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Superintendent Updates - February 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.
February 17, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
I hope you are all looking forward to the Winter Break next week, though the recent weather makes the term seem oddly out-of-place (maybe we gave Winter a break this year?). Hopefully students and staff alike will come back refreshed and recharged for the remainder of the school year.
Performing Arts Update
Syosset has long been known for its arts programs, winning a Kennedy Center Award and being named a “Best Community for Music Education” 21 times! This week, the spotlight is on our performing arts program – and I’m shamelessly plugging our High School musical.
Our production of Legally Blonde the Musical involves 67 students and 14 staff members who have been working on the show for months. Opening night is March 9th. There will be singing, dancing, and (I’m told) adorable dogs. I’m not sure how they’re getting around the policy prohibiting dogs on campus. I guess I’ll have to see the show to find out!
The musical builds on the success of our Fall theater production, Puffs (a Harry Potter spoof), which was honored with seven awards by the Theatre Association of New York State. The recognitions included Excellence in Acting, and Meritorious Achievement in the categories of acting, set design, ensemble performance, and directing.
Our 22nd Annual “Winter Showcase: An Evening of Improv”, allows our students an opportunity to showcase their talents between our Fall show and Spring musical. Teams of actors, 28 students in all, competed for the coveted title of Kings and Queens of comedy! The winning team donates the show’s proceeds to a charity of their choice. This year’s team, The Genies, chose to donate to Cancer Kids First. The event’s success has inspired students to consider inaugurating an annual “Spring Showcase” as yet another fundraising opportunity for the causes they passionately support.
Seventeen of our student performers and theater technicians attended the New York State Theatre Educators Association Student Conference upstate last month, participating in workshops led by theater professionals. Two Syosset students, Mara Sparacino and Sally Jamieson, were chosen to showcase special performances before the statewide group of 600 peers. No pressure!
We had two groups of High School students who are members of ACT, the Association of Creative Thespians, travel to their former Middle Schools to speak with students about what they are now learning in High School. They introduced some of their improvisation exercises, and taught their younger peers the first part of "Positive" using the Jerry Mitchell choreography from the original production of Legally Blonde. This annual acting clinic is just one of the ways our older students encourage their younger peers to develop a passion for theater. We aim to create a welcoming and affirming bridge between the middle school and high school theater programs.
Big Robots / Little Kids
Speaking of high school students creating bridges, while taking a celebratory photo with our 6 NAfME finalists, I ran into Senior Anoushka Rishi (who last year won the Dean’s Finalist Award for FIRST Robotics). She, along with some Robotics teammates, were headed to one of our elementary schools as part of a districtwide volunteer effort among her teammates to engage all our 5th graders in a robotics demonstration. That is #SoSyo!
As the Winter Sports season has been wrapping up, we’ve had some amazing news. We were proud to host the Boys Varsity Fencing Long Island Championship here at the high school. We were prouder still when our team took home the trophy in a tense matchup against reigning champions Newfield/Miller Place! This was our young team’s first appearance at the championship. Coach PJ Moon was also named Nassau County boys fencing Coach of the year by the Nassau County Coaches Association.
We were also proud to host the Nassau County Gymnastics Championship at the high school. Despite the home team advantage, it all came down to an amazing final floor routine by Sophomore Leah Chin whose score of 9.425 lifted the team to their third Championship title in a row! Congratulations, girls!
I left campus Wednesday night and headed to Bethpage Ice Rink to see our boys club hockey team who were also locked in a Long Island Championship witnessed by a standing-room-only crowd. It was my first chance all season to see them play and lucky me, I was able to watch their breathtaking come-from-behind win to sweep Bellmore-Merrick and take the crown! Congrats, boys (and don’t judge my photography skills).
Spotlight on Instruction
Third graders at Willits have been promoted to “Endangered Animals and Earth Activists!” At the start of the year, students took on a big question: How can we raise awareness or create solutions for the endangered animals of the world? This lesson melded non-fiction research science and writing by asking students to analyze primary and secondary sources and describe how human activities affect the environment of our world community. The students then engaged in creative problem solving by creating WeVideos, informative posters, and persuasive essays to raise awareness on factors impacting endangered animals. Willits’ music teacher had the children modify and create their own rendition of the song Eye of the Tiger, reiterating the message protecting and saving endangered animals. As a culmination to this amazing project-based learning activity, third graders shared their newfound knowledge with their families detailing how acts of sustainability can save endangered animals and the environment.
South Woods 7th grader Trinity Suh will be representing the United States at the Jr. Pan-American Taekwondo championship! Trinity won gold at the national team trials to secure her spot on the National Cadet Taekwondo Team for 12 to 14 year old black belts. At just 12-years old, she will travel to the Dominican Republic to compete. Taekwondo is a style of martial arts that features fast kicking combinations. It is the only full-contact martial art that is also an Olympic sport. Her mom tells us that after school, she goes straight to her family’s Taekwondo studio to help teach classes and practice herself. On top of it all, she is an A+ student here at South Woods. Way to go, Trinity!!
I hope you all enjoy the break from school. I’ll be taking a week off from my newsletter too. Have a restful week!
February 10, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
On Monday night, the Board of Education held its monthly meeting with a special focus on science and technology education. This was also the first of several budget presentations and discussions with the Board for the 2023-2024 school year budget. I want to share a few highlights with the community
First, the good news: we have an amazing science and technology program! Each of our Regeneron scholars had the opportunity to summarize their winning science research projects for the Board, and we honored the captains of our Science Olympiad team - a perennial powerhouse, with this season still ongoing, they are the #1 ranking team in New York State!
We then had an in-depth presentation on our “algorithmic literacy” program. In Syosset, we treat coding and robotics as a vehicle to teach the deeper concept of how machines and even artificial intelligence works. We analogize this learning to the concept of literacy:
- We first learn to read in order to eventually read to learn.
- Similarly, we learn to use technology so we can then use technology to learn.
Just as a good book is the best incentive to read, robots and projects turn coding into a tool to be wielded rather than a skill to be memorized. Moreover, we start right in Kindergarten, hoping students develop their own sense of proficiency long before any gender stereotypes take root.
The more sobering news is on the financial front. Schools haven’t faced an inflationary year like this one in decades. Many costs outside our control – transportation, interest rates, health insurance, electricity, and pension contributions – are growing rapidly. Increases in state financial assistance will only partially offset these costs, and in Syosset we have the added challenge of enrollment growth. However, our priorities are clear: as we build the budget, we are working hard to preserve the programs that make Syosset such an attractive community for families. Follow this link if you’d like to view this week’s budget presentation. Our next Board Meeting will be on Monday, March 13th, and will begin with another budget discussion. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the upcoming year to attend.
We also discussed a potential new program that we may be required to offer. The New York State Education Department requires schools to offer instruction in a different language if there is a concentration of English language learners (ELLs) who speak the same home language. Syosset has reached the threshold for Mandarin speakers in Grades 1 and 2. This program, called Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE), would teach academic subjects (math, social studies and science) in Mandarin alongside both Mandarin and English language classes. Our current program to support ELLs is very successful – typically students reach English proficiency in 2-3 years while taking classes with their peers.
The new TBE program would be housed at a single elementary school and would involve eligible 1st or 2nd grade students taking a bus to the program, regardless of which elementary school they would normally attend. The new program is not mandatory, so to help parents make an informed decision, we will be holding information sessions (with translation available) after the February break to explain both the existing program for ELLs as well as the proposed TBE program. To learn more, you can see the presentations about the program at this link in both English and Mandarin.
Music & Arts Update
Syosset has long prided itself on its music and arts education. We've even won a Kennedy Center Award! This week’s update gives a “full-circle” glimpse into how we do it.
Syosset students descended on Walt Disney World last week. Nearly 300 students from the Music and Art Departments traveled to Florida to participate in workshops with Disney musicians, artists, and “Imagineers.” Music students also performed at the Waterside Stage in Disney Springs. They had some fun too, and it feels like they brought the weather back with them!
The trip illustrates the success of our music and arts department. From Kindergarten to 12th grade, we have over 300 all-county musicians, 29 all-state, 5 all-eastern, and two all-national. Three of our chamber groups have been accepted to compete at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Regional Competition later this Spring.
Similarly, our visual artists have been having wonderful success. Syosset students’ art has been hanging in galleries and exhibits across the region:
- 12 Pieces Included in the Nassau County HS Juried Competition
- 6 Photo pieces accepted in the Art Guild Photo Exhibit
- 4 Pieces accepted to a Huntington Art Council Exhibit
- 6 Students accepted to the Lunar New Year Art Exhibit in Brookhaven
- 2 pieces selected for LIU Advanced Visions Exhibit
- 2 pieces at the Go APE Exhibit at the Art League of LI
- 2 pieces featured in the Cornell Cooperative Annual Calendar
You might ask where this all begins. Senior Michael Sabatino might be a wonderful illustration. He was named a Finalist in the 2023 YoungArts Competition for his accomplishments as a vocalist. Out of 700 students nationwide, he was the only classically trained Tenor selected as a Finalist, and invited to attend National YoungArts week in Miami. There, he enjoyed an intensive program, collaborating with peers and further developing his craft with internationally recognized leaders in his field.
But closer to home, on Monday, the Board and the PTA celebrated Michael as a regional winner in the PTA’s Reflections competition. Reflections winners use art - written, visual, photographic, videographic or dance - to express themselves on a theme. Regional winners range from our youngest elementary students to Seniors like Michael. But it’s a wonderful illustration of how year after year, the PTA Reflections competition inspires and showcases our young students’ skills, while our arts programs hone them until – who knows – they become a YoungArts Finalist as a senior!
Spotlight on Instruction
In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Syosset High School held its annual day of programming for Sophomores in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center (HMTC). Each year, the Center helps us plan an informative and impactful day for our students. This year's keynote speaker, Rosalie Simon, shared her heartbreaking experiences as a pre-teen living through the Holocaust where she lost much of her family and only narrowly escaped herself. Her courage in telling her story was matched by her generosity as she stayed to answer thoughtful questions from the student audience. Later in the day, students were afforded an additional, more intimate opportunity to hear from a second-generation survivor.
This visit coincided with English students’ in-depth study of Elie Wiesel's memoir, Night. Students concluded their unit of study with a research project in which students chose a Holocaust survivor to research. Their findings incorporated primary sources, maps, videos, and other visuals. We hosted a "publishing day" during which students presented their projects in small groups and wrote meaningful reflections about each other's work.
Although this is always a sobering day, it is a crucial part of our students’ education. I joined both the morning and afternoon sessions and was proud of how seriously our students took the event. Programs like this not only make good on the promise to “Never Forget,” they illustrate for students where hate and inhumanity lead, while inviting them to fight injustice as an “upstander.” A very special thank you to the HMTC, the faculty and staff who helped plan this day, and especially all of our guest speakers.
If you’re trying to figure out how to manage your high cholesterol, why, there’s an APP for that! Sophomore Annie Qiu has created the Cholesterol Ease app using published research and personal data to build meal plans for those controlling their cholesterol. Annie was inspired to create this app after watching her uncle struggle to sift through all available resources and follow a plan that worked for him. When she realized there was nothing out there to help… she built something herself!
Annie entered her app into the Congressional App Challenge and was chosen as a winner by Congressman Thomas Suozzi, the now retired representative for New York’s 3rd District. The national challenge saw over 9,000 student applicants and reviewed 2,700 fully functioning apps.
Annie hopes her app will become a helpful tool for health clinics. I’m personally thrilled because faster than you can say “algorithmic literacy,” she’s used coding as a tool to solve a larger problem. Way to go, Annie!
Have a great weekend, everyone!
February 3, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
Although every week brings some wonderful news to report, this update starts on a somber note as we continue to grieve with the Daggett family over the loss of Ben. We’ve received expressions of sympathy from around the Long Island education community. I’m so proud of how our High School students expressed their support by creating a memorial near the tennis court, and wearing blue to school in Ben’s honor (his favorite color). Our support staff remains available to assist any students or staff struggling with the impact of this sudden loss.
A reminder that on Monday at 8pm, there will be a monthly Board of Education meeting at South Woods Middle School. This is our budget information meeting, where we will begin to discuss the 2023-2024 school year budget. This will be a challenging year given the sudden spike in inflationary pressure facing all school districts. Increased aid from Albany has been welcome, but comprises a narrow part of the District’s revenue. Other items on the agenda include a presentation on our K-12 Coding and Robotics programs, and project presentations from our Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars.
Two more of our newer athletics teams are making a name for themselves, despite being young programs. Boys and Girls Varsity Fencing began in Fall 2018 and this year, both teams are undefeated and were named Conference 1 champions. They occupy the top seed going into the County playoff matches. We will host the semi-finals this coming Wednesday, and I encourage anyone who has never seen a fencing match to come support our teams and appreciate this remarkable sport. Even with my superficial understanding, it’s been impressive to see the students’ lightning reflexes and athleticism. I will never challenge any of them to a duel!
After hitting their milestone wins, Boys Swimming and Diving and Girls Gymnastics both went on to finish their seasons undefeated and are also headed to county championships. For the second consecutive season, our wrestling team finished the season as Conference champions. And, next week, our cheerleading team heads out of state for Nationals.
Spotlight on Instruction
Our 7th grade scientists at South Woods have been doing experiments to understand cellular respiration well enough to decide whether it is an endothermic or exothermic reaction. Collaborating with classmates, the students mixed yeast and water in a beaker subsequently covered with a balloon. They then measured the circumference of the balloon over time. Using “accountable talk” prompts as a framework to agree or disagree with each other, students discussed their data as scientists would. The students continued to analyze their data and made predictions about how the balloon would grow and change.
Answer: He's a social studies teacher who appeared on Jeopardy.
Question: Who is Daniel Wohl?
This coming Wednesday, February 8th, one of our own will appear as a contestant on Jeopardy! It was SHS teacher Mr. Wohl’s lifelong dream to compete on the legendary game show. About 100,000 people apply every year, and only 400 are chosen. High School students interviewed Mr. Wohl about his experience on Jeopardy during today’s morning announcements. Fun fact: In his first year at Syosset, our senior class voted Mr. Wohl "Most likely to win Jeopardy." Were they right? We’ll find out Wednesday!
I’m told the Groundhog weather predictions are mixed this year. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the next few weeks bring. Meanwhile, we know for sure it’s going to be a chilly weekend. Bundle up!