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Superintendent Updates - May 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.
May 19, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
The results of Tuesday’s election were published earlier this week – the District budget passed and three Board members were re-elected to office. We are appreciative of the support for the District budget and looking forward to maintaining the excellent academic, artistic, and athletic opportunities that our community has worked so hard to build for our young people.
Our Seniors started the day with a remarkable opportunity to hear from one of our most illustrious graduates, Secretary Elaine Chao, who served in the cabinet of two presidential administrations, and led both the Peace Corps and United Way among other notable accomplishments. Secretary Chao shared her story of being a first generation immigrant, English language learner, and Asian-American trail-blazer who achieved many “firsts” and in so doing, broke many glass ceilings. She generously answered students’ questions about public service, her leadership during the Hurricane Katrina and COVID pandemic crises, and her life in the public eye.
No Place for Hate
We are so proud to report that A.P. Willits, Robbins Lane, South Grove, and Berry Hill will be awarded the No Place for Hate (NPH) designation by the Anti-Defamation League at a ceremony in New York City next month. The NPH framework encourages schools to develop inclusive climates that meet the needs of the community. We are so proud to add these four schools to our list of NPH designated schools – all three secondary schools have had this designation for years, and our remaining three elementary schools are deep in the process and looking forward to receiving their designations soon.
The purpose of the NPH designations is to illustrate that we take intentional steps to make our schools welcoming and inclusive places where all students feel they belong. May is both Jewish-American Heritage and Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. These cultural heritage recognitions encourage us to celebrate the values and traditions of different cultures – which is a year-round focus for Syosset both in our curriculum and our extracurricular activities.
We’ve worked to expand our library collections to include stories, authors, and characters that reflect the diversity both in our District and across the planet. Our art and music classes are rich opportunities to incorporate Bollywood dancing, Japanese Taiko drumming, origami, and Chinese prints. And of course, no study of history is complete without exploring the impact of important historical events and the influence of cultural contributions.
These opportunities are intentionally woven throughout the year so they’re not episodic, but a celebration and a reminder that in Syosset, everyone belongs.
That inclusivity also encompasses some of our newest athletic opportunities. Our “Challenger Track” team had their first meet in Massapequa this week, following on the heels of the overwhelming success of our “Challenger Basketball” earlier this year. And one more story illustrates how this community truly values inclusivity.
This time of year we do a lot of interviewing and I often answer candidates’ questions. Yesterday, I was asked what made me proudest. That’s like asking which child you love most, so I instead offered to share the most recent #SoSyo moment that made my heart swell and eyes blur. Wednesday night, our Unified Basketball team played their final home game of the season. The enthusiasm from the first game hadn’t waned as the season went on, but instead grew – students stayed late, other athletes flooded the gym after their own practices ended, and people were holding signs with the Unified athletes’ names on them. After the game, Coach Cardona told me that the officials had complimented Syosset – we were unmatched in our support of these important members of our community, and in our cheering for our guests which made them feel included too.
Schools use lots of tests to measure academic achievement, but there’s no canned assessment for kindness. On Wednesday night, however, I didn’t need one to know our community deserved an A+.
Mental Health Awareness Month
For the first time this year, we celebrated Mental Health Awareness month led by the social work team Districtwide. It culminated in a WEAR GREEN DAY last Friday and every district building held activities to illustrate the importance of mental health awareness.
At the elementary level, students learned about mental health – what is it? How do we keep our heads and hearts healthy? Berry Hill students identified characteristics they liked about themselves, wrote them on index cards, and then built card towers – what a metaphor for supporting each other! On Monday, Willits students will participate in movement workshops and a school-wide thoughtfulness walk. Our goal is to teach students reflective skills that are both fun and healthy!
At the secondary level, students received resources for recognizing when they’re struggling. Middle Schoolers focused on stress management, coping skills, and mindfulness in advisory. High Schoolers based their programming around the theme “Let your mental health bloom.” Students were encouraged to participate in Mindful Mondays, Wellness Wednesdays, and workshops about managing exam stress (just in time for AP testing week!). They also helped out their fellow classmates, writing down their stress management techniques on flowers to create a paper garden of hope.
Spotlight on Instruction
We like to use all the tools at our disposal to teach our students – including our outdoor spaces! Kindergarteners at Walt Whitman participated in Outdoor Classroom Day this week. The day is meant to inspire and celebrate outdoor play, which is proven to be beneficial for child development and health. Our students were able to enjoy a nature scavenger hunt, reading circles on the grass, math lessons about measurements using items found in nature, chalk drawing, and mindful outdoor movement. It was a beautiful day to learn and play – and a memorable experience for all.
Village Girl Scout Troop 3399 is giving back to our community in a very real way. Touched by the impact of recent tragedies, the group set up an old-fashioned lemonade stand to raise money and awareness for M.A.D.D. – Mothers Against Drunk Driving. On Mother’s Day weekend, the girls raised $800 in just four hours. Inspired by their success, they plan to continue their efforts, and make a Mother’s Day lemonade stand an annual tradition.
Thank you to Desiree Ng, Samantha Dinkci, Kendall Kobler, Julia Campbell, Aviva Vohs, Alexandra Spanos, and Isabella Picatagi for reminding us that you’re never too small to make a big difference.
A reminder we are off next Thursday, May 25th and Friday, May 26th – so you won’t be hearing from me next week. Until next time…
May 12, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
A reminder that our District budget vote and Board election will take place this coming Tuesday, May 16th. Polls will be open from 6am to 9pm. Voter information, as well as details about the budget, is available on our District website.
As I mentioned early this year, inflationary increases were going to make it very challenging to propose a budget that could both preserve our educational opportunities for students and remain under the tax cap. But, knowing the value this community places on education – and that families are facing the same inflationary pressures – we’re pleased to report that the proposed budget manages to do both. If approved, all existing programs and opportunities for students will be preserved while keeping the tax levy increase under the State tax cap by about $180,000. The only proposed staffing increase is for two additional social workers to reach one full-time person in every building supporting student mental health.
I just returned from a lecture by Professor Po-Shen Loh, Professor of Mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University and National Coach of the USA International Mathematical Olympiad team. He was sponsored by our Varsity Mathletes, and held the audience of middle and high school students at rapt attention for over 90 minutes. He titled his talk "Building human intelligence at scale, to save the next generation from ChatGPT," and offered wonderful insights into the opportunities and challenges represented by Artificial Intelligence (AI). He’s a brilliantly engaging speaker, and he offered some really interesting insights while having ChatGPT answer some of his math questions in real time both correctly – and incorrectly – in front of a live audience. One point from his talk: AI will eventually get better at math, but it will still lack important human qualities – kindness and “likeability” - so our students should work as hard on those as they do on math. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I stopped by my first regatta ever last Sunday (well, my second if you count the Ya Gotta Regatta I paddled as a middle schooler) – the Long Island Scholastics Regatta at Hempstead Harbor in Port Washington. I loved seeing our Syosset rowers slicing through the water in unison, and even better, saw one of our boats medal! By the end of the day, the team had earned two Gold medals, two Silver medals, and two Bronze medals, and shared in another Gold and Silver finish. They now head to the State championship in Saratoga Springs – good luck!!
Syo in the National Headlines
Two of our Syosset Stars are being recognized by the National PTA for their entries into the annual Reflections student art program. Thousands of students from across the country submitted creative interpretations of the theme Show Your Voice. SHS student Maxwell Greene Received an Award of Excellence in Music Composition for his piece Song of the Travelers. This is Max’s second year as a finalist in the PTA reflections competition. A.P. Willits second grader Minka Van Berkel was awarded the Outstanding Interpretation Award in the Literature category for her story The Girl Who Was Loud Even Though She Didn’t Speak. Minka’s piece reads like a children’s book FOR second graders, not BY a second grader! Her school’s PTA also received a financial scholarship to help her and other students further pursue their craft. Congratulations Max and Minka – your voices are amazing!
Senior Sabrina Guo, who I featured just last week as one of my Bright Spots, was just named a U.S. Presidential Scholar. Sabrina is one of only 161 high school graduates nationwide selected for this high honor. Candidates must be nominated by the State Education Department and are selected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on Presidential Scholars based on their academic and artistic achievements, leadership qualities, strong character, and involvement in the community. Kudos, Sabrina!
Spotlight on Instruction
Have you ever chased down the local ice cream man? Or grabbed barbecue at a street fair? Had Spiedies in upstate NY? Well, students at South Woods wanted to understand food trucks’ appeal and business model. Eighth grade 21st Century career and technical education (CTE) students became resident experts after participating in a cross-curricular project. Teams of students developed ideas for a food truck business and created business plans, learning every aspect of the industry along the way.
Incorporating the New York State CTE standards, as well as Computer Science and Digital Fluency Learning Standards, this unit engaged students in planning, problem-solving, marketing strategy, and creative menu and logo design. Students studied the impact of food trucks on local communities and researched creative, compelling menu items. As part of their business and marketing plan, students designed prototypes of their food trucks’, business logos, and menus. Once their logo and truck designs were finalized, the students used TinkerCad to model and 3D print their designs and a commemorative cookie cutter to represent their business. Wow! I wonder if we can launch some of these trucks in time for next year’s Carnival (just food for thought…).
Junior Hayley Ji and Sophomore Sophie Wang are helping in the fight against cancer. Our two students teamed up with a friend from Great Neck High School to manage a seven week long fundraising campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). Their team, comprised of ten people, was named “Rekindling Hope” to inspire those fighting the disease to remain optimistic for a cure. Rekindling Hope was announced as the second runner up for the 2023 Long Island Student Visionaries of the Year title. In total, the team raised $54,000 for LLS – that truly is hope-inspiring
With the sudden shift from rainy and raw to hot and humid, it feels like every plant is panicked that they might miss the Spring pollination window! I can’t remember an allergy season quite like this one. I have to use the wipers even when the car is bone dry. Let’s hope it ends soon!
May 5, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
I love how our community comes together in tangible ways to illustrate that every member is important. Tonight our new Unified Basketball home opener against Manhasset was played to a packed crowd in the high school gym with students and parents alike cheering thunderously for both their classmates – and their opponents. The game tied at the end of regulation and when Syosset clinched the win with its second basket in overtime there was a roar. Words can’t describe how proud I am to be associated with this program and everyone who came out to support our athletes.
I’m also very proud to hear from students twice a year as they visit my administrative cabinet to offer a consumer’s-eye view of what it’s like to be a student in Syosset, and many great suggestions and sometimes insightful critiques have come from our students both young and old(er). Students shared thoughts ranging from the stress of midterm week to available mental health resources to cafeteria items. Our Elementary students offered perspectives on our Math and English curriculum, and they shared their concerns about aspects of our aging facilities. Their feedback will help us shape how we move forward in educating their younger peers. I’m always amazed at the students’ poise and thoughtfulness!
College Decision Day
From our youngest students to our eldest students – Monday, May 1 was National College Decision Day! Students at Syosset High School streamed through the doors donning their college gear with pride. As we rapidly approach graduation, this special group of students is slated to go all across the country: Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, California, and more. It’s always hard for us to say goodbye to our extraordinary seniors – but they leave us beaming with pride.
Meanwhile, our current Juniors are beginning to think about what’s to come – and our Guidance department ensures it is simple for them to explore all options. Our annual College Night saw over 700 parents and students in attendance in the High School gymnasium. The evening allows families to meet with admissions representatives from over 125 colleges and universities. They come with critical questions about the application process, campus life, and other special programs.
Our DECA club received a special achievement award for being the organization’s largest New York chapter! But, that’s not all we brought home from the International Career Development Conference (ICDC). Syosset sent 56 students to compete against more than 20,000 students from across the globe. We came home with 35 medals – and our 10 finalists finished Top ten in the world. Wow! #GoSyo
High School Virtual Enterprise firms have been working tirelessly all year to prepare for the Youth Business Summit, the VE Super Bowl. All three of Syosset’s firms were national winners in the National Business Plan Competition! Businesses “Drip” and “Lunch BX” were semi-finalists, finishing in the top 1% of all companies, and “Thrive” competed in the QuickBooks competition, placing third in the nation! The Javits Center conference allowed our students to overcome language barriers and cultural differences to work with students from across the globe. Plus, they left that day extremely excited about the new friendships they formed.
And finally, Syosset’s Forensics team is once again the New York State Champion! This marks the 6th consecutive year Syosset’s speakers, actors and debaters have been named the best in the state. This year’s tournament saw nearly 1,000 students from 60 schools. Forensics team members next head to Kentucky and Arizona for the national championships.
Phew – I’m out of breath, and out of room in the trophy case.
Spotlight on Instruction
My favorite class in college was gross anatomy. I liked it so much I ended up becoming a TA for the class in grad school. Donning gloves and goggles, Village fourth graders dissected squid this week as part of their Life Science curriculum. Students worked in groups to identify and learn about the squid's internal and external structures, including the creature’s three hearts (what!), the chromatophores (organs that enable them to change color), the suckers (that help them grab food), and the only hard part of their body: the beak. Dissection gives insights and clarity into why any organism has certain traits and behaviors. Comparing structures and functions of different organisms demonstrates the similarities and differences between species. I hope they found dissection every bit as engrossing (that may be my worst pun ever) as I once did.
Bright Spot round up
It’s a Bright Spot bumper crop (to purloin a lyric: our students are so bright, I gotta wear shades). So forgive me for trading brevity for breadth - I’m sure you’ll want to celebrate with me:
Senior Maximus Lu was one of three Syosset students to qualify to take the USA Mathematical Olympiad exam – high scorers earn a seat in a three-week intensive math camp at Carnegie Mellon University. Maximus had a perfect score – and won gold - becoming the only gold medalist from New York. Congratulations, Max!
I’ve recognized senior Sabrina Guo previously for her service and her scholarship. Governor Hochul similarly issued Sabrina a Certificate of Recognition for starting a nonprofit called Girl Pride International that empowers women and girls to reach their full potential by supporting their education and leadership skills. Likewise, her scholarship earned Sabrina a 2023 GE-Reagan scholarship from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, making her eligible for internships at the White House or on Capitol Hill after her first semester of college. Our community is so proud of you!
This morning, I celebrated with Senior Scott Wong, who was named a Nassau BOCES Farber Award winner for character and achievement. Scott’s on a roll, he just repeated as NYS Champion in the Audio/Radio Production category at SkillsUSA and his team (from the Long Island High School for the Arts) also came in first place. Scott’s a contributor at Syosset High School as well, serving as President of the mental health awareness club Bring Change 2 Mind, and hosting his own YouTube channel.
Meanwhile, way off-campus, I have an update about 7th grade Taekwondo star Trinity Suh, who competed in the Jr. Pan-American Taekwondo championship held in the Dominican Republic. One of the youngest black belts on the team, this was her first international tournament representing the U.S.A. and… guess what … Trinity took home the Gold! She defeated Canada and Puerto Rico to become the 2023 Jr. Pan-American Champion, the best in North and South America.
A reminder that this coming Monday, May 8th is the District’s Annual Budget Hearing beginning at 8pm at South Woods Middle School. A Board of Education Meeting will immediately follow. I encourage you all to attend the hearing to learn more about the 2023-2024 school budget ahead of the District vote on May 16th.
Have a great weekend!