Superintendent Emails and Updates - April 2021
April 30, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
Next week is Teacher Appreciation week, and while we’ve always appreciated our amazing teachers, I think this year has given us an appreciation like never before for the importance of what they do and the complexity of doing it well.
In redesigned classrooms both literal and virtual, our teachers have reinvented education for social distance, whether the students were 6 feet or 6 miles apart. They made a massive surge forward in the use of technology, solving challenge after challenge created by the pandemic. What they have accomplished over the last year has been extraordinary and inspiring, and they have not only my appreciation, but my gratitude for their dedication to the young people of Syosset in this most extraordinary year.
End of Year Celebrations
This week we announced our plan to bring all our seniors together on Monday for a Senior Commitment Day celebration. I’m so happy to hear how excited our seniors are for this well-deserved day to be together in the building and to celebrate each other’s post-graduation plans. I am really looking forward to seeing all our seniors on Monday, and I’d like to express my gratitude to the high school administration for their efforts to make this happen and to the students in grades 9 through 11 who will be learning remotely on Monday to make room for the seniors.
Also this week, the State issued updated (and encouraging) guidance on end of year celebrations. We are reviewing this updated guidance with Hofstra and we hope to finalize and share our plans for the high school commencement ceremony with everyone next week.
As a reminder, we are holding the third Community Engagement Meeting on the Stillwell Fields Propositions to be included with this year's budget vote on Tuesday, May 4 at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held in-person at South Woods Middle School and also live streamed. Please click here for more information on the Stillwell Propositions, and click here if you would like to register to attend the meeting in-person on Tuesday.
We all know the importance of communication in building connections, and we are so proud of South Woods student Grace Chenxin Liu for her efforts to promote an understanding of the Chinese language and culture through her award-winning journalism. Grace, in partnership with students from across the U.S., co-founded the student-led organization ABC Media, which showcases student-created multimedia works highlighting Chinese culture. The organization has a growing online audience, and warmly welcomes new members to join in their journey.
Have a wonderful weekend, stay safe and #syostrong!
April 23, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
In case you missed the announcement this morning, at a special Board of Education meeting last night, the Board approved the appointments of Ms. Sari Goldberg McKeown and Mr. Christopher Meyers as the principals of Village and Robbins Lane, respectively, beginning July 1. After a rigorous interview process, I’m confident they will make excellent additions to our leadership team and excited by the experience and talent they bring to their roles. I’d like to extend my gratitude to the hiring committee for their involvement in the selection process. And I’d like to, once again, wish all the best to Mr. Kasper and Ms. Pallos in their retirements.
End of Year Events
At Tuesday’s monthly Board of Education meeting, we reviewed our plans to honor our students who are moving up and graduating, and to celebrate the end of the school year.
- Elementary moving up ceremonies will take place on June 14 and 15, with a rain date of June 16. The ceremonies will take place outdoors with a limit of 200, as per the current NYS guidance. Information regarding other end of year celebratory activities will come from the building principals.
- Middle School moving up ceremonies will take place at Syosset's new track and field outdoor stadium. South Woods will take place on Monday, June 21 and HB Thompson will take place on Tuesday, June 22, with a rain date to be determined. Multiple ceremonies will take place each day so that we can stay under the limit of 200.
- The high school commencement will take place at Hofstra’s outdoor stadium on June 23. The venue can accommodate at least 2,600 spectators. As we will have more than 200 in attendance, proof of a negative COVID test or proof of full vaccination will be required.
- The Prom will be held at the Heritage Club on June 17 in 2 sessions. Proof of a negative COVID test or proof of full vaccination will be required for this event.
In addition, I also shared that we will be announcing opportunities to reunite the senior class over the course of the rest of the year. First up will be a “Commitment Day” celebration on Monday, May 10. Since many colleges are delaying the traditional May 1 commitment day, we hope that by May 10 most of our seniors will know their fall plans and proudly come together to celebrate as a whole class.
Detailed information on this and other end of year activities and events will be provided by each of the building principals.
At the Budget Information Meeting that took place on Tuesday, after reviewing a presentation with a focus on the revenue component, the Board of Education adopted the proposed 2021-2022 budget. The Budget Hearing will be held on May 10, with the annual District Election and Budget Vote taking place on May 18. Detailed information on the proposed budget, including the budget newsletter to arrive in homes shortly, can be found here.
As a reminder, the next community engagement meeting regarding the Propositions to transfer a portion of the Stillwell property to the school district and invest in improvements and added amenities will be held on Tuesday, April 27. To register to attend the meeting in person, please click here. The meeting will also be live streamed (the link will be posted on the website). For more information on the Propositions, please visit www.syossetschools.org/stillwell.
Unused Snow Days
As no makeup days for inclement weather are required this year, all schools will be closed on Thursday May 13, Thursday May 27, and Friday May 28.
Daily Health Attestation
We are aware that many have recently been presented with a bothersome reCAPTCHA process following the Daily Health questionnaire, requiring the identification of images before the form can be submitted. This is a security measure designed to distinguish humans from machine input. We have asked the provider of the questionnaire to delete this feature and they are investigating the issue. We apologize for any inconvenience; it drives me crazy too.
Positive COVID-19 Notifications
I’m sure you are just as relieved as I am to see the numbers declining on our daily positive COVID-19 email notifications. And I’m sure you would appreciate a few less emails to attend to. Therefore, going forward we will send out the notifications of positive COVID cases 3 times per week - on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
COVID-19 Vaccination Opportunities
For anyone in need of a COVID-19 vaccination, Northwell Health has advised us they have appointments available.
On Tuesday, April 27 at 4:30 p.m., the South Woods and H.B. Thompson Chamber Orchestras will combine for a special performance to raise awareness and stand up against racism and hate. The students will be performing music by the Asian American composer Soon Hee Newbold whose message to our students is “Rise above the ignorance, and let your actions do the shouting.” The performance can be viewed by livestream only: Syosset Concert 4:30 PM - YouTube. The students are raising money for CommUNITY Action Fund by Hate is a Virus through a GoFundMe campaign, and are already almost half-way to their goal. I hope you’ll join me in supporting our students’ important initiative.
As the “Fall” athletics season comes to a close, I want to congratulate our teams for terrific seasons despite the challenges and wish good luck to those with playoff games tonight and over the weekend. Go Syo! We’ll have a comprehensive list of our students’ accomplishments in an upcoming update.
April 23, 2021 - New Syosset Principal Appointments
Dear Syosset Community,
We are pleased to announce the selection of Ms. Sari Goldberg McKeown and Mr. Christopher Meyers as elementary principals for the Syosset Central School District. Ms. Goldberg McKeown will succeed Mr. Jeffrey Kasper as the principal of Village Elementary School and Mr. Meyers will succeed Ms. Thea Pallos as the principal of Robbins Lane beginning on July 1, 2021.
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere gratitude to Mr. Kasper and Ms. Pallos for their years of leadership and dedication to the Syosset community. They will be missed next year, and I wish them all the best in their retirements.
Ms. Goldberg McKeown is an experienced educator who currently serves as a Curriculum Associate and K-12 Remote Learning Principal in the Commack School District. Ms. Goldberg McKeown was a tenured reading teacher in the Locust Valley and Levittown School Districts. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at St. John’s University. It is evident that she is committed to academic excellence and life-long learning.
Mr. Meyers is a well-respected Earth Science teacher at South Woods Middle School and Varsity Track and Field Coach in Syosset. He has been the Syosset Summer School Principal for the past nine years. He has made a positive impact on the Syosset school community in various roles, such as mentoring Student Teachers and as the advisor to the Student Government Club. Mr. Meyers is a valued member of our faculty, and has developed strong connections with our students, staff, and the community.
I am confident in the leadership abilities of Ms. Goldberg McKeown and Mr. Meyers, and I know we will benefit from their extensive experience. They both look forward to championing extraordinary learning experiences for our youngest students in their new roles.
Please join me and the Board of Education in congratulating Mr. Meyers and welcoming Ms. Goldberg McKeown to Syosset!
April 16, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
We have been analyzing two important pieces of guidance from New York State received in the last week that will have significant implications for the remainder of the school year. They contain some hopeful news and some elements that I know some parents and students will find disappointing in the short term.
Commencements and Moving Up Ceremonies
Earlier this week, the State issued guidance on Commencement and other end of year activities like prom. The exciting news is that it appears that our plan to work with Hofstra to use their outdoor stadium may allow us to hold a single commencement ceremony for the entire graduating class. They are still seeking State approval for our plan, but it appears to fit within the guidelines in the new memo. As with any event at medium or large facilities, participants will have to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test. We’re beginning the planning for this logistical challenge now in the hopes of being ready by June.
The middle schools and elementary schools are still digesting this guidance but are aiming for outdoor ceremonies as well in order to maximize the number of participants possible. The new guidance limits attendance to 200 people without triggering the requirement for vaccination/testing. The guidance was unclear on whether the 200 applies solely to spectators or to all participants, so we’re seeking clarification. Anticipate more information directly from your building principal in the upcoming weeks.
Social Distancing Guidelines (3 ft. vs. 6 ft.)
We also received anticipated guidance from the State on its interpretation of the CDC rule change allowing for social distancing to be reduced to 3 feet in schools under certain conditions. Counterintuitively, the guidance is more restrictive in some cases than the rules it replaces. I’ll try to explain.
The CDC ranks areas by level of COVID transmission from best to worst as: Blue Zones, Yellow Zones, Orange Zones, and Red Zones. Currently, Nassau and Suffolk Counties are in the Red Zone with transmission rates in excess of 100 weekly cases per 100,000 population (about 14 daily cases). Syosset and Nassau are currently double this limit with about 30 daily cases per 100,000 population.
The new guidance contains new restrictions for secondary schools in a Red Zone. The good news is that no changes are required to our current middle or elementary school operations because they are able to accommodate students and remain at 6 feet of social distance.
However, the only way to reduce social distance to less than 6 feet in Syosset High School while the County remains in the Red Zone (high risk) is when students are “cohorting”:
“In counties with high risk of transmission, elementary schools can maintain physical distancing of at least three feet between students in classrooms and cohorting is recommended when possible. However, in middle and high schools three feet between students in classrooms is recommended only when schools can use cohorting. When schools cannot maintain cohorting, middle and high schools must maintain physical distancing of at least six feet between students in classrooms” (p.8, emphasis in original.)
“Cohorting” means having the same small group of students together all day, kept at least 6 feet apart from any other small group -- essentially like an elementary classroom where the same students are together all day, even for music and PE class.
Obviously, it is impossible to implement cohorting at the high school because students change class every period and our wide range of offerings means no 2 students have the same schedule. So, this new guidance does not permit Syosset to reduce social distance at the high school while the County remains in a Red Zone (and there is simply insufficient room to bring additional students, like seniors, back full time and remain at 6 feet).
Lastly, even in areas that are not in the Red Zone, the rules for “close contact” remain unchanged - anyone within 6 feet of an infected person for 10 minutes must quarantine for 10 days. Given the rapid proliferation of even more contagious variants in our region, relaxation of these rules seems unlikely.
We will continue to monitor COVID trends and CDC zone designations. Meanwhile, the guidance has some other requirements:
- Distance requirements for wind instruments and singing is reduced from 12 feet to 6 feet, regardless of CDC Zone.
- Physical barriers (plexiglas screens) are no longer recommended, but are not required to be removed.
- NYSDOH “strongly recommends” that when schools move to less than 6 feet of social distance, they implement random COVID screening testing.
After several weeks at a plateau, Nassau is finally showing a downward trend in COVID cases over the last week and the post-spring-break spike here in Syosset appears to have crested. The downward trend is hopefully the result of increasing numbers of persons being vaccinated. Over 46% of Nassau County residents have now had a first dose, we have run a series of vaccination opportunities for staff, and now anyone over the age of 16 is eligible to receive a vaccination, so members of our student body are being vaccinated, making our schools that much safer. Better still, Newsday reported data by zip code showing that the rate of vaccination in the Syosset and Woodbury area is even higher than the County average.
Although vaccinations are the likely reason the downward trend has finally resumed, it’s not a time to let our guard down. A vaccine that is 90% effective should hopefully drive infections down dramatically across a large population. But no single individual will be 100% protected. The CDC recently released data on rare instances of positive COVID-19 cases among those fully vaccinated. Therefore, we must maintain vigilance and everyone must continue to follow health and safety guidelines until this epidemic finally burns itself out. Our best chance of preserving in-person instruction and end of year celebrations is to keep doing what has kept us safe all year.
COVID-19 Rapid Test Site
No, the circus didn’t come to town. With the warmer weather, please be aware that the bright blue bus offering COVID testing at the old Woodbury School COVID-19 test facility has been replaced by a big white tent. The facility will be operating in the same manner and will continue to serve our entire community. Should you need to schedule an appointment for a test, please click here.
Daily Health Attestation
We’ve recently updated the daily health screening questionnaire to reflect the new travel guidance. Please remember that this questionnaire must be completed prior to entering any of our buildings.
On Tuesday of next week, the third Budget Information Meeting will be held prior to the Monthly Board of Education meeting, taking place at South Woods Middle School at 8 p.m. A summary of the budget will be provided with a focus on the revenue component. And thank you to all who attended the first community engagement meeting for the Stillwell propositions held on Wednesday evening. We reviewed the propositions for the transfer of a portion of the Stillwell Fields property to the school district and the investment in improvements and added amenities. To view a recording of the meeting, please click here. Additional meetings will be held on April 27 and May 4.
Every child deserves a birthday celebration, and Syosset students Georgia Martin, Noora Zakaria, and Michelle Yiu were featured in Newsday for volunteering their time and talents to provide children in homeless shelters and foster care with all the necessary supplies to make that happen. Working with the non-profit organization Birthday Wishes, the students donate items such as decorations, goodie bags and baked goods. Georgia, an H.B.T. student and only 11 years old, has been working with the organization for 3 years, and SHS juniors Noora and Michelle stepped up in the fall when they knew the organization could use some help with their efforts during the pandemic. The joy and cheer that they spread is like celebrating birthdays all year.
Have a great weekend!
April 9, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
Following my email earlier in the week, I wanted to provide a few more updates as we head into the weekend.
Testing Commissioner Rosa and Chancellor Young issued a statement criticizing the Federal decision to require standardized testing and I concur with the points raised in their critique of that decision. Nevertheless we are required to offer the grades 3-8 tests and the Regents tests. However, neither must be administered to all-virtual students and recording the score of the Regents test on a transcript is optional.
The success of our contact tracing effort so far has been due to its conservatism. Some quarantined people ultimately develop COVID, but most do not. Quarantines are a success when they prevent any further transmission and to do so, it’s necessary to quarantine even low-risk contacts, just to be sure. We consult with the Nassau Department of Health in tricky situations, but their approach mirrors ours - if there is a borderline case, the safest thing to do is quarantine. Until there is a cure, avoidance is the highest priority.
Some COVID reminders…
- If you are sick, stay home. The number one thing to remember is that if you have a symptom of any kind, you should stay home. Even if you have a negative rapid test, you should not return to school until the symptoms have completely resolved for 48 hours.
- If you are awaiting PCR results, you must stay home. We require a negative test result to return to school after experiencing symptoms. However, if a physician administers both a rapid test and a PCR test, you must wait until both results are received before returning to school.
- A positive is a positive is a positive. Although no COVID test (rapid or PCR) is 100% accurate, DOH rules state there is no way to identify a “false positive” through subsequent testing to avoid quarantine. Any positive test, even if later contradicted by another test (like a PCR) is still considered to be a COVID infection.
- It is not possible to “test out” of close contact. Although most infections develop within 4-5 days of exposure, some have taken longer. Having a negative test on day 5 only means you’re not positive yet, not that you’re risk-free.
- Please let us know about exposure or positive test results ASAP. The contact tracing team has been working until late in the evening to ensure we clear all close contacts before opening the building the next day. Late information not only makes their day longer unnecessarily, it puts in-person learning at risk because they do eventually need to sleep. Help us do our best work, let us know immediately if you’ve learned you may have been exposed, or if you get a positive test.
I’m encouraged to learn that so many older folks and at-risk people have been able to access the vaccine for so many weeks now - it certainly means that relatives living at home are less at risk, but it does not mean that COVID’s sting is gone. Our pediatrician continues to advise that young people are at risk for cardio-myopathy and other systemic complications, which studies show can happen even when the COVID symptoms themselves are mild. We must continue to take COVID seriously.
Still, we are anxious to continue our progress on our way back to “normal” and I wanted to update you on the points I raised in my March 19 update:
- the Governor indicated that we should receive new guidance on the CDC’s analysis of social distance in schools sometime next week, and
- the Syosset-Woodbury community’s rate of COVID cases did spike after the break. For most of the pandemic, we have been comfortably below the County average and while we’re not yet dramatically above the rest of the county, we closed the gap quickly and don’t yet see a peak. But it also means that bending that curve is also within our power if we go back to doing what had been working all year.
Once we get that spike under control, we can begin the next steps.
End of Year Activities
We’re looking ahead to end of year activities and we have been working with Hofstra to see if the stadium seating rules the State announced for sporting events could apply to commencement exercises. If so, their stadium should be large enough to accommodate a single commencement ceremony, although the rules currently require negative tests (or vaccinations) for spectators. Nevertheless, we are excited to explore this opportunity. As we learn more, we’ll continue to share.
Speaking of sharing information, I want to thank everyone who registered to attend the community engagement meetings regarding the Stillwell propositions we announced in the March 26 community update, and let you know that there is still time to register for the first meeting taking place next Wednesday. The meetings will be held in person at South Woods Middle School and also live streamed. Information on attending the meetings, viewing the live stream, and submitting your questions and comments can be found here.
We all know amazing things can happen when students come together united with a common cause, and Syosset High School students Maggie Liu and Abigail Wu certainly demonstrated the power students can have. Working with Caroline Zhu and the Students Combat Corona club, they recruited the help of many Syosset High School and other local high school clubs, and partnered with the Office of Legislator Lafazan and the Woodbury Jewish Center to host a Spring Drive for the homeless. The result of their efforts was 2 tons (yes, really!) of food, clothing, and supplies donated to the Mary Brennan Inn, Long Island Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, and the People Loving People food pantry. After the event Caroline commented “We want to show that every student here in Syosset has the opportunity and resources to create something amazing from nothing, as long as they have the motivation and drive to carry it through!” Sounds like a life lesson to me!
Enjoy the weekend: chin up, mask up, thumbs up!
April 7, 2021
The Friday update is arriving a little early this week. We appear to be entering a new phase in our fight against COVID and I wanted to provide some perspective and context.
Much of the news is good. Hospitalizations are down overall, deaths continue to decline, and over 40% of Nassau County residents have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
It’s tempting to see this news and assume we’re out of the woods. But that would be premature.
The drop in fatalities and hospitalizations appears more due to the high rate of vaccination among older persons than receding COVID transmission. Look beneath the headlines and find the rate of hospitalization of younger persons is climbing and despite growing numbers of vaccinated people, the drop in Nassau County’s positivity rate and daily cases has been stalled for over 5 weeks.
- In the last 14 days of February, Nassau County was averaging 611 cases/day with less than 8% of the population fully vaccinated.
- For the last 14 days, Nassau County has been averaging 621 cases/day, even though twice as much of the population is fully vaccinated and 40% is now partially vaccinated.
The obvious implication is that the transmission rate is rising among the shrinking pool of unvaccinated people (which includes students). This, in turn, may be driven by two highly transmissible variants (B.1.117 and B.1.526) that now appear to account for nearly 70% of cases in New York City.
While we have still not seen any evidence of transmission in a Syosset classroom, there has been a sharp increase in the number of positive cases among members of our learning community. I know Monday’s report of 26 cases was eye-opening, and we have had 2 January-like days since. A little context may be helpful: some of those cases were students already in quarantine for earlier close contact; others occurred during the break and we were simply notified after the holidays. Neither circumstance presents a risk of school-based transmission. Still, it’s a noticeable uptick and as a whole community we should react.
The transmission we’re seeing is occurring mostly through social events and travel. What’s new is that events that would have been unlikely to result in transmission last fall are now resulting in some transmission. It’s unclear whether that’s the result of the variants, or lax mask-wearing, distancing, hand-washing etc., but it is a new development that we’re taking seriously.
What is clear is that allowing a more transmissible variant any toe-hold in Syosset will set back all of our plans for a return to “normal”. Here’s where we must remain #Syostrong. Just like our track athletes who push hardest in the exhausting last leg of their race, we have to dig deep into our reserves of stamina and endurance a little longer. Early on, we speculated that this would be an 18-month crisis. Given the encouraging news about vaccinations for younger children, the tail end of that 18-month period may coincide with the availability of a vaccine for all age groups.
But we’re not there yet, so we can’t start letting our guard down after we’ve accomplished so much these last 13 months. Stay vigilant until COVID and its nasty siblings have literally run out of places to go.
Until then, let’s keep our chins up, our masks up, and our hopes up.
You may have just read in Newsday about Syosset High School students Evan Cheng and Michael Lan, who started a program in May 2019 named “Music Relief” to share their talent and offer music education to students who couldn’t afford professional lessons. Undeterred by the pandemic, they switched to virtual sessions, and even expanded their reach as far as California! They’ve recruited teachers who share their passion from Syosset and other local high schools, and their team of at least 18 have now served over 100 students nationwide. Donations received from parents have been used to provide food to the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island.
They are just 2 of the amazing student artists who are a large part of the reason our District was just named a Best Community for Music Education for the 21st time! But according to Fine and Performing Arts coordinator Michael Salzman, this year’s recognition has been the most meaningful. To keep music alive in the pandemic, the District ensured students would not have to share wind instruments, obtained access to SmartMusic technology and a host of other computer applications such as electronic music textbooks. We hired a remarkable group of “Co-Pilots” so that all elementary music classes would continue to be taught by certified music educators. And while other districts turned them away, we took on the best student teachers to assist with individual instruction. Syosset pilot-tested the NYSSMA virtual festival platform that was ultimately used by 30,000 students across the State to keep competitions alive. Despite a year filled with scheduling and logistical headwinds, our music incredible educators sailed ahead!
Stay safe, make good decisions, and stay #Syostrong just a little longer,