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- September 2021
Superintendent Emails and Updates - September 2021
September 24, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
By now all the Open Houses have taken place, and I trust that parents and guardians found the evenings informative and engaging as you got to know your students’ teachers and learned a little more about the curriculum and the school day. I learned there was a technical glitch with some of the high school Meets, we’re researching what happened to ensure it doesn’t recur.
Earlier in the week, I had the opportunity to join the entire Syosset High School student body in a walk-a-thon to raise money and awareness for the Dezy Strong Foundation, which provides experiences that directly affect a positive mental well-being for cancer patients. Led by the school band, students and staff walked the perimeter of the athletic field behind the high school and raised over $2,000 for the foundation. Between COVID and construction, It’s been quite some time since we’ve held a walk-a-thon on campus, and I’m so pleased we were able to host this outdoor event for such an important cause. Click here to see some fun pictures of the event.
Pilot Universal Pre-K Program
This week we sent out information on our pilot Universal Pre-K program that will begin November 8th. We are working with 3 outside providers to offer 99 seats in the program, and a randomized lottery will be conducted and observed by our auditing firm to determine placement. So far, we have almost 200 entries into the lottery. The deadline to enter is Monday, September 27 at 3 p.m. There’s detailed information on the program, including the link to register for the lottery and a Frequently Asked Questions page, on our website at Pre-K / Overview (syossetschools.org).
The second COVID testing location run by our partner Advanced Cardiovascular Diagnostics is up and running on the Syosset High School campus just outside the gym. As a reminder, the site offers rapid tests with results available in about 15 minutes, PCR tests with quick turn-around, and post-vaccine antibody testing. The added location at the high school offers evening appointments and is open until 10 p.m. The link to schedule appointments at both the Woodbury School and Syosset High School is posted on the homepage of the website.
Advance Child Tax Credit
The Internal Revenue Service has asked that we share information on the Advance Child Tax Credit with our community. They have created a website that outlines information in multiple languages that can be found at the following link: Advance Child Tax Credit Payments in 2021
You’re never too young to have a big impact on a community. Savvas Apsilos, a second grade South Grove student, was so inspired by a “Pay it Forward” project coordinated by his teacher Ms. Corritore in honor of the anniversary of September 11th, that he expanded his efforts beyond the school walls. Turning the project into a family affair, he put together care packages and handed them out to first responders to show appreciation and spread some cheer, and in doing so learned how rewarding spreading a little bit of kindness can be.
Remember, this weekend is Homecoming and I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s football game at 2:00 p.m. against Freeport. Please note: the Carnival that usually accompanies Homecoming had to be scheduled for October 22-24 based on availability, but I know Student Government is excited to have the carnival return after a 2-year hiatus.
Wishing our varsity football team a #Syostrong weekend!
September 17, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
I hope, like me, you’ve been enjoying the fall weather and the start of fall sports. I’m pleased to say that the busing situation, though still not yet where it needs to be, is nevertheless much improved from the first few days of the year. Here’s a quick update on other happenings.
Earlier this week the Board of Education approved 2 more providers for our new pre-K program. We’re very excited to be working with North Shore Synagogue, Greentrees, and Kiddie Academy to offer a combined 99 seats to 4 year-old children at no cost to families. The start date of the program is November 8th. Additional information on the program, and a link to the lottery registration form will be sent by email and posted on our website early next week.
To accommodate increased community demand for testing and weekly surveillance testing of unvaccinated staff and students participating in high-risk sports, our partner Advanced Cardiovascular Testing has opened a second testing site just outside of Syosset High School (in the same location behind the gym where testing took place last year). In addition to daytime hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., this second location will offer evening hours from 6 to 10 p.m. and will operate in the same manner as the testing site at the old Woodbury School with drive-through service. Both sites are open to the Syosset community. The link to make an appointment is posted on the homepage of the website.
Following the Data
We continue to watch local and regional data closely. We’re encouraged to see that the current Delta wave of the COVID crisis appears to have plateaued at a level that is a little over half the rate of incidence from Spring Break earlier this year. We’ve begun to permit some limited PTA functions as a result, but are postponing larger gatherings until we have a sense of how school reopenings will affect the plateau. Should case counts begin to fall, we’ll begin to consider additional opportunities to gradually work our way back to a normal schedule of activities.
I’m so proud of the robust Continuing Education program offered here in Syosset, and so pleased that many members of our community take advantage of the engaging classes offered. A course catalog was mailed out to all residents in the community, and is also posted online here https://www.syossetschools.org/domain/137. I encourage you to take a look - with classes such as Yoga, Candle Making, Making Empanadas, and even Pickleball, I assure you there’s something for everyone! While mail-in registration has been ongoing, we will also be hosting an in-person registration event on Monday evening from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at Syosset High School. Masks will be required and physical distancing will be enforced.
Last spring, I featured South Woods student Grace Chenxin Liu as a Bright Spot for her work with the student-led organization she co-founded, ABC Media, which showcases student-created multimedia works highlighting Chinese culture. Well, Grace didn’t stop there. She also co-founded the organization Sharing to Empower, a global alliance that promotes and supports the educational, professional, and personal development of scholars and students who seek to make a change in the world. And recently, she was invited as one of the highlighted speakers and panelists during the 2nd Global Conference on Women’s Studies. I am always so inspired by the positive global impact Syosset students have, and I commend Grace for her activism and sharing her talents on a global stage.
Enjoy the weekend!
September 10, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Like many, I have been reading news stories of the day and its aftermath on this important anniversary.
New Yorkers and Long Islanders were particularly impacted and I’m sure that many, like me, are remembering where they were that day, or the tragic impact the events had on families, loved ones and our nation. But for our students, none of whom were alive at the time, the day straddles a place somewhere between a part of our nation's history and an important piece of local and family experience still present in our lives. So it falls to us as a community to help them contextualize the day and its significance.
Today, each building marked the day in age-appropriate ways. Students listened to tributes expressed by building principals during the morning announcements, observed a moment of silence, and honored those lost. I was in attendance at HBT and and thought Mr. Bonanno’s remarks struck just the right tone -- pride in the heroism of first responders and ordinary people alike, sympathy for our staff and families who were impacted by that day, concern for those harmed by the events and their ongoing aftermath, and marvel at the sense of unity that came of tragedy.
At tomorrow’s football game, we will have a ceremony with special guests including first responders, veterans, and members of the armed services. There will be a fundraising effort for the Wounded Warrior Project, and veterans from the local VFW were invited to carry the flags into the stadium and do the coin toss. There will be a moment of silence after the singing of the national anthem. I’ll hope you’ll join me, from wherever you are at 2:00 p.m., to share in that moment of silence, remembrance, and appreciation.
As you know, the District’s transportation provider, Huntington Coach, is grappling with the bus driver shortage that is impacting school districts nationwide this fall. This week we worked closely with Huntington Coach and were able to ensure all our routes were covered. We thought it was best to alert parents to the potential challenges in the event that there was not an adequate number of drivers, though we will not continue with the practice of daily notifications moving forward. We do believe our efforts will help this situation slowly improve, but if there is an impacted bus, we will contact families directly. We will hold Huntington Coach to their obligation to provide transportation for all our students, and we are working on internal contingency plans as well. I appreciate your understanding of this situation.
We have received some questions about the number of students assigned to a bus route. During the first couple of weeks of school, ridership is monitored closely and adjustments may be made as the number of students riding the bus is compared against the number routed to a bus. We have asked Huntington Coach to remind drivers that windows should be opened a safe amount to increase the ventilation inside the buses. Last year, additional buses were added to help with physical distancing, and we have maintained the additional buses this school year.
Pilot Universal Pre-K Program
As I mentioned last week, we’ve been working out the logistics of a pilot Pre-K program with some external partners in our community, funded by an unexpected (but appreciated!) State grant announced this spring. Shortly we will be opening a lottery for the seats available in the program. Information on the program and how to enter the lottery will be sent to the community via email, posted on the District website, and mailed out in postcard form.
As part of Mr. Bonanno’s program this morning, students were treated to a video and a story about 2 former HBT students, Dan and Mike Friedman, who lost their father in the Twin Towers. As adults, they started a sock company specifically offering big and tall customers (they are 6’9” and 6’11” respectively) flashy, colorful socks. But even more importantly, they have dedicated part of the proceeds of this business to 9/11-related charities like Tuesday’s Children. We’re just as proud of our alumni as we are of our students and they are a reminder that we never run out of opportunities to keep giving at any age.
As a reminder, the District will be closed on Thursday, September 16. Please enjoy the weather this weekend!
September 4, 2021
Dear Parents and Guardians,
Every new school year brings a mix of excitement and anticipation, although the last two years have brought their own special emotions to the first day of school. These have been extraordinary years balancing our educational and safety imperatives against changing conditions and changing regulations.
I’m proud of how our community, staff, and especially our students have pulled together in the face of this challenge. It’s because of that resiliency that I’m confident we can face and adapt to the shifting challenges ahead.
Despite the current wave of infections due to the Delta variant of the COVID virus, we now have a year of experience with the measures that have kept our community safe - masking, distancing, and aggressive mitigation through contact tracing that prevent cases from becoming clusters that become outbreaks. Our ongoing commitment to these practices is not an exercise in compliance, it is a commitment to do our best to keep each other safe. It transforms us from a mere collection of people by knitting us together as a community.
Nevertheless, this year has presented shifting sets of challenges and opportunities, and we have been responding.
The biggest challenge has been busing. Two forces are colliding: we cannot escape the effects of an industry-wide bus driver shortage, and our return to every day school for all students has literally strained the community’s transportation infrastructure.
We are running more routes now than before the pandemic, but Huntington Coach lost over 100 drivers. While they have been aggressively recruiting all summer, until they reach their goals, even supervisors are pitching in to drive buses. Our routes are covered, but serious constraints still exist. When multiple delays occur simultaneously, they strain our capacity to communicate clearly and quickly with so many parents, so we are adapting quickly.
Those multiple delays occur because there are many more cars dropping off students than before the pandemic. Syosset High School is first to arrive in the morning, and first to dismiss in the afternoon. The traffic on South Woods Road was badly congested before the pandemic, and even worse these first few days. Any delays at the High School cascade through the busing at the middle and elementary schools.
Although this year has been worse than most, transportation typically improves quickly after the first few days and I’m hoping that trend continues this year. Three years ago, the Board rebid transportation services in order to secure GPS tracking and surveillance video on buses which we use regularly. As our communications adapt and the delays improve, I hope more parents’ confidence in the busing will improve and in turn, further reduce traffic-related delays.
Mandatory COVID Testing for School Employees
As of September 2, 2021, and effective immediately, the NYS Commissioner’s Determination on COVID-19 Testing requires weekly COVID-19 testing of all unvaccinated school district faculty or staff.
We are currently working with our District staff, and with our contracted staff to ramp up quickly to meet this requirement. Our partnership with Advanced Cardiac Diagnostics (which runs our COVID testing site at the former Woodbury School) will soon include a second location and additional capacity to serve both District and contracted staff. Staff or community members needing an appointment can do so through this link.
As families are returning to school, they have also begun notifying us of sick students, and we have resumed our community notifications. As we did over the summer, we’ll report twice weekly - on Tuesdays and Fridays - any cases identified since our previous report (we will report on Wednesday next week). Our contact tracing team will continue to call families 7-days a week, even on holidays, because we want to notify close contacts quickly to ensure they don’t unknowingly put a loved one at risk.
Pilot Universal Pre-K Program
Late this spring we were surprised to learn that we would receive a state grant to establish a Pre-K program. We had not pursued this because of our space limitations, but didn’t want the potential funds to go unused. We are now working with several external partners to offer as many seats as possible. Earlier this week, I had shared at PTA meetings that I was optimistically hoping the program could start as soon as October 4th, but as we’ve continued to work with our partners, that timeframe is proving ambitious to ensure the program is just right. We will delay at least another month, in order to ensure a smoother opening, a better lottery process, and a postal mail campaign to ensure we reach members of the community who might not yet have kids in school (or emails in our system).
We’re excited to cooperate with these new partners to offer this service to our community!
It hasn’t all been navigating challenges, however. We’ve had an exciting start to school, not just for our students but for staff as well. We welcomed a total of 58 faculty and staff members, most new to the District, some new to their roles, and all inspiringly enthusiastic. Our faculty professional development prior to the start of school focused on connection, understanding and support for our students given all they have experienced this last year. I’m proud of what our staff has accomplished, and confident we are equal to not just the challenges ahead, but also the opportunities.
I’m so proud of the work of Syosset High School junior, varsity tennis player and All-County student-athlete Eesha Kaushik. Recognizing that she had the opportunity to share her talents and make a difference in the lives of others, she created Tennis Empower Camp to serve underprivileged children. She created a website and social media account, solicited donations and recruited her Syosset teammate Zia Mukherjee as a coach. The camp served 10 students this summer and was recognized by the USTA Eastern Long Island Region. Eesha hopes to be able to run the camp during the school year and expand its membership, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Tennis Empower Camp!
As a reminder, the District will be closed next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, September 6th, 7th and 8th. Please note the COVID testing site operating at the old Woodbury School will be closed Monday but will be open Tuesday and Wednesday.
Enjoy the long weekend. Stay safe by staying: