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Superintendent Updates - June 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
June 23, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
Happy last day of school!!! Well, until summer school starts in two weeks, that is. After watching last year’s graduations on livestream while recovering from my own bout of COVID, it was great to be back in person with families, staff, and especially our students, celebrating their big day and an amazing year. It’s hard to believe that was only a year ago because we managed this school year with very few remaining vestiges of our pandemic mitigation efforts. These kids have truly lived through unprecedented times, and have impressed us all with their resilience and success.
So I personally found this week of celebration particularly inspiring this year. I couldn’t be everywhere, of course, and can’t possibly do all the ceremonies justice or quote every speaker. So forgive me. But I’d love to share some moments and glimpses that resonated with me, and hopefully with you too. This week, let’s consider this entire message my Bright Spot!
It’s amazing how perceptive children can be. As adults, we try to shield them from the fears of the world – but, even our youngest students still recognize when times are tough.
Class speakers and Walt Whitman fifth graders Leah Kralstein and Elliet Choi reflected on the challenges COVID presented throughout their Elementary education. Leah said that after months of being trapped inside (and admittedly a little scared), coming back to school felt like coming back home. But, even during those times, she felt like she had the support of her Walt Whitman family, even through a screen. Elliet echoed that same sentiment. She said despite COVID, there were ways to have fun in school – like listening to teachers read bedtime stories over Zoom. They both said that there are struggles as you grow up, but none that are too difficult to overcome. Trustee Jack Ostrick observed that “I don’t know…” can be one of the smartest things you ever say, provided you follow it with “... but I’m going to find out.”
Trustee Lynn Abramson reassured Baylis graduates that, like her son last year, they would seamlessly make the transition to HBT. The audience not only shared their goodbyes with the 5th grade class, they also wished Principal Lisa Greiner well on her own “moving up” ceremony as she retires at the end of this school year. Thank you, Lisa, for your wonderful leadership and many years of service to Syosset!
Moving on can be scary–but these students are confident that they are entering another safe space in their middle schools. At Village, student council Vice President Henry Pokrywka spoke to his class. He said, “Today, we celebrate the end of one chapter and the beginning of another… let us begin our new journey with curiosity, determination and courage while we meet new friends at South Woods.”
Robbins Lane students sang their class song – Believe by Shawn Mendes. The lyrics say: “Let your dreams take flight, and your heart ignite. Did you know that it's true? Everything is possible.There's nothing we can't do.” Trustee Brian Greico quipped that the school’s name has its own sign on the Long Island Expressway.
A.P. Willits wowed the audience with a special renditions of Viva La Vida by Coldplay. The students created special lyrics about their time in Elementary School. The bridge went like this: “Class of twenty-three hear us singing H-B-T for we are leaving. Say goodbye, but we won’t forget in this special place that we met.” Trustee Susan Falkove thanked the teachers for helping our children “become creative thinkers, independent workers, and more empathic people… our students don’t just learn reading, writing, and math. They learn to be brave, to take risks, to persevere, and to find beauty in even the smallest moments.”
Trustee Anna Levitan spoke to the class at Berry Hill. She encouraged the soon to be Middle Schoolers to “keep on learning, be curious, and have a positive attitude.” Principal Mary Kolkhorst shared this parting thought from Ghandi: “There are no goodbyes for us, wherever you are you will always be in my heart.”
I loved South Grove fifth grade class President Harrison Yoo who quoted Aesop to his fellow graduates: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” That truly is fabled advice.
I am confident that this resilience and desire to spread kindness will follow these fifth graders as they move on to their respective Middle Schools. HBT and South Woods have bright futures ahead.
At the South Woods Middle School graduation, pinch hitting for Board Vice President Lisa Coscia, Trustee Dr. Shany Park shared with the students an important reminder, quoting Lilli Vaihere:
“Behind you, all your memories.
Before you, all your dreams.
Around you, all who love you.
Within you, all you need.”
Principal Michelle Burget followed with a reminder of the Starfish Story – none of us can make all the difference to everyone, but each of us might make all the difference to someone. Student speaker Madeline Lee noted: “South Woods gave us a community of diverse individuals and opportunities to pursue our passions.” Anoushka Jhaveri concurred: “We have made lifelong friends, learned valuable lessons, and created lasting memories.”
(South Woods moving up images can be found at this link)
HBT managed to graduate their largest class in a long time – 350 students! – in record fashion. Working around today’s unsettled weather, the inside of the high school gym was festooned with balloons and students glimpsed their future home. The adversity set the stage for Trustee Carol Cheng’s reminder to be “tenacious!” Ten students collaborated to share their “Top 10” HBT moments ranging from Juha Kim’s humorous thank you to a lunch aide who always shared extra croutons, to Max Piel’s fond reminiscence on the resurrected trip to Washington D.C., to Saanvi Sanghavi’s poignant observation: “I arrived at HBT with uncertainties, fear, and self-doubt, but I will leave HBT with ambition, dreams, and beautiful memories.”
(HBT moving up images can be found at this link)
This will be a Freshman Class for the ages!
The culmination of a Syosset education is the High School commencement exercise. It is a highlight for our entire community–many of us have watched these students grow from Kindergarteners, nearly swallowed whole by backpacks, to confident Seniors who fearlessly rule the halls.
Class Speaker Anika Shah acknowledged the challenges of the past four years, and how her class was able to thrive despite them. “We definitely were not expecting an online freshman year, a hybrid sophomore year, and a junior year behind plexiglass and masks,” she said.
Board President Tom Rotolo surprised the students by asking them to hug one another as a reminder of the bonds we share, and the graduates surprised all of us by standing and doing it. We are one big Syosset family!
In speaking to the class, I reflected on what’s been a challenging time for all of us. As a community, we lost a student, we lost neighbors, and I lost a dear colleague. But these moments are reminders to live each day with intention, not waiting for tomorrow. Instead of being a cork swept along in the current, we should be steering our ship with a rudder – intentionally living the stories we will want someday to tell.
Valedictorian Alex Lin Wang reflected on the question often asked of every child: what do you want to be when you grow up? “This is probably the worst question you can ask a kid,” he said. “As you know, dreams change.” But he pivoted to an observation wise beyond his years: “Whether you know what you want to do today, or discover it later—it will never be too late.”
I hope you enjoyed this synopsis of the graduation ceremonies and that you’ll enjoy this scene from the very end of the SHS ceremony.
A reminder that our 2023-2024 school planning calendar is available on our website–you can find it at this link. A paper copy of our full District calendar will be posted online, and sent to your homes, sometime in mid-August.
My administration will be hard at work this summer preparing for another successful school year this September. There will be a lot of physical construction around the District - this is the time to get things done. But this will be the last Friday update I construct for a bit. If I have anything exciting to share, I know where to find you, and if you need anything, you know where to find us.
School begins again on September 5th. Until then, whether your plans include camp, travel, surf, sand, sports, or a good book, I wish you all a wonderful, relaxing, rejuvenating summer.
This week’s graduation-themed hashtag is courtesy of Ms. Kossof (whose Baylis twins just moved up to HBT).
June 16, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
Graduation and moving up ceremonies are just around the corner. They mark an important milestone in the lives of our young people, and they are especially meaningful this year as we shook off the last vestiges of the pandemic, leaving just the excitement of the celebrations. Elementary School ceremonies are on Tuesday, High School commencement exercises are Wednesday night, and the Middle School moving up ceremonies are on Thursday, weather permitting. Congratulations to all our students, and especially our graduates – may your futures be bright with opportunity!
They’re not the only group we’re honoring at this time of year. We just recognized our Silver Anniversary employees who have served the District for 25-years, and honored our retirees who have devoted their careers to the Syosset community. I can’t say enough about the dedication of #TeamSyo. Our employees’ #SoSyo “above and beyond” commitment to our students has never been more evident than during the extraordinary challenges of the past several years, and Board of Education trustees took the time to publicly thank this extended family on behalf of the entire community.
Spring Sports roundup
As promised – here’s a comprehensive update on where we finished an amazing Spring season of Syosset sports. Even before the athletic accomplishments, I’m super proud of the fact that every single Syosset team in all three seasons (Fall, Winter, Spring) was named a “Scholar Athlete” team by the New York State Public High School Athletics Association. This means that more than 75% of each team’s players carries an academic average over 90. Syosset now has the opportunity to earn a school of distinction recognition for this accomplishment.
- Boys Tennis: For the first time in our school’s history, our Boys Tennis team finished as New York State Champions! We are so proud of these boys for their grit and determination. Way to go!
- Track & Field: Our Boys Track and Field Team came second in Nassau County and their 4 x 100 meter relay earned All State honors. Girls Track and Field were division champs, and also finished second at the county championship meet.
- Golf: Girls Golf finished second in their conference, and 6th in the county tournament overall. Four members of the Boys Golf team qualified for the county individual tournament in a very competitive field.
- Lacrosse: Our Girls Lacrosse team were Nassau County semi-finalists and our Boys were Nassau County Big 4 Champions.
- Baseball: The boys Baseball team were Nassau County quarter-finalists.
- Softball: For the first time in over 30 years, the Girls Softball team made it to the Nassau County AA Championship, finishing second in the County.
- Girls Badminton: The Girls Badminton team finished the season as Nassau County semi-finalists.
- Girls Flag Football: In their inaugural season, the Syosset girl’s flag football team finished 6th in the conference! And, Sophomore quarterback/safety Ivy Matthews became our first ever all-county flag football player.
- Rowing: Three Syosset students (Dylan Geissler, Marcus Hoshino, and Andrew Meneshian) made it to the National Championship Regatta, pulling the 10th fastest time in the nation in their category and going on to win the “C” finals.
There are so many individual accomplishments to mention, we’ve created a complete list here. But I do want to pause for a minute to offer some shout-outs for our graduating Seniors’ athletic accomplishments (you can also see a full list of those outstanding seniors here):
- All-American athletes are recognized as among the best in the nation in their respective sport. Congrats to Jacob Brockey, Hallie Fleshel, Parker Kim, and Rebecca Millevoi!
- The Strength and Conditioning award is presented to athletes who have committed themselves to improving their overall fitness. Congrats to Kevin Hargrave and Casey Ghamar. John Munoz earned All-American from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
- The Unsung Hero Award is presented to the student athletes whose positive attitude has strengthened team morale. Congrats to Brynn Schwartzman and Benjamin Marmor!
- The Athletic Director’s Award is given to athletes for their outstanding contributions to the athletics program. Congrats to William Henry, Jalen Li, and Rebecca Millevoi!
- The Syosset Brave Award goes to the student who demonstrates outstanding leadership and sportsmanship. Congrats to AJ Zuleta and Natalie Socci!
- The John Pappas Award is given to athletes who demonstrate leadership, character and commitment to the athletic program. Congrats to Jordan Altman and Casey Ghamar!
- The Frank Manarel and Connie Kulik awards are presented to the most outstanding male and female athletes of the year. Congrats to John Munoz and Samantha Mayer!
A bit of music…
It’s a little #SoSyo that before this school year is even wrapped up, we have an accomplishment from next year to celebrate already. Each year, NYSSMA selects a handful of ensembles to perform in their “Concert Hour” series at its All-State Conference in Rochester. These ensembles are considered to be the best examples of music education in the state of New York. Our orchestra and band directors each submitted recordings of Syosset’s chamber orchestra and wind ensemble for consideration – and both were selected to be featured performers at the conference this coming December. The last time our Chamber Orchestra was invited to attend this conference was in 1996!
Junior Sophie Sherman is making a BIG difference using some special little words: Good Enough. In collaboration with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD), Sophie created personalized bracelets to hand out at school to provide her classmates with a daily reminder on their wrist to love themselves first. She distributed more than 350 bracelets along with brochures to raise awareness about resources available to anyone who may be struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.
Thank you, Sophie, for your commitment to your classmates and your community.
A reminder we are off this coming Monday, June 19th in recognition of Juneteenth.
Have a great weekend!
June 9, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
Just when you think you’ve experienced every surreal challenge school leadership can throw at you… Syosset was smokin’! Well, not us exactly, but we awoke cloaked by Canadian wildfire smoke and visually transported to 1970s-era Los Angeles. Fortunately, our building interior ventilations systems have aggressive filtration upgrades from our COVID-era mitigation efforts, but some of the smoke detectors in our fresh air systems are so sensitive they were triggered by the ambient wildfire smoke as it entered the system to be filtered. Although the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation extended its Air Quality Alert until midnight tonight, for most of the daylight hours today, Syosset has been in the “green zone,” so we’ll begin warily resuming outdoor activities. Special thanks to all of our facilities staff for the extra work this event entailed.
Spotlight on Inclusivity
Despite the haze in the air, representatives from four of our elementary schools accepted the No Place for Hate designation from the Anti-Defamation League at an indoor ceremony in New York City. The recognition highlights our schools’ year-round work through our curriculum, our programs, and our celebrations to make Syosset an inclusive and welcoming community for all its diverse residents.
The PTA has been part of this effort too. Last week the PTA Cultural Unity committee held its Celebration of Culture culminating event at South Woods Middle School. Students illustrated aspects of their culture and heritage through various art projects, and all in attendance learned a little about each other. Inspired by Baylis 2nd grader Sienna Turner’s poem “Unique,” I remarked that the event summed up our Syosset ethos – Unique, yet United. So #SyoProud of everyone who worked so hard on both of these efforts!
State Champions. Wait, WHAT!?
This just in!!!!! Our Boys Tennis team defeated Scarsdale this afternoon to earn their very first STATE CHAMPIONSHIP! I know this has been an emotional season for the team, so I’m thrilled that they will have this wonderful memory of a lifetime!
Our full spring sport wrap-up is coming, but I know the community has also been following our new Unified Basketball team closely. I’m thrilled to announce they received a trophy for earning second place in their inaugural season. So #SyoProud of the athletes and everyone who supported them. Next up… Challenger Bowling!
Spotlight on Instruction
South Woods and H.B. Thompson Middle Schools welcomed soon-to-be sixth graders to give them a taste of what September will be like. Each Spring, our 5th graders eagerly await the opportunity to board a bus and visit their future middle school. After meeting teachers, guidance counselors, and peer leaders, they enjoyed warm-up activities in the cafeteria where members of the middle school teams introduced themselves. Then, (this is #SoSyo), our middle school peer leaders took control, guiding building tours, ice-breaker activities, and media presentations about middle school daily life, including special tips for success.
It is so rewarding for us to witness our middle schoolers, who have thrived in the transition from upper elementary school to secondary school, answer questions with compassion, calm, and expertise about their schools. The fifth graders left feeling confident about what’s to come, and knowing there are many available resources to get their questions answered. They’ll have one more orientation in August to meet friends, follow a sample schedule, learn how to navigate their first day of middle school, and more.
Our students really have the right CAT-itude when it comes to serving our community. A group of fifth graders at Village Elementary crafted 100 bookmarks as part of a fundraising effort for the Long Island Cat-Kitten Solution, a Syosset-based organization that finds homes for stray or abandoned cats in Nassau County. The students teamed up with the PTA, who gave away one bookmark to anyone who purchased more than $20 worth of books at the last fair of the year. For each bookmark, the PTA set aside $1 for an in-kind donation–talk about teamwork! The students were later able to visit the organization to give their donation, meet the president, and cuddle some beneficiaries of their hard work.
Thank you Emma, Samantha, Stephen, and Claire for your compassion, hard work, and creativity. The feline community, and we human counterparts, think you are all just PURRfect!
Tonight is Prom Night for Syosset High School Seniors. After several years of events distorted to varying degrees by pandemic safety measures, I’m thrilled that these young people can celebrate this important rite of passage unencumbered. Wishing everyone a safe and fun evening!
A reminder that there is a Board of Education meeting this coming Monday, June 12th, at South Woods Middle School beginning at 8pm.
Have a great weekend!
June 2, 2023
Dear Syosset Community,
We are in the home stretch and racing towards graduations and moving up ceremonies across the District. Elementary students have been racing too - at Field Day events - which have been a great opportunity to bring each school community together. I swung by Walt Whitman’s field day this morning and was recruited to the red team by a friend.
At the interscholastic level, Spring seasons have ended and the last of the playoffs are almost past. I’ll have a complete wrap up in a week or so, but I’m thrilled to share that after a very emotional season, the Boy’s Varsity Tennis Team is still going strong! On Wednesday, they defeated Commack to earn the title of Long Island Champions and advance to the state semifinal next week. Way to go, Guys!!
Spotlight on Instruction
With a constantly changing media landscape, Syosset High School is working to prepare students to become the next generation of multimedia content creators. In our expanding Communication Arts program, students are taking a deep dive into the principles of journalism: learning how to be responsible media consumers, investigating stories, asking insightful questions, checking facts, and editing copy. Through our partnership with Newsday, students also have the opportunity to meet and learn from local journalists working in the field.
Building on this foundation, the High School will be launching a new Broadcast Journalism class. Students will report on stories in our school community and the Syosset community at large. To get a taste of what’s in store, two students from The Pulse, the Syosset High School newspaper, recently produced a broadcast story about our College Night, which hosted over 125 colleges and attracted more than 700 attendees. You can see the report on the High School YouTube channel.
High School students aren’t our only journalists. At South Grove Elementary, the “Extra, Extra” club encourages fifth graders to become local reporters too. In another one of those #SoSyo moments, our eldest and youngest students collaborated via Google Meet last month to practice their interviewing and photo captioning skills. Extra, Extra club members interviewed The Pulse journalists about their experience covering the school news, and then High School students modeled for their young friends by interviewing guest speaker and alumna Leah Corcoran (Class of 2022) about her experience studying journalism in College.
It’s great preparing kids with marketable digital media skills. When I was in high school, the most sophisticated student business was a kid re-selling pieces of Bubblicious gum out of his locker (at a hefty markup!). But the explosion of digital marketing, and the major role played by young people has caught Uncle Sam’s attention. We were asked to share rules for social media “influencers” so students who may be earning income from their online presence don’t run afoul of the law.
Bright Spot Doubleshot
Humza Sheikh, a seventh grader at HBT, is thanking our veterans for their service in a very special way. His Boy Scout troop learned to tie intricate knots, which they then display on knot boards and often present as gifts to honor an individual’s achievements. Humza spends his Saturday mornings creating special boards to present to local veterans like U.S. Army Sergeant Ralph Mitchell, a retired Bronze Star recipient and Vietnam veteran, at the Heroes Among Us Annual Charity Gala. The local nonprofit is dedicated to supporting veterans to ensure they have every day necessities and services to live life to the fullest. Next up? Humza is working on an international knot board project to honor Ukrainian veterans via Heavenly Hundred Heroes.
I’m so proud of the work that Henry and Chloe Berkowitz have done to raise money – and awareness – for mental health issues. After raising $10,000 for a NAMI Walk last year, Chloe broke her record by raising over $15,000 this year. She also designed and sold baseball hats and pajama pants to help fundraise for after school activities and summer camp programs for children affected by mental illness. Asked to speak at the Walk, Chloe advocated for early intervention when it comes to mental health and children. I couldn’t agree more – with the successful passage of the school district’s budget last month, we’ll now be able to staff a full-time Social Worker in every school.
Have a great weekend, everyone!