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Superintendent Updates - January 2023
See the most recent Superintendent's Updates listed below.
Click the links on the left to access past updates that have been sent to the Syosset community.
January 27, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
It was Multicultural Week at South Grove, Walt Whitman, and HBT this week. It was fabulous to have so many parents participate and share their pride in their heritage and for everyone to have the opportunity to learn and appreciate the rich cultural resources in this community. I left HBT with my stomach full after trying all of my favorite things (and encountering some new favorites) and with my heart full seeing the students perform traditional dances and after speaking with so many proud parents.
It was particularly emotional as this was the first time back in-person in three years - so it was a new experience for literally every student in the building. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s how to appreciate the things we might once have taken for granted.
Science under the Microscope
This week we were thrilled to see our students featured on the cover of Newsday in an article about science research programs in Long Island school districts. Given the six Syosset seniors named Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars, our program drew particular attention. I shared three thoughts with the reporter that didn’t make the final draft of the article, but that I thought were pertinent.
The depth of our program is obvious, you can’t enter the most prestigious science competition without doing some serious long-term research. Less apparent is our program’s breadth. As proud as we are of the winning projects, we had 18 students complete competition-worthy research projects. From an educational preparation perspective, every one of those students is a winner, having developed college-level research skills, even if they came away from this particular competition a little disappointed.
Second, at Syosset, opportunity is not limited to a select few. Students’ interests and aptitudes develop at different rates and at different times. There are roughly 500 students in the beginning stages of the research program at Syosset High School. Some will take it farther than others, some will pursue projects in science, others in mathematics or the social sciences. All will have the chance to go as far as their interest and hard work will take them.
Lastly, investments pay off. When we renovated the worn and dilapidated science classrooms, we leveraged a $250,000 grant, state matching funds, and local funds to invest $345,000 in our science research room. As a result, we are able to host more research projects in-house – 14 this year, up from just seven in 2018 – saving students (and their parents) the time, money and complication of commuting to a local research institution to work on their projects. Reinvested, that extra time has paid off for our students in a big way. I know they’d want to say “thank you” to the community for its support.
Spotlight on Instruction
We love “crosscutting” in Syosset–putting two subjects together to create unique, engaging (and crucially) memorable learning experiences. This week, Kindergarteners at Walt Whitman combined reading with robots by coding their Beebots, Bee robots, to practice reading skills. First, they chose a sight word from a deck of cards. They then used the word’s location on a grid to code their Beebot. As it traveled across the grid, students challenged themselves to read all of the sight words along the route. This allowed our littlest learners to practice both sight word recognition and coding. The “Bee”bots had our students’ brains buzzing!
Junior Kyra Kozey is also a “Junior” in the Syosset Fire Department. The Nassau County Junior Firefighter’s Association (NCFJA) brings together high school students from 45 departments across Long Island to learn about the Fire and EMS service, and promote the spirit of volunteerism in the community. Kyra was elected and sworn in as President of the NCJFA this month, and is leading a board of all-female officers. At her installation dinner, President Kozey was recognized by Congressman Anthony D’Esposito, County Executive Blakeman, and Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan.
Outside of her fire department responsibilities, Kyra is a Forensics Debate and Robotics Champion. She will finish EMT school in two months, becoming one of the state’s youngest EMTs.
Wow. Congrats Kyra on this accomplishment – we are so proud to have you as part of our school community, and the Syosset community at large.
Enjoy the weekend!
January 20, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
I hope everyone had a good week. The buildings were busy… we had four winter concerts, visits from a meteorologist, designed dragons to celebrate the upcoming Lunar New Year, celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work, and I even was asked to referee the South Woods PE Department volleyball tournament final. Good thing I still have my old whistle.
The newsmakers making headlines this week were a pair of our track and field Seniors:
Senior Jordan Altman was named a News12 Scholar Athlete for his amazing accomplishments on and off the track. He is County Champion for track and field, and cross country – he plays the saxophone, and maintains a 100 average in school. We might call him a quadruple threat! Fantastic work, Jordan!
Meanwhile, Senior Parker Kim is being recognized by Newsday for his accomplishments in weight throwing. He qualified for the prestigious Millrose Games this past weekend with a 65 foot, 5 ¾ inch toss. The throw was his personal best and the second-farthest in New York State this season. I always see him out by the tennis courts, practicing. That incredible work ethic paid off, Parker!
Spotlight on Instruction
Our High School Art students are learning about Chinese printmaking just in time for the Lunar New Year! Its rich history dates back to the 6th century. Students created “relief blocks” using styrofoam. Ink is applied to the raised areas like a stamp, creating a design in the negative space.
Since another wonderful Lunar New Year tradition is to pass a monetary gift in an envelope, our Chinese teachers, Alexander (Huichen) Yu and Lu Jiang, worked with students to create printed stationery cards. Mrs. Jiang's classmates visited our art students to see the printmaking process and final products first hand. I’m told the lucky colors for this new year are Azure Blue, Pink, Red, and Green Apple. Students experimented with ink in these colors along with gold and black to create one-of-a-kind, handmade prints, using this time-honored printmaking tradition.
I often use this space to celebrate the charitable efforts of our students, but they’re not the only members of our learning community making a difference. South Woods teacher and musician Tom Falco and his brothers organized the “Jam for JoeJo” event, orchestrating (yes, that was intentional) five bands to play a benefit concert for a local man who lost his home in a fire just before the holidays. At the height of the pandemic, Mr. Falco and his bandmates in the Northport Pipe and Drum Band performed during the nurses shift change at Huntington Hospital, the bagpipes serving as encouragement for exhausted frontline heroes. Thank you, Mr. Falco, of course for making a difference, but also for being a role model for our young people.
Enjoy the weekend!
January 13, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
It’s been a pretty special week in Syosset. We’re so proud of our six Regeneron Scholars (more below) and I wanted to share some other wonderful Syosset moments with you.
Following last month’s Board of Education meeting which featured student acapella performances from the December holiday concerts, this Monday’s meeting started with a Wushu martial arts demonstration in recognition of the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday. Led by Alan Huang (12), who recently returned from Indonesia as one of two people in his age group representing the U.S., the group includes Alex Chen (11), Maggie Chen (10 - currently ranked #1 in the US in the Double Swords category!), Victor Huang (8) and from Herricks: Katie Yan (9), and Ethan Yip (6). This group, coached by Syosset’s Master Lynn Lin, was even invited to perform at last year’s Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration. I’m so impressed with the combination of artistry and athleticism. It reminds me of gymnastics, but with swords!
Speaking of gymnastics, something special happened this week: our Girls Varsity Gymnastics team celebrated its 50th consecutive dual meet win — a period spanning all the way back to 2018. Several years ago, we were approached by some parents and girls looking to start the team. We were reluctant, because it appeared there were only enough students interested to sustain the team for a year or two, but the Board of Education was willing to take a chance on them, so we did. I’ve never been more glad to be wrong. Now in its 6th year, the team has notched three County championships and is on its way to another incredible season.
They’re not the only ones on a winning streak. Syosset Boys Swimming and Diving won their 70th consecutive Dual Meet against previously undefeated Hewlett!
In what may have been a preview of the County Championships, our Wrestling team faced off against Massapequa on Wednesday. Both teams have posted impressive records, and the meet was so close that it came down to the last match of the night - when Nick DiBacco defeated his opponent in triple overtime to deliver Syosset both the win and its second consecutive County Conference title. I was there to see the celebration of a tremendous night and my heart was pounding almost as loudly as the crowd in the bleachers!
Our club hockey team also has an impressive record – and is going undefeated into their match with league rivals Massapequa on Tuesday night at the TOB rink in Bethpage. Good luck defending your streak!
This was just as remarkable a week in the Performing Arts. As we close Monday in recognition of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I’m reminded of his “I Have a Dream” speech and the part about having young people from all different backgrounds playing together. I don’t know if he was imagining performing ensembles, but students from all over the county were literally playing beautiful music together in our high school as Syosset hosted the rehearsals for many All-County music ensembles. Back from a three year pandemic hiatus, it was wonderful to have these young people from across the County as our guests, and I had the opportunity to admire chorus, jazz, orchestra, and band rehearsals all in one night! The All-County Music Festival is this weekend at the Tilles Center, and I was honored to be asked to offer opening remarks. I can’t wait to tell all of these parents how proud we are of their children and what a privilege it was to offer them Syosset’s hospitality.
Board of Education Meeting
I want to share a couple of quick updates from our Board of Education meeting:
- We continue to explore options for starting the high school day later in an effort to improve student sleep. There is no magic solution — because the same buses provide transportation to the elementary and middle schools, any change to high school bus times will have ripple effects. Our next step is to share our findings and get some community input.
- The Board continued its discussion regarding new State Education Department rules governing school Mascots.
- I also presented results from our most recent enrollment projection study. In the summer of 2021, we experienced an unexpected surge in enrollment of about 300 students. Syosset’s enrollment had been steadily growing since 2015, so the influx put additional pressure on facilities. The projections are the first step toward ensuring that we will have enough space to accommodate our students now and in the future. A quick summary of the findings:
- Absent another unexpected spike, the growth in elementary students is projected to level off, but some schools remain under more facilities pressure than others.
- At the middle school level, HBT experienced the first growth surge, South Woods is projected to soon follow.
- As students from the recent surges become older, high school enrollment will increase some 15% over the next 6 to 8 years.
Regeneron Student Scholars
Of some 3,000 submissions globally, six Syosset students were chosen to be Regeneron Scholars: Sabrina Guo, Zachary David Kam, Anika Shah, Vivek Turakhia, Alex Wang, and Tianyi (Tina) Zhang. You can read more about their projects here. We’re so proud of them and our science research faculty for the work that literally begins in middle school. Even though not all were named Regeneron scholars, we prepared 18 students to submit competition-quality research projects to the Regeneron Science Talent Search. I analogize our work to coaching pole-vaulting — in any competition, ultimately someone will jump the highest; but we prepared 18 students to clear a staggeringly high bar to even get into the contest, so I’m super proud of every student’s effort and accomplishment.
This success wouldn’t have been possible without the support the Board of Education and community gave by investing in refreshing our science classrooms and creating a dedicated research lab, which our students and Faculty have put to very good use. We will find out on January 24th if any of these six students move on to the Finalist round, and win a trip to Washington, DC to present their research in pursuit of the Grand Prize.
Good luck in the next round, Team Syo Research!! (Below, a Newsday photographer snaps a photo for the newspaper.)
Spotlight on Instruction
Instead of a To-Do list, our Middle Schoolers are dreaming up their “To-Be” lists. During Advisory this week, middle school students were asked to reimagine their futures. What character traits do they want to build in order to be their best self? Who do they admire? How can we be the best students, friends, siblings, athletes, musicians… and all around people?? Even as adults, it’s a challenge to reverse engineer yourself on paper. This critical thinking exercise opened up a whole world of discussions about how to be a compassionate and kind member of our community. Their brainstorming sessions and discussions closed by posing an important question — one we can all ask ourselves — there are 335 days left in 2023, who will you be?
No concert would be complete without a concert t-shirt, and the All County Music Festival is no exception. But this year’s edition is #SyoSpecial because the design on the back belongs to Syosset Junior Raina Yu, who won the NMEA’s annual t-shirt design contest and is now printed on thousands of t-shirts. You can see below why I have no hope of a second career in front of the camera, but don’t let my modeling deter you from picking one up for yourself at one of the concerts this weekend.
Remember: our District is closed this coming Monday, January 16th, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Have a great weekend!
January 6, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
What a difference a year makes! Not just rolling over the calendar to 2023, but the difference between this school year and the last. We’ve had three wonderful opportunities for parents and community members to return to the buildings to see our students’ amazing work and I’m delighted to share a little about each of them.
Spotlight(s) on Instruction
Just before the pandemic, our high school Business Department established a Business Advisory Council of community members, stacked with expertise in accounting, marketing, human resources, finance, and entrepreneurship. While the Council stayed active by Zoom, it was great to meet again in person this morning and hear the members talk about the great experiences they’ve had mentoring, giving internships to our students, or hearing (and honing) students’ business pitches.
We visited two spaces at Syosset High School:
- The Robotics program, which is adding a new, larger, more sophisticated robotics competition (FRC) to its portfolio of student opportunities and…
- the Virtual Enterprise classroom, which intentionally looks like the bullpen of a tech start-up.
Students in both programs have enjoyed tremendous success at State and National competitions, and (not surprisingly) with that success both enrollment and opportunities for community partnership have blossomed. A big shout-out of appreciation to the businesses and community members who volunteer their time and selflessly share their expertise to support these students’ success in both programs!!
There was an “Open House” at Berry Hill today – and Tiny Homes were up for sale! Berry Hill’s Curriculum Celebration put the ingenuity and talent of our 5th graders on display. Students have been engaged in building Tiny Homes using applied skills from multiple content areas to build a model house. They used fractions to create a model to scale and then estimated the price of their home in order to create an ad for real estate website Zillow. (This is the first group of 5th graders I’ve ever met who know about Zillow!) They also used their English and Social Studies skills to research and write about energy efficiency, explaining how their models could be used to alleviate homelessness in some areas. The homes on display may have been small, but the students' ideas were mansion-sized!
While at Berry Hill, I had a pretty special personal moment. Fifth-grader Audrey-Ann Cayemitte approached me and asked if I was the Harry Potter secret reader on opening day last year. I confessed that I was and she shared with me that she was so inspired, she read the whole Harry Potter series - twice!! She leaned in and told me I had helped give her “a love for reading.” I could tell you she made my week, but truthfully she may have made my whole year. What a privilege to know I played a small part that resulted in something so meaningful to her! That’s the thing with kids, every seed you plant… grows!! (Thanks, Audrey-Ann, for being brave enough to walk up and say hello; our conversation was the best thing to happen to me today!)
Precocious kids aren’t the only thing that makes Syosset special. Just as our community invests in our students through the Business Advisory Council, our alumni come back to help our high schoolers achieve their dreams. This was our first in-person Alumni Day in two years. Our esteemed former students came to their High School home from Harvard, Cornell, Hofstra, Penn State, and more, to speak with current students about their college experience. Our grads emphasized the value of joining clubs and being active in the school community to help adjust to campus life. They also said time management is critical when it comes to exam prep and assignments. For us, Alumni Day is one of those Syosset full-circle moments: we get to see our former students thriving, and our current students planning their bright futures.
A reminder that there is a Board Meeting this coming Monday, January 9th, beginning at 8pm at South Woods Middle School.
2023 is already off to an amazing start. I’m excited for all this year will bring. Have a great weekend!