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Superintendent Emails and Updates - March 2021
March 26, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
We have heard from many members of our community who shared their concerns about the rise in Anti-Asian American violence and intolerance and how it may impact our community. The Board and I released an important statement in response to these abhorrent acts. To be very clear, racism, bias, intolerance and hate have no place here in Syosset, and we are committed to our work of promoting an inclusive and supportive school environment for all.
You’ve undoubtedly heard me talk of the important ongoing work of our Diversity and Inclusivity Task Force that began over a year ago, and my pride in the many efforts Syosset has made to celebrate our diverse community and respond to its specific needs. I look forward to reporting on the work in further detail at an upcoming monthly Board of Education meeting.
Although I’m not a huge fan of ranking websites, in the pandemic, I’ll take all the good news I can get. Niche.com just released this list: 2021 Places with the Best Public Schools in America - Niche. Woodbury was listed as #3 and Syosset as #5. Congratulations to the teachers, leaders, and community partners who all work so hard to make this a wonderful place to get an education. It’s as good a reason as any to be #Syoproud.
At a special meeting earlier this week, the Board of Education placed propositions on the May ballot that would:
- convey 35 acres of Stillwell Park to the Syosset School District, and
- undertake a capital improvement project supported with funds from both the District and Nassau County.
The propositions work together, and one cannot be approved without the other. The community will have the opportunity to vote in May. The transfer of the property is also subject to approval by the County and State Legislatures.
We will be holding a series of community engagement meetings to provide further information on the propositions and gather feedback in the upcoming weeks. The meetings will be held at South Woods Middle School beginning at 7 p.m. on the following dates:
In order to allow for appropriate social distance at the meetings, the number of people in attendance will need to be limited. The meetings will be live streamed for anyone not able to attend in person. To register to attend one of the meetings in person, please click on a date above.
Also at the special meeting, the Board approved extending the polling hours for the Annual District Election and Budget Vote by one hour, until 10 p.m., so that members of our community observing Shavuot have ample opportunity to vote. Voting hours will be 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. on May 18, 2021.
As we head into the Spring Recess, I’d like to remind everyone of the importance of remaining vigilant in practicing all the recommended health and safety measures while enjoying the break. As I mentioned last week, future plans regarding hybrid learning are dependent on whether there is a surge in positive cases following the break, and we need your help to be successful.
The COVID-19 rapid test site operating at the old Woodbury School will be open during the break and on Saturday, April 3, for anyone needing a test.
And please be aware that to minimize the number of emails sent over the break, we will be notifying the community of any positive cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, March 31 and Saturday, April 3.
We’ve had several questions related to the Governor’s statement that the travel quarantine requirement will be lifted as of April 1. The official rules from the NYS Department of Health that we follow still do not reflect this announcement. Unfortunately, until we receive such guidance, we are operating under the current New York State Travel Advisory. We apologize for this unfortunate situation and hope the Department of Health will rectify the contradiction as soon as possible. We check daily and will update the community as soon as we receive any new information.
We’ve also received some inquiries on how close contacts to a positive case of COVID-19 are determined and how the resulting precautionary quarantine is implemented. Each case is unique and investigated individually, but we follow all DOH and CDC guidance related to wearing masks, distance maintained, and time duration of the exposure in identifying close contacts. The school conducts its own investigations, and even if a pediatrician does not consider a child not to be a close contact, that does not mean the child has been cleared by the school.
It is important to provide as much detail to the school as possible when discussing any contact your child may have had with a confirmed case. All interactions need to be investigated, especially car rides and both indoor and outdoor social gatherings. Also, if the school has not contacted you directly but you feel your child may have had some contact with a student who was diagnosed with COVID-19, please contact your school nurse to report the exposure and complete the Report COVID form. Also please note that only results of COVID-19 tests from healthcare providers are accepted. We cannot accept results of at-home COVID-19 tests.
I’m so proud of the students in the Work Based Learning Classes at Syosset High School. They spent months planning a fundraising campaign and their hard work resulted in over $1,500 raised for three charities, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Humane Society, and the Wounded Warrior Project, by selling masks they made with their teacher, Ms. Fuchs. The students took orders from high school students and staff and walked around with a cash register on wheels to collect payment. It was an engaging learning experience for the students that culminated in a benefit to three deserving charities. What a credit to the students’ hard work and their teacher’s innovation.
I hope you all enjoy the Spring Recess, and I wish safe and happy celebrations to those observing holidays.
March 19, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
This week ends with a tangled mix of emotions from the week’s major events. I spoke with several leaders in Syosset’s Asian communities and while the horrible events in Georgia are miles away, they’ve had an unsettling impact closer to home.
Yesterday, our Task Force on Diversity and Inclusivity held a subcommittee meeting. After working through the agenda, the remarkable Rabbi Jay Weinstein, who leads Syosset’s interfaith council of clergy, asked to share a poem in support and solidarity with Asian parents and staff in attendance. As he finished, he said, “we are with you, we know what it means to be targeted.” He’s right, we are all with you.
Juxtaposed against these sobering events is the hopeful news that the CDC has determined that schools may safely reduce social distancing recommendations from 6 feet to 3 feet. This obviously has profoundly positive implications for our Fall planning, but I’m sure the parents of high school students are more interested in what it means for the short term.
At Monday’s monthly Board of Education meeting, I outlined a series of factors we were watching to determine when it would be appropriate to begin returning students to full-time learning at Syosset High School. A critical factor was not wanting to get ahead of the CDC’s guidance. The next step is to see how (or if) New York State’s Department of Health changes its guidance to conform to the CDC’s recommendations.
We are in the process of analyzing the CDC guidance now. However hopeful the news, there are serious complications:
- Contact Tracing – “Close contacts” are defined as being closer than 6 feet for 10 minutes, even with masks. Other districts that have gone “all-in” have experienced extensive quarantines -- sometimes even whole grades -- resulting from students closer than 6 feet in every class of a 9-period day. To estimate a sense of magnitude here, we repeated the contact tracing for 29 COVID cases at SHS since January as though students were less than 6 feet apart. The results were stunning – 832 students altogether, or roughly 29 students quarantined on average for each positive case.
- COVID Metrics - The CDC recommends that “in areas of high community transmission, middle and high school students should be 6 feet apart if cohorting is not possible.” Our regular 9-period day is the opposite of cohorting and unfortunately, the Long Island region’s transmission rate is about 6 times the CDC’s standard of 7 daily cases per 100,000 people. Again, the DOH will have the last word.
- Lunchroom – The CDC guidance is unchanged for lunchrooms. We barely have enough space to feed half the students at 6 feet distance in the high school. We plan to take advantage of warmer weather, but this could become a significant hurdle, especially on inclement days.
Like the County, our case counts have also plateaued. We have been averaging about 10 cases per week at Syosset High School. If our simulation of 29 close contacts per case is accurate, that could still result in large numbers of quarantines. Undoubtedly, this is why the CDC ties case numbers to returning to school.
What does this mean going forward? We will spend the next several days scouring the CDC guidance, and awaiting updated guidance from New York State. In the near future, we will announce a more detailed plan to begin gradually returning high school students to full-time, in-person learning, starting with our 12th graders, the senior class.
However, I do not anticipate that date occurring until after the Spring Recess. We need to see if there is a spike like we experienced after the Thanksgiving and December breaks. By waiting, we will avoid quarantining large numbers of students that would result if there is a travel spike with classrooms less than 6 feet.
Two last notes: for now, the CDC guidance won’t produce major changes K-8. But this fall, we’re now solely focused on a 9-period day for the middle schools, and we’ll be able to accommodate all students in person at their home elementary school.
Joining us at the Board meeting Monday evening, Legislator Lafazan and the District announced a proposal to transfer the cleared portion of Stillwell Park to the school district from Nassau County, and for the County and District to jointly fund an improvement project to develop the property into a better athletic facility for our students and an enhanced recreational asset for our community with added amenities and increased security.
A series of community engagement meetings will be held to provide more information, receive feedback, and answer questions. Dates will be announced shortly. We anticipate the community having the opportunity to vote on the proposal during the Annual Budget Vote in May.
Spring Recess/Quarantine Guidance
The Governor recently announced that New York State Travel Guidelines will be updated as of April 1, no longer requiring quarantine after domestic travel in the U.S. However, we still lack formal guidance from the NYS Department of Health on how to implement it. Even if no longer mandated, the NYS Department of Health still recommends quarantine after domestic travel as an added precaution, and mandatory quarantine remains in effect for international travelers. Regardless of quarantine status, all those returning from out-of-state travel must fill out the Traveler Health Form upon entering New York, continue daily symptom monitoring through Day 14 and must immediately self-isolate if any symptoms develop.
The percent of the Nassau County population that has had the first vaccination dose is now approximately 30%, which is great news. Although very encouraging, we have not yet reached the point where we can let our guard down, especially in social situations where our data shows nearly all of the exposure and spread.
Our upcoming Spring Recess is a critical moment of our school year, and the cooperation of our community in adhering to health and safety protocols is crucial at this time. Any students or staff members who travel during the break should monitor for symptoms and quarantine if necessary. The COVID-19 rapid test site at the old Woodbury School will be operating during the break and on Saturday, April 3.
Lastly, please enjoy this week’s bright spot below.
Stay safe, stay #syostrong.
Normally, we’d recognize the impressive accomplishments of our winter student-athletes in person at a Board of Education meeting. While they’ll miss that opportunity, I instead get to share my pride this way. These young people achieved incredible success under extraordinary circumstances. I’d like to commend each student-athlete who participated, and certainly their Coaches, for the effort and perseverance they put forth during the condensed winter season. I’d especially like to thank the Board and our Coaches for putting together an extraordinary off-season training and conditioning program for our athletes last fall, so that when sports finally returned, they were more than ready to play!
Allie Jacobs, Jenna Kolberg, Rebecca Millevoi, Hallie Fleshel, Olivia Donach, Millie Woo, and Cami Platt
Allie Jacobs, Jenna Kolberg, and Rebecca Millevoi
Olivia Donach, Claire Hwang, Nicole McDermott, Cami Platt, Ilana Slade, Millie Woo, and Hallie Fleshel
Special Individual Award:
Olivia Donach received the Marilyn Schnaars Award and $100 Scholarship from the Nassau County Girls Gymnastics Coaches Association
Section 8 Swimming & Diving Scholar Athlete of the Year:
All County Awards:
Ethan Chen, Joseph Chen, Allan Chu, Austin Fei, Michael Lu, Ari Regev, Patrick Yan, Danny Zeng
Lilah Grubman, Delli Mizrahi
All County Honorable Mention:
Victoria Costa, Olivia Mallor, Sam Mayer
Casey Ghamar, Carly Greenbaum, Melanie Lowe
Defensive Player of the Year:
All County, All State Qualifier, Team MVP:
Jake Brockey, Quinn Broggy, George Oroudjov (Undefeated All Long Island), Michael Rampanelli, Steve Silipo, Dan Terino (Undefeated), Keno Zachary
Will Bowie (Undefeated), Jon Castillo, Ben Marmor, Jon Munoz (Undefeated), Michael Ricciuto, Jack Shaw, Nick Silipo (Undefeated), Jack Schuster
Matt Lindenman, Chris Pettinato, Cyriac Puthussery
All Long Island, All County:
Anika Nayak, Tina Zhang
All County 1st Team:
Tyler Chan, Kyle Cheng, Lawrence Zeltser
All County 2nd Team:
Jalen Li, Terry Liu, Kevin Zhong, Richard Chen- Honorable Mention
March 12, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
It has been a long year since the Friday exactly a year ago when we had our last day of in-person school before shutting down the following Monday. It has not been easy since. Over 2,000 residents of the Syosset-Woodbury community and 375 members of our learning community have become sick, and not all are fully recovered yet. Worst of all, members of our learning community have lost family members to the virus.
But times of crisis reveal community heroes: our healthcare workers and first responders who never stopped answering the call to serve – even when their own safety was most at risk; our educational innovators who never stopped iterating and improving our virtual classrooms and who courageously returned to school in the early days when no one knew if our safety precautions would be enough; and my personal bright spots, all of our young people whose extraordinary contributions showed that neither age nor social distance can limit kindness and service.
At the height of the pandemic, our schools provided childcare for essential workers, free meals for families in need, devices so all children could learn, car parades and moving up ceremonies reimagined for safety. We planned for an uncertain new year despite any clarity about the State budget and held our first virtual budget vote. And now, as we cross our 112th day of school, thanks to the hard work of so many, only 2 buildings have lost 2 days of in-person instruction to the virus, and we have not seen a single instance of COVID transmission via the classroom.
Even with their masks on, seeing our athletes and feeling the warmer weather makes it seem like we are emerging from a long hibernation that started last March and never ended. We all want it to be over and we see the end on the horizon. It’s natural to wonder if we can rush that progress.
We are now 12 months along what I’ve always suspected would be an 18-month crisis; one that won’t fully turn the corner until children and adults alike have access to a safe and effective vaccine. The news that a vaccine will be available to every willing adult by May is extraordinarily encouraging and one of the vaccines is already authorized for use with 16-year-olds, while others are in trials for younger children.
We have made remarkable progress, but like Spring crocuses poking through snow, these are green shoots in a harsh environment:
- The positivity rate stopped improving 4 weeks ago, stuck at 4 times what it was last October.
- Daily case counts have also plateaued at roughly 3 times the former “yellow zone” trigger, 5 times where they were last October.
- The Long Island region has the 2nd highest positivity rate in the state, and Nassau has now moved higher than Suffolk.
- In less than 2 weeks this month alone, over 100 members of our learning community have been quarantined for close contact, and more than 35 people were confirmed COVID-positive.
If we move to reopen too slowly, students lose out on important time together and treasured rites of passage. But, if we reopen too quickly, we potentially put people’s health and safety at risk with so much virus still in circulation. On the plus side, 26% of Nassau residents have now had at least one vaccine dose and we’re optimistic that increased vaccinations will restart the downward COVID trend. The best thing we can do to help the vaccines is to avoid taking new risks with the unvaccinated population - like children. We will continue to follow these metrics closely as well as guidance from state authorities for the remainder of this year.
We know that seniors are anxiously awaiting news on events like prom and commencement. We will want to maximize the flexibility of any regulations in place at the time, but the current restrictions unfortunately mirror last year. The high school administration has been working with student government and the PTA on plans they hope to announce shortly. We know too that parents would like to get seniors back together, even if only for a day, and we are exploring ways to do so safely with time that may be freed up by the likely cancellation of many Regents exams this year.
I remain optimistic about the near-term potential and am frankly amazed at how many Nassau residents are already vaccinated, given the challenges with the rollout. Mount Sinai South Nassau obtained a small number of vaccination slots for education workers and made them available for Syosset staff. We hope to have more such partnerships in the near future.
We can look back with pride in what we’ve accomplished over the last year, remember those we lost, and work to get back to more familiar schooling as soon as it’s safer. The best way forward is to avoid having to go backward, and as we’ve seen so many school closures across the County, we must carefully walk a fine line. But, I have every confidence that as a community, we can do it.
Updated Quarantine Guidance
This week, the NYS Department of Health issued updated quarantine guidance for those fully vaccinated (2 weeks or more following receipt of the second dose in a 2-dose series, or receipt of one dose of a single-dose vaccine) or have recovered from a confirmed positive case of COVID-19.
- Close Contacts (individuals exposed to COVID-19) no longer need to quarantine provided they are asymptomatic and have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 during first 3 months after full vaccination, or have recovered from a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 and it is within 3 months of the date of symptom onset.
- As of April 1, domestic travelers to New York will no longer need to quarantine provided they are asymptomatic and have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 during the first 3 months after full vaccination, or have recovered from a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 and it is within 3 months of the date of symptom onset.
We have updated our quarantine protocols to incorporate this new guidance.
Mount Sinai South Nassau COVID-19 Test Site
Today is the last day the Mount Sinai South Nassau rapid test site will be operating on the Syosset High School campus. The Advanced Cardiovascular Diagnostics test site located at the old Woodbury School on the corner of Jericho Turnpike and Woodbury Road will continue to serve our learning community. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff at Mount Sinai South Nassau for their dedication, hard work, and the important role they played in helping us to maintain a safe environment for our learning community. We sincerely appreciate their effort on our behalf.
When South Woods student Maya Sharma was just 9 years old, she learned about Angel House, an organization that builds homes for orphans in India, and was inspired to help. Setting an ambitious goal of raising $20,000 to house 12 orphans, Maya got to work selling homemade jewelry and soliciting donations. Three years later she reached her goal, and 12 young boys are now living in the home she funded and are provided with education, food and a safe place to live. Greek astronomer and mathematician Archimedes once observed, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Maya’s perseverance and commitment, and the impact of her efforts, have leveraged a world-changing opportunity for those dozen boys.
Enjoy this wonderful spring weekend. Play hard, be careful, stay safe.
March 5, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
March has begun and spring is in the forecast, if not yet the air. I feel like the sun has been following our approach this year -- cautiously adding a few minutes of light every day, just as we’ve been incrementally adding back activities. The sun’s progress is inevitable, but ours depends on conditions. We’ve avoided introducing new risks simultaneously to evaluate the impact of each step before adding more. This has allowed us to provide as many opportunities as possible to our students while maintaining agility for changing conditions.
Speaking of which, the steady improvement in COVID conditions we had seen since the new year appears to have plateaued. It’s too early to tell if this is the result of “risk balancing” (where improving conditions unfortunately invite greater risk-taking), or the more worrisome development of a variant of the COVID virus taking hold. However, we don’t need to know the cause to know what to do -- stay focused on our 3 W’s: wash your hands, watch your distance, wear your mask. The virus can’t infect someone it never reaches.
Next Fall and School Budget
We are well into our budgeting and planning for next year. Yet, it’s hard enough to predict what next month may be like, much less next fall. So as we did last spring, we are building plans to accommodate multiple scenarios, so that we can react to changing conditions and postpone some major decisions until things become clearer. Nevertheless, in contrast to last year, some encouraging news has emerged. The mid-year cuts in State fiscal support for school budgets that were threatened will not take place this year, the State Comptroller has announced that the State’s fiscal picture for the upcoming year is not as dire as earlier projected, and some federal stimulus funds appear to be earmarked for schools. We’re not out of the woods yet, but it’s a much more encouraging picture than the calamity we feared last year.
With the announcement of the increase in the number of people permitted at venues and gatherings, I’m sure parents are wondering if similar updates are forthcoming regarding graduations and moving-up ceremonies. So far, State officials have not issued new rules on commencement ceremonies. Until they do, the guidance from last June still stands. I am hopeful that as the spring progresses, we’ll see improving conditions prompt loosened guidelines, and as soon as they’re announced, we’ll update the community on developments. We are actively planning for multiple scenarios and if last year taught me anything, it’s that there is no limit to this community’s creativity in finding ways to do special things for kids -- no matter the challenges.
Earlier this week, I announced our plans to safely host spectators at outdoor athletic events based on guidance issued by the Nassau County Department of Health. Indoor spectators present a more difficult challenge. We have the advantage of a new ventilation system in the high school gym with a high-efficiency air filter, but each sport presents unique logistical challenges. It won’t be possible to accommodate spectators at swimming or badminton, but we have plans to incrementally add spectators to volleyball over the course of the season, evaluating as we go. We will continue to stream games so everyone can get in on the action, even if not in person.
This week the Governor also announced that domestic travelers to New York State who have been fully vaccinated (2 weeks past the last dose) are no longer required to quarantine or test-out for the first 90 days after their full vaccination. We have updated our quarantine protocols to incorporate this new rule.
Anjali Singh, an 8th grade student at HBT, spearheaded a book drive with the Student Activity Club to collect books for students in Africa. Over 700 books were collected and are currently on their way overseas. If education is the doorway to opportunity, Anjali just shipped 700 keys around the globe. Great work Anjali!
I wish you all a wonderful weekend.
March 3, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
Monday afternoon, I walked outside after the high school day had ended and students were starting their practices. It was a beautiful afternoon and the fields were covered with hundreds of JV and varsity boys and girls soccer players, football players, tennis players, cross country runners and more. As I saw our fields finally full of kids for the first time in almost a year, I choked up.
We’ve worked so hard to get back here and I am sure I’m not the only one emotional about restarting sports. Yesterday, we received additional clarification from the NYS Department of Health regarding spectators at athletic events. We will initially permit a limited number of spectators at outdoor games provided all guidelines are followed, and evaluate this approach as the season progresses and as we keep an eye on the data.
The NYSDOH guidelines state that no more than 2 spectators per player may be in attendance, spectators must wear masks (if they cannot maintain social distance), and family units must maintain social distance from each other. Fortunately, we believe we have ample room in the stadium and on the grass fields to accommodate home and visitor spectators – if everyone follows the rules.
The State guidelines also specify that if changing conditions result in our community receiving a micro-zone designation, our ability to host spectators would be negatively impacted. But I’m hopeful that won’t be the case.
Our success is dependent on everyone’s patience and cooperation, but given how we’ve pulled together every step of the way so far, I’m certain we can do this.