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Superintendent Emails and Updates - December 2020
December 18, 2020
Dear Syosset Community,
With two weeks left in this extraordinary year, my thoughts are understandably reflective. I’ve seen a lot of the memes that can’t wait to relegate 2020 to the rear view, and to be sure, it’s been the most difficult year of my lifetime. But I don’t want to dismiss 2020 altogether, because from each challenge was born a remarkable response -- the heroism of our health care workers and first responders; the young people finding a myriad of ways to join the cause; wholesale reinvention of the learning process in both virtual and physical space by our amazing instructional staff; students focused on social issues; a community pulling together to face a generational crisis. No, I don’t want to forget 2020 altogether, because I’d deny myself the memory of the amazing good that came from the bad.
I have so much gratitude and pride in how we all worked together to accomplish these extraordinary things. We’ve been through a lot this year, but I believe we are stronger, smarter, and more united than ever. I appreciate this learning community, and all its members, more than I can express.
As a community, we’ve started adapting to the fact that there’s much more virus in circulation by making safer choices. I know, because we’ve been tracking the daily COVID-19 positivity metrics, which we post on the website, and I’m encouraged to see the curve tracking the positive cases in our community finally bending in the right direction, even as the County numbers continue to climb. Our collective choices will keep us out of the Yellow Zone and allow us to return to our in-person learning environment when we return from the break.
I know we’re all exhausted from doing all of the things the CDC recommends, and frustrated by avoiding all the things we miss, especially now during the holidays. But I also know how strong and committed this community is. We’re perhaps halfway through this marathon, but I know we’ll get our second wind over the break.
COVID Notifications over Winter Recess
Over the Winter Recess, it remains very important for the District to continue to keep track of isolation and quarantine return dates due to testing positive for COVID-19 or coming in close contact with a COVID-19 case. If you or your child has tested positive or been identified as a close contact, please remember to notify us by completing the Report COVID hotline form as soon as possible. If your child does develop COVID while in quarantine, please notify us of that immediately as well.
We will not be sending notifications out to the community on December 24th, 25th, 31st or January 1st. Since students will be engaged in virtual instruction next week, students will not be identified as close contacts by way of the school over the break. We will continue to inform the community of positive cases on all other days of the Winter Recess.
Mount Sinai South Nassau Satellite Test Location
We are so pleased that our partnership with Mount Sinai South Nassau (MSSN) has provided a convenient location for COVID-19 rapid tests for our community. Our partnership is trailblazing, and we are learning as we go - the demand has far outpaced capacity, but working with MSSN, we are making some improvements to the appointment process that will be communicated shortly. Please note the testing site will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but will be open the remaining weekdays of the Winter Recess.
On to 2021!
Following the three days of virtual instruction next week and the Winter Recess, we fully intend to reopen our schools for in-person instruction on January 4. We are ready to start 2021 off #syostrong! Over the break, please continue to wear a mask, avoid social gatherings, and maintain social distance so we can be as healthy as possible when we return to school and finally kick-off a new year. Should you plan on traveling, please be sure to review the latest NYS travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.
In Syosset, we love setting lofty goals and then crushing them as a result of passion, hard work and determination. And that’s exactly what Rheya Shah, a fifth grader at Baylis, did when she decided to organize a toy drive. Rheya aimed to collect 75 toys for children in a Long Island homeless shelter run by the Family Service League. With the support of her family and friends, Rheya more than doubled her goal and delivered 160 toys, and a lot of holiday cheer, to the deserving children. Way to go Rheya!
With the cold temperature outside and snow still on the ground, it’s a perfect night to settle in and watch the Syosset High School ACT’s production of One Stoplight Town tonight at 7 p.m. You can get your tickets here for the one-night-only livestream event. I have my popcorn ready.
I hope you all have a wonderful Winter Recess filled with family time and perhaps the start of some new family traditions that let you remain close to loved ones while maintaining your distance.
Stay safe, stay well, stay #syostrong!
December 11, 2020
Dear Syosset Community,
My hope for this most unusual of holiday seasons is that our community will find ways to honor and celebrate with the joy the holidays inspire and the safety the times demand. Although those celebrations may look very different than in years past, may they be no less special and meaningful, and may you perhaps discover new and unique ways to celebrate with loved ones.
With less than two weeks to go before we break for the Winter Recess, we are reaching a critical point in our fight against COVID-19. Our collective actions in the next few days will literally impact what the next few weeks and months look like for our schools, our local businesses, and our community.
Positivity Rates on the Rise
We have been keeping very close track of the COVID-19 positivity rates in our community. As the state and county update their data sites, we post charts on our website detailing the positivity rate of Nassau County vs. Syosset, as well as the 7-Day Rolling average of new daily cases per hundred thousand. The charts illustrate that during the summer and continuing into the fall, our positivity rate remained low, but have increased significantly since November began.
In the early fall, low positivity rates were perhaps a forgiving environment when risks were taken. But that is clearly no longer the case. We cannot view that early success as an invitation to greater risk taking, and we cannot ignore that the environment has changed dramatically in just the past 2 weeks.
We are entering new territory.
Fortunately, the fight doesn’t need a new strategy so much as a renewed vigilance to do the things that work - even when they’re inconsistent with what we love about this time of year. It is so important to continue to follow the guidance of social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, and avoiding gatherings. We know these precautions drove numbers down last Spring. And in our school buildings, where these precautions are followed closely, we haven’t seen any evidence of virus transmission. But we can’t control what happens outside the school walls, so we need your help. Please ensure your families are following all the guidance to remain healthy and safe.
NYS Micro-Cluster Strategy
You have probably read about the State’s Micro-Cluster Strategy, which is aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 by assigning areas with increased viral spread to a color-coded zone (Yellow, Orange, or Red). Each zone will have escalating requirements and restrictions applied. Some areas of Nassau County have already been designated as Yellow Zones, and according to the way the data is tracking, our community may not be far behind.
Should we be given a Yellow Zone designation, we will be required to begin a COVID-19 testing program within the schools in order to remain open for in-person instruction. We would be required to test 20% of the combined in-person staff and student population.
We remain committed to keeping our school buildings open as long as we can safely do so, as we know this is best for many of our students and families, and in fact, schools are probably one of the safest places to be. So we are working hard to prepare for this possibility. Parents and guardians would be given advance notice before any testing begins, and no students will be tested without parental consent. We will be sending out more detailed information to the community shortly.
H.B. Thompson student Henry Berkowitz recognizes the importance of mental health resources, especially during the pandemic, and therefore decided to raise money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for his Bar Mitzvah project. By selling tie-dyed bandanas he made himself, he quickly tripled his goal of raising $1,000 and was able to donate over $3,000 to the organization. We are so proud of his efforts on behalf of this very important cause.
Have a wonderful weekend, safe and happy holidays.
December 4, 2020
Dear Syosset Community,
I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving holiday. This incredibly challenging year has helped me far more appreciate the many seemingly ordinary things I once took for granted. In turn, I’ve found my own perception of gratitude has been heightened as I’ve witnessed the reaction of this community to the significant challenges we’ve faced this year.
I met with a group of high school student leaders today and asked them what they were grateful for this fall. They repeatedly praised their teachers - for figuring out online learning, for helping them stay organized, for responding to email, for making this a great year despite the challenges. I can’t tell you how grateful I felt in that moment - proud of our teachers for the dedication they bring, proud of our students for recognizing their teachers’ effort and sacrifice, proud to be a part of such an amazing learning community.
As December begins, there’s been a lot of talk about entering some tough months in our fight against the virus. We will have to take those cautions very seriously. But, I have confidence that if we keep working together, keep following all of the guidance, keep making choices that protect one another, we will meet the challenge ahead, #SyoStrong style.
Syosset COVID Testing Site
As we announced at the November Board of Education meeting, we have partnered with Mt. Sinai South Nassau Hospital to provide COVID rapid testing for members of our learning community. The satellite test location has been set up on the Syosset High School campus, and tests will be available by appointment starting early next week. Additional information on the site will be coming shortly.
Ventilation and Air Filtration
Over the summer, the District performed a number of capital improvements to make schools safer, from touchless fixtures in new bathrooms to emergency ventilation upgrades in classrooms. The District is now embarking on a substantial construction project to improve ventilation in classrooms in the middle and high schools (the ventilation improvements are almost complete at the elementary schools). That construction is extensive and will likely take all winter, so we will be placing portable HEPA air filtration units in any room lacking mechanical ventilation. We will still supplement that filtration with fresh air, but the filters will allow the window openings to be much narrower, hopefully improving comfort in the classrooms.
Yellow Zones and Micro-clusters
On October 21, Governor Cuomo announced a new strategy to fight the spread of COVID-19 in New York. This “micro-cluster” strategy targets individual “hot spots” with amplified restrictions on in-person gatherings, businesses, and schools.
Schools in designated “yellow”, “orange” or “red” zones must test 20-30% of the school population in order to remain open for in-person instruction. The State will make the designation based on multiple data points, and we have been watching available data closely. Syosset is not yet in a Yellow Zone, and while the surge in cases after Halloween was starting to subside, there is a second spike after Thanksgiving.
Of the 62 people we’ve placed into quarantine over the past 2 weeks, 44 were because of close contact to a friend or relative in a home. Our ability to preserve in-person education for this community’s children depends on slowing the rate of virus transmission. If we all work together, we can keep the infection rate low, avoiding a “micro-cluster” designation and the additional restrictions.
Should we be required to begin testing our school population, we will be communicating a strategy to the community. Having a COVID-19 Rapid Testing site on location will be an asset if we have to react swiftly to such new requirements.
As you have most likely heard, the CDC recently revised their quarantine guidelines for people who may have been exposed to the virus, shortening the length of the required quarantine to 10 days if individuals do not develop symptoms; 7 days if they test negative. School Districts in New York must follow the guidance of the NYS Department of Health, which has not yet adopted these new quarantine rules. Should this change, we will update the community.
No one likes being put on hold. But that may all change in Syosset. Our latest “hold music” has been provided by none other than our own Syosset High School Wind Ensemble playing Sleigh Ride - part of their traditional Winter Concert repertoire. With concerts out and social distancing, hybrid learning, and digital wizardry in, Director Paul Caputo and the Ensemble pulled it off 2020-style. To hear this extraordinary performance, you can watch the video of how the song was produced, or you can just call the District and ask to please be placed on hold.
Please enjoy the weekend while staying safe, and take care during the inclement weather forecasted for tomorrow.