re proud of our Adult Education programs, which allow the school district to “give back” to a community that supports its education system so passionately. The catalog is just hitting mailboxes now - and many of these programs fill up fast - so keep an eye out for it. Unfortunately, the welcome letter from the Board of Education was misprinted – both the letterhead and one of our Trustee’s names were cut off from the top and bottom of the page. We regret the error (sorry, Dr. Park!), but are seizing the opportunity to share the corrected catalog electronically.
Bank of America recognized 5 Long Island high school seniors, including Syosset’s Anika Shah, as “Student Leaders” in their national summer program. Anika worked at Island Harvest, getting first-hand experience in the operation of a non-profit organization – from boardroom meetings to fundraising to the truly “hands-on” experience of harvesting hundreds of pounds of zucchini at their farm to share with Long Island families in need. Anika plans to remain affiliated with Island Harvest and even recruit fellow classmates to this worthy cause starting with a fundraiser for Hunger Action Month this September.
My heart always swells when I see Syosset’s students making a positive difference in the world!
July 29, 2022
Dear Syosset Community,
As I’ve mentioned before, summer is quite a busy time here at the District, not only are there still 1,200 students in summer school, but we get just 9 weeks to do a year’s worth of construction and maintenance projects before the buildings are re-occupied by students. But I’m making time for a favorite activity, summer reading, and I thought it would be fun to share that activity with our young learners. For anyone interested in learning about dragons and their love for tacos, click here to join me in a read-aloud of Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. But make sure you hide the spicy salsa first!
Spotlight on Instruction
I had a wonderful visit to our summer school program this week. In addition to the traditional summer school offerings I love, I popped into several of our new Summer School 2.0 classes. Story Theater had our first and second graders putting on puppet shows of the Gingerbread Man fable, trying out their acting chops while improving their read-aloud abilities (and occasionally rewriting the ending!). Other first and second graders showed me their coding skills on Code.org; while down the hall students in “Around the World Through Art and Games” read Pretty Salma and were learning about the symbolism in Kente cloth from Ghana and trying their hands (and their fine motor skills) at creating Ka Ka Matobi masks. The Junior Explorers were trying to recreate the Roman aqueducts with common household items (and I have a better sense of why Rome wasn’t built in a day). Camp Invention features a curriculum developed by the National Inventors Hall of Fame; I arrived in time for the Duck Launch unit, which I can only describe as a cross between a catapult, a protractor, and the Angry Birds™ game. All our summer school classes, both traditional and new, find that sweet spot where real learning becomes real fun!
- Tennis Courts: I’m happy to report that the resurfacing work on the two courts at the south end of the field has been completed, but unfortunately, the recent storm damaged much of the fencing surrounding the remaining six courts. Several of the courts will be unavailable to the community while repairs are completed.
- Pell Lane: Work is underway on installing a new, wider concrete walkway and reinforced guardrail between Pell Lane and the turf field (at the east-side entrance to South Woods Middle School). The new walkway will be ADA compliant with handicap accessible ramps and will be easier to navigate for bicyclists. Please be aware that access to the east side of Pell Lane will be limited next week as concrete is poured. The west (neighborhood) side of Pell Lane will remain open. This project is expected to be complete by mid-August.
- SHS Solar Project: Installation of solar panels on the high school roof is set to begin the week of August 1st.
- Turf Field Lighting: We are awaiting a building permit before we can proceed with the installation of lights on the turf field. I’ll continue to keep the community updated on the status of this project.
COVID Test Kits
We currently have an ample supply of COVID-19 rapid test kits available to the community. Any Syosset resident wishing to pick up a test kit can come to the main entrance of South Woods Middle School Monday through Thursday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Just provide your I.D. to the security guard to receive a kit.
As previously mentioned, we are distributing breakfast and lunch meals this summer for Syosset students at no charge. Meals are available for pick up every Tuesday (through August 30) between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. at HBT. In order to ensure we have an appropriate number of meals available, we are asking that anyone who plans to pick up meals for their child(ren) complete a FamilyID form for each child the week prior. An email reminder with a link to the form will be sent out each Tuesday. The form will be available in FamilyID on Tuesdays beginning at 12 p.m. and will remain open through Thursday at 9 a.m. We appreciate your cooperation in helping ensure the distribution takes place smoothly.
Food Service Positions
Our food service provider, Aramark, has open positions for the upcoming school year. Shifts are 4-6 hours per day at the rate of $15 per hour. For more information and to apply, please visit: Food Service Worker opening in Syosset (olasjobs.org) Feel free to share this information with anyone you know who may be interested!
Girls on the Run Coaches
Girls on the Run is an organization that aims to strengthen girls’ confidence, encourage character development, and underscore the connection between physical and emotional health. Last May, I was happy to join over 3 dozen elementary and middle level students at the Girls on the Run 5K Fun Run and I was so impressed not only by the participants, but also the coaches who inspired and encouraged the young group of girls to reach their goals. We have a wonderful problem - more girls than coaches for this school year at Robbins Lane, Village and Berry Hill, and there is still time to start teams at Willits and South Grove. Please volunteer! You don’t even need to be a runner or an athlete, just have a desire to empower young girls in our community. The attached flyer includes more information and those interested can contact email@example.com.
I just want to give a shout out to our amazing custodial, maintenance and grounds crews. They work hard year-round, but never harder than the summer when all of the accumulated wear and tear is fixed while the clock ticks swiftly towards September. They have to work around the contractors on campus, around summer school, and sometimes around the clock. Every classroom gets dismantled and each floor is stripped and re-waxed for the new year. This is my 9th time watching this summer ritual and I’m amazed by and proud of their dedication. Thanks!!
July 15, 2022
Dear Syosset Community,
The summer is off to a busy start here at the school district. Summer School kicked off last week when we welcomed over 1,200 students to the program! With the high enrollment, we had some kinks to work out, including managing drop-off and pick-up traffic, but two weeks into the summer, we’ve ironed out the issues and operations are now running smoothly.
We’re so proud of this program, and thrilled that so many children in our community have joined us this summer. Classes include both academic skill building and enrichment courses, all planned with a big dose of summer fun! Activities so far have included a lesson on trajectory and velocity using rubber ducks and water balloons, a collaboration among young engineers to understand what it takes to build a colosseum, and a cultural experience of crafting kente cloth, a Ghanaian textile. And we’re just getting started, with much more fun planned for the coming weeks.
HB Thompson middle school (where summer school is being held) isn’t the only hub of summer activity. Summer is actually one of our busiest times, with only 2 short months to do all of the facilities work that would otherwise disrupt education, plan instruction for the coming year, and finalize staff hiring.
Here are some highlights I thought might be of interest:
Summer Meals for Students
Just before summer school started, the Federal government reauthorized the Keep Kids Fed Act of 2022 which makes Federally-subsidized breakfast and lunch meals available to students. The State Education Department just approved our contract so we will begin distributing student meals at no cost starting Tuesday, July 19th at H.B. Thompson Middle School between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. The meals will continue to be distributed every Tuesday through August 30th. A separate communication will be sent out shortly to parents and guardians with detailed instructions for picking up meals should you choose to do so, including obtaining your Meal Program Family Number that is required for pick-up. Please review the information carefully to ensure the distribution effort runs efficiently.
As you drive by the schools, you’ll see a lot of activity: we’re removing underground fuel storage tanks at Willits, South Grove and Village elementary schools. After a brief pause to ensure that all safety protocols were in place, roofing replacement is continuing at South Woods Middle School and the high school. On the high school roof, solar panels will also be installed as part of our Energy Performance Contract work – an innovative state program that offsets the cost of construction with the future savings in energy costs. Several campuses are having sitework (curbs, sidewalk or pavement) and the high school gym floor is getting resurfaced. The final sets of ballistic doors and electronic locks will be installed and ready by the reopening of school.
We are also going through the buildings and undoing conversions we made to accommodate instruction during the pandemic and get the buildings as much back to “normal” as possible.
The spring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the Syosset High School Association of Creative Thespians (ACT) was so impressive, and I’m happy to share that members of the cast, crew and faculty were recognized at the State level for their performance. The production underwent an adjudication process by the Theatre Association of New York State (TANYS), and the following Roving Adjudicator Merit Awards were earned:
- Meritorious Achievement in Ensemble Acting to the Cast and Crew
- Meritorious Achievement in Acting to Max Bass for his portrayal of Demetrius
- Meritorious Achievement in Acting to Arthur Kesner for his portrayal of Lysander
- Meritorious Achievement in Acting to Brynn Schwartzman for her portrayal of Helena
- Excellence in Scenic Design to Craig Mooers and Tiffany Holtje
- Excellence in Acting to Sarah Ghafar for her portrayal of Puck
- Outstanding Acting to Jenna Kurmemaj for her portrayal of Hermia
- Meritorious Achievement in Lighting Design to Maria Chambers
- Meritorious Achievement in Direction to Gene Connor
Congratulations to the entire cast and crew!