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Superintendent Emails and Updates - July & August 2021
August 25, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
We’re just a week away from welcoming back our students for the 2021-2022 school year, and last minute preparations are in high gear. We are understandably focused on community rates of COVID that are higher than they were last summer. However, that concern is tempered by several important factors:
- COVID rates still remain well below where they were for most of the last school year.
- Last year, vaccination started slowly after we were more than half-way through the school year, but this year vaccination rates are high in our community, and high in Nassau among students over age 12.
- We will soon be completing ventilation projects at the secondary schools that supplement the mitigation that was in place last year.
Governor Hochul announced yesterday that she has directed the New York State Department of Health to institute a universal mask requirement in all schools. Our “back-to-school” plan follows the recommendations of the New York State Education Department, Centers for Disease Control, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, so this requirement is consistent with what we previously announced -- all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear a mask while inside school buildings and on buses. Masks will be optional when outdoors.
Governor Hochul also announced she is pursuing a requirement for school employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing. She announced partnerships with BOCES, pharmacies, and local health departments to make testing more widely available.
As we await additional detail on these announcements, we are fortunate that our COVID testing site at the Woodbury school has remained open to the school and community all summer and has recently increased hours to keep up with demand. Links to book an appointment for a test are available on the District website. Please take note that the test site will be closed on Labor Day, Monday, September 6.
In my last update, I provided a summary document that highlighted an overview of our back-to-school plan. As we did last year, we’ve put together a more comprehensive document that outlines our plans in detail. This Back-to-School Guide can be found on the Reopening page of the District website.
Last year, we slowly worked our way back by restoring athletics, allowing spectators, sharing lab equipment, eliminating plastic desk partitions and removing masks outdoors. Each step was taken as new guidance became available, and we evaluated the impact of each step before taking the next. Our goal was to keep working our way back to “normal”, hoping not to take a step too far and have to backtrack.
This fall, we will be again taking significant steps forward:
- At every level, we will be welcoming students back in-person. While we are proud of the virtual program we put in place last year, we know we do our best work - and children develop best - in person.
- At the high school level, students will be in school every day and have access to their lockers.
- At the middle school level, students will return to a 9-period day with popular electives, class changes and locker access.
As we did last year, we will carefully observe the impact of each of these changes (and the COVID data around us) before proceeding with further changes to move us closer to our pre-pandemic model.
And while our health and safety protocols have been top of mind, we’ve been equally focused on supporting our students as they transition to this new school year after what, for many, has been a very challenging time. We have hired 2 additional social workers, and arranged for “catch up” support for students who may have fallen behind. We are committed to supporting our students, understanding their unique circumstances, and establishing meaningful connections once classes begin. Page 18 of the Back-to-School Guide outlines our plans to provide an emotionally safe, supportive, and engaging learning environment.
Bus routing information will be provided in Infinite Campus this year instead of via postcards mailed to homes. Information on accessing this information has been sent by email and can be also found on the District website. Please remember all individuals will be required to wear masks on buses. I’d also like to point out the following important protocols in place to aid in adhering to the health and safety protocols and expediting the arrival and dismissal process:
- Students will not be permitted to board any bus that they have not been assigned to by the District. Drivers will verify bus attendance and record ridership. We cannot accommodate students going home with a friend at this time (whether for a play date or child care).
- Students cannot be released from school to the parents/guardians of other students unless for an established carpool.
- Except for emergency situations, students should maintain the same mode of transportation as schools cannot accommodate daily modifications to transportation schedules.
More specific arrival and dismissal information will be provided by the building principals. We still expect a much higher volume of car traffic than the pre-pandemic level, and we appreciate your patience and cooperation with the protocols in place.
You should also be aware that there is an industry-wide bus driver shortage. This will likely mean more substitute drivers (and delays) during the year, and busing to interscholastic athletics may require some atypical scheduling as drivers are spread thin. If you know of someone who might be interested in becoming a bus driver, please contact our Human Resources department.
Meals at the elementary and middle school levels will need to be pre-ordered, as done last year. Information on placing lunch orders was sent by email last week and can be found on the District website. Spaces in addition to the cafeterias will be used for dining so that physical distance can be maintained. Please be aware that no outside delivery of meals or meal drop-off by parents will be permitted.
By now you should have received the printed District calendar. Please be aware that while we distributed a full print version of the calendar, the status and time-frame of many of the school events are uncertain at this time and modification may be necessary depending on circumstances surrounding the pandemic. Please refer to the online calendar on the District website for the most up-to-date information on events.
Syosset High School student Sawyer Wayne, an All-Conference member of the Syosset High School Varsity Soccer Team, was recently recognized in the Long Island Press for donating new and gently used soccer gear to Samba 360, an organization that provides relief to disadvantaged children through donated sports and recreational equipment. Sawyer started collecting the gear for his Bar-Mitzvah and now organizes an annual donation drive to give back to those in need. Physical activity is so important for good mental health, and I’m so proud of Sawyer for contributing to the work of this organization.
We’re all disappointed that the Delta wave has slowed the end of the pandemic and I share that sense of COVID fatigue. But this is when #syostrong becomes more than a slogan:
- We will not let our disappointment turn to discouragement;
- We will not let our fatigue overcome our stamina;
- We will not let our frustration diminish our patience; and
- We will not let our guard down until this virus meets its end.
We are about to start an amazing school year with so many of the things that were stripped out of last September’s opening added back once more. Let’s celebrate the progress we’ve made, keep making more and yes, let’s stay:
August 14, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
Last week, I alerted the community to the fact that the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) issued a brief statement announcing that his agency would not be issuing guidance on reopening schools in September. The Commissioner of Education subsequently announced that the State Education Department would do so instead. That “Back to School Guidance” to school districts arrived late this week, and we have been finalizing our reopening plans in alignment with that guidance for the beginning of school in September.
The New York State Education Department (NYSED) guidance closely follows that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. The Nassau County Department of Health also issued a statement recommending that school districts follow this guidance from NYSED, as NYSED is the jurisdictional body overseeing schools.
An overview of our reopening plans can be found here, but some highlights are as follows:
- Masks will be required indoors, optional outdoors;
- “Physical distancing” in classrooms will be 3’ for students (6’ for adults). Lunch will take place with as much distancing as possible.
- Students will be in school full time, every day (i.e. no full-time virtual instruction, no hybrid instruction at Syosset High School, alternative instruction will be provided for students in quarantine);
- Buses will run on “normal” routes.
- Fall athletics will return to typical seasons (but games may need to start later due to bus driver shortages). High-risk sports will still require weekly testing for unvaccinated participants.
- Daily attestation forms are no longer required, but temperature screening will continue.
- Vaccinated individuals who are deemed close contacts do not have to quarantine (but are recommended to get a precautionary test 3-5 days after exposure).
I had hoped that the advent of effective vaccines would signal the beginning of the end of the pandemic, and falling case rates during the late spring and early summer fed that optimism. Nassau County enjoys high vaccination rates and the Syosset and Woodbury zip codes have particularly high vaccination rates.
Unfortunately, we are nevertheless seeing COVID cases rise in both Nassau and our community during this latest surge. So I share the sense of disappointment and fatigue that some of these mitigation measures are going to be required a little longer.
The State Education Department called their guidance “a living document”, signaling their intention to be nimble depending on how conditions change. We’ll follow both the data and the guidance as we adapt too.
This week, members of the Syosset High School Robotics Team ELITE visited our summer school students for a robotics demonstration. The team is known for mentoring young students and sparking an interest in programming, and they certainly garnered some excitement as students programmed and then raced robots around the gym. It’s so nice to see our older students inspiring and engaging the next generation of STEM leaders!
Enjoy the remainder of the weekend.
August 6, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
Yesterday, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health (DOH) issued a brief statement announcing that the State would not be issuing guidance on reopening schools in September and that school leaders should refer instead to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This was certainly unexpected news as prior to this announcement, state officials had indicated that guidance from the NYS Department of Health was imminent. Shortly after yesterday’s statement, the Commissioner of Education wrote the Commissioner of Health requesting DOH reconsider their decision and release guidance to schools.
These are the latest unexpected developments in a year and a half of seemingly endless unexpected developments. Our priorities, however, remain constant: protecting the overall wellbeing of our learning community from a health, educational, and importantly, social-emotional perspective, while returning as closely as possible to our pre-pandemic educational program. Anticipating the official guidance, we built multiple scenarios to jumpstart our planning, and now as we await the outcome of the exchange between the Commissioners, we are narrowing those scenarios into a reopening plan we hope to share soon. No matter what, we will be well prepared to welcome back our students in just a few weeks.
As mentioned above, State officials recommend that district leaders follow the current CDC Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools issued on July 28 and this guidance serves as the basis for our planning efforts. As we finalize our plans, we will continue to communicate with our families and staff on the plans and the layered mitigation strategies in place to keep everyone healthy and safe at school.
COVID-19 Test Site
The demand for COVID tests has increased sharply at our on-campus site. To meet this demand, the mobile test site operated by Advanced Cardiovascular Diagnostics at the old Woodbury School is once again operating 5 days a week, and expanded its hours of operation. Links to book an appointment for a test are available on the District website.
As you know, I really enjoy highlighting the altruistic efforts of our amazing Syosset students in my community updates, but it’s really nice to see these students gain even broader attention from local media outlets.
- Exactly one year ago today, I highlighted SHS student Asmita Mittal as a Bright Spot for founding a youth organization named Teens Teach Technology that teaches technology skills to seniors so they may interact with others online and maintain connections with family and friends that are so essential to their well-being. This week, Long Island Press published an article on the organization’s efforts and success to date. They’ve grown from 20 volunteers a year ago to 11 chapters with 180 volunteers from various states in the U.S. and India, Egypt, and Dubai!
- The Syosset-Jericho Tribune featured another Syosset Bright Spot, SHS student Sabrina Guo, for her work through the two organizations she founded, Girl Pride International and Long Island Laboring Against COVID-19 (LILAC). Her work to improve the lives of socioeconomically disadvantaged, migrant and refugee girls’ lives has had an impact globally, and her efforts to aid medical professionals and first responders locally are truly remarkable. The article isn’t available online yet, but be sure to grab the July 21-27 edition to read it in full.
Their efforts are reminders that what starts as a tiny acorn can grow into a mighty oak. Please be safe as you enjoy the weekend and these remaining weeks of summer.
July 31, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
I hope you are all enjoying the summer. It’s hard to believe July is coming to a close, and the second “semester” of Summer School is already underway. Awaiting guidance from the State, I had hoped to communicate with you sooner, and while we haven’t yet received the definitive guidance we need to finalize our plans, we have been given a glimpse. So we’ll share with you what we know so far, along with some updates from the District.
2021-22 School Opening
I know many of you are eager for information about the specific protocols that will be in place when school opens in September. Unfortunately, we have not yet received official guidance from the New York State Department of Health for the 2021-2022 school year that would supersede the current guidance and dictate requirements for the new year. However, yesterday the State Education Department (SED) informed us the Governor’s office has indicated this guidance is in development and the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will serve as its basis.
Some of the most notable points from the SED update are as follows:
- SED and the current CDC guidance emphasize that students benefit most from in-person learning, and therefore in-person instruction for the fall is the priority. We are proud of what our teachers and leaders accomplished with virtual instruction this year, but share the belief in the importance of maximizing in-person learning to the extent possible.
- As you have most likely heard, in response to the recent increase of COVID-19 infections caused by the Delta variant, the CDC issued new guidance recommending all individuals wear masks in public indoor settings, including schools, regardless of vaccination status in areas of substantial or high transmission. Nassau County is currently assigned a Substantial level of community transmission. The increase in the number of positive cases in our community has mirrored that of the County as a whole.
- The CDC currently recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within the classroom, which is less than the 6 feet of distance we implemented last school year.
We will digest the official guidance from the State on opening schools as soon as we receive it, in order to provide additional updates on our planning efforts.
Summer Facilities Work
Summer is always a busy time for the Facilities and Operations team as they prepare our school buildings and grounds for another instructional year, and this year is no exception. Some of the projects currently underway include:
- A much-needed makeover for the beloved “barn” located at the Syosset High School track and field facility.
- Solar panel installation at Robbins Lane and Baylis.
- Classroom HVAC installation at both middle schools.
- Ventilation upgrades at the secondary schools.
- Ceiling and lighting upgrades districtwide as part of the Energy Performance Contract.
- Boiler replacement at Baylis, Robbins Lane & Village.
I’ve attached some pictures of the work to this email. Projects to begin in August include underground fuel tank removal at Whitman and Baylis, districtwide door replacement, installation of a dust collection system at the SHS tech room, and installation of a back-up generator replacement at South Woods Middle School.
On most days this summer, I’ve started my morning at Syosset High School welcoming our Summer School parents and students, and it’s certainly the best way to start my day. This year, we have approximately 1,100 students enrolled in our Summer School program. For perspective, that’s the enrollment of some local districts for the regular school year! In addition to core curriculum classes, students are engaging in art, technology, music, and theatre and they are having so much FUN! I’m so proud, with the support of the Board of Education and community, that we are able to offer this program to our students and it gives me great pleasure to see so many of our students learning, growing and really enjoying themselves.
Enjoy the weekend and stay safe!
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