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Superintendent Emails and Updates - October 2021
October 29, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
Today was such fun for our students as they took part in parades, pumpkin patches, DJ dance parties, and friendly competitions. And even our oldest learners got in on the action when the Syosset Fire Department stopped by the high school to partner with our teachers for an annual event that had been skipped because of COVID. Physics students calculated gravity’s effects by timing objects dropped by firefighters from atop an aerial ladder extended 60 feet into the brisk morning air, starting with golf balls and working up to a 76-pound pumpkin! You can see a quick video of the final pumpkin race here. Special thanks to our amazing Syosset Fire Department for restarting this annual tradition, and extra appreciation to our custodial staff for their patience cleaning the aftermath!
Digital Equity Survey
Thank you to everyone who has completed the NYS Education Department’s Digital Equity Survey that I mentioned in a previous update. For those yet to complete it, the survey is still available in the Parent Portal, and the State has requested full (100%) participation from all parents. The survey collects information regarding access to the internet and electronic devices, with the goal of understanding, investigating, and promoting educational equity. Please be sure to complete one survey for each child.
Reminders for Next Week
Next week, parent teacher conferences will be held for the elementary and middle school levels on Tuesday (Election Day) and there will be no school for all students. In addition, the District will be closed on Thursday, November 4th, in observance of Diwali.
This week I received an email from the Service Manager of a local business commending a few of our students for their charitable efforts, and everyone knows how much I love celebrating the positive impact Syosset students have on our community. Last year, Syosset High School brothers Jack and Dylan Levine co-founded Dumpster Dudes when they recognized that many items left for trash could be donated to those in need. They’ve collected and donated toys, clothing, furniture and books to GoodWill, Book Fairies, and Savers thrift stores. The brothers have also started working with South Woods student Joseph Naim and together, they have been collecting bikes and scooters, which were brought to Trek in Plainview to be repaired and then donated to riders in need on Long Island with the help of Light House Mission and the Brookhaven Bicycle Cooperative. Their work has kept usable items from ending up in landfills and provided much-needed items to those less fortunate, and I’m so proud of their efforts.
I hope you all safely enjoy the Halloween weekend with your children!
October 22, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
The New York State School Boards Association recognizes October 18 - 22 as School Board Recognition Week, and at Monday’s monthly Board meeting, the Syosset School Board received recognitions from Dierdre Dapice, President of our Syosset Council of PTAs, as well as county legislator Lafazan and Representative Suozzi (by mail). I’d like to add my appreciation for the countless hours they invest in their volunteer roles to provide leadership and act as stewards of the mission of the District. Their steadfast commitment to the Syosset students, staff, and community at large is unequivocal and I am grateful for their guidance, dedication, and service.
I’m aware that some news stories earlier this week raised questions about the MercyFirst facility here in Syosset, and while I’m not the appropriate person to speak on behalf of the facility, I can respond to the issue of whether the Syosset School District offers educational services to the facility’s residents - we do not.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with the new director of the organization and I hope to enjoy the same good working relationship I had with her predecessor. They have prepared a short Q&A that provides information about their facility, who they serve, and the work they do, and they invited me to share it with the community. The Q&A can be found here.
As ransomware and other attacks on public entities become more prevalent, the administration gave a presentation to the Board of Education on the District’s comprehensive efforts to safeguard the District’s network, prevent any disruption of internet service, and protect student data and privacy. Also covered was how our students and teachers can work securely online and access digital content. The District has made remarkable strides in the use of technology in our instructional program - enhancing our students' mastery of the curriculum and making the learning process engaging. So we go to great lengths to be sure the District and our students are protected while engaging with software and apps that make that enhanced experience possible. Unfortunately, not every software provider agrees to keep student data safe, so, we are quite selective and continually look for tools that comply with the privacy standards we enforce.
Also on Monday evening, a presentation was given that explains the tax levy and how a homeowner’s assessed value determines the share of taxes paid. We typically receive questions this time of year as the school tax bills are sent, but this year has been especially confusing because of the multi-year phase-in of Nassau County’s county-wide property reassessment which has caused many property values to fluctuate significantly, which in turn has caused school taxes for some homeowners to fluctuate -- both up and down. While we can’t control the impact of the County’s efforts, we can help explain it. I encourage you to review this informative presentation. A recording of the meeting can be found here.
This morning, I joined the students who run WKWZ, our student radio station, at the grand opening of their new recording studio. Once located in a windowless basement room, the studio is now visibly in the heart of Syosset High School. The facility will not only host our radio shows, but will also serve as a recording studio for the latest in podcasts and streaming media. Syosset is fortunate to have one of only 4 high school broadcast radio stations on Long Island, and the student’s enthusiasm for their new studio was infectious. You can listen to their broadcast here.
Don’t forget, this weekend the high school student government is hosting the annual Carnival at the Syosset High School. For a little added safety, we’re asking that participants wear masks, but our students are thrilled to have the carnival back after missing several years due to the pandemic and our school construction work. Come support our student government volunteers!
October 15, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
I have just a quick update this week with some brief items of note:
At the monthly Board of Education meeting taking place on Monday evening, there will be a presentation on student data privacy and network security. District administration will review measures in place to keep students safe online, and our privacy and security practices that create a positive, safe and productive learning environment.
Digital Equity Survey
Shortly you’ll be receiving an email invitation to complete a survey for the New York State Education Department (NYSED) regarding access to the internet and electronic devices, with the goal of understanding, investigating, and promoting educational equity. The brief survey will be available in the Parent Portal, and you’ll be asked to complete one survey for each child. I thank you in advance for your cooperation in completing this survey. NYSED has ambitiously asked that we ensure 100% participation, so they’re expecting us to follow up with families if it is incomplete.
I know how hopeful our PTAs have been to get back to some of the wonderful activities that bring parents and schools together. We’re thrilled that we have been able to reintroduce outdoor events, book fairs, picture days, spirit weeks, club activities, and PTA fundraisers. As with so many of the activities we’ve missed these past 20 months, my appreciation of these events, and the efforts behind them, has never been greater. So too is my appreciation for parents, staff and students alike showing patience with our safety protocols, and I sincerely appreciate the work of our staff for all the extra effort to make these events fun for all.
I’m encouraged by COVID case counts that are falling once again after a worrisome, but fortunately brief, plateau. The plateau reminded me that like a forest fire that is mostly contained, we can’t stop fighting until the flame is completely extinguished. Although this fall weather has been absolutely amazing, as we begin more indoor activities this month and next, we know the renewed downward trajectory remains ours to control.
#Syostrong until it’s done!
October 8, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
I hope you are all enjoying this delightful fall weather as much as I have been as I make my rounds to cheer on our student-athletes. I’m thrilled the warm temperatures have extended into October, making it possible to continue outdoor activities for students throughout the school day.
COVID Testing Sites
We are fortunate that our partnership with Advanced Cardiovascular Diagnostics (ACD) has allowed us to offer widespread and convenient COVID testing to our learning community, a key element in our mitigation plan to keep everyone safe, and I’d like to thank them not only for their dedication, but for the consistent feedback I receive about how pleasant and efficient they are to deal with. I’d also like to point out that ACD is an independent entity, and since they are not subsidized with District funds, the continued convenience of their on-campus locations is dependent on each site maintaining sufficient traffic to remain economical.
Recently you may have noticed an increase in traffic at the testing site operating at the old Woodbury School. When this site first opened, we restricted access to our students and staff as we assessed demand for the service. As we were able to scale and add capacity, it became possible to offer this service to our entire community – allowing the school district to be an asset for our older residents, and with the understanding that any effort to reduce community circulation ultimately helps the District. However, no one is turned away as the site is run by healthcare professionals who aim to provide service to anyone needing care. Moreover, since our students are circulating in neighboring community institutions (sports clubs, karate and gymnastics studios, houses of worship, etc.), identifying positive cases in neighboring areas likely also helps keep our kids safe. We do coordinate with neighboring districts and each remind our communities about testing available closer to home.
To address this uptick in traffic, we recently added a second testing site at the Syosset High School campus (accessed via the Pell Lane entrance to South Woods Middle School). This location is run by the same friendly professionals and often has less of a wait. Appointments for both sites can be made at the following link, which is posted on the homepage of the District website: Syosset | ACD (cardiovasculartesting.com) Please be aware both testing sites will be closed on Monday, October 11, in observance of Columbus Day.
We are continuing to work closely with Huntington Coach on the challenges presented by the nationwide bus driver shortage. We have recently begun receiving requests for students to ride home with friends. I’m sorry we cannot accommodate these requests. As has been our policy throughout the pandemic, students may only ride on their assigned bus route. This is important not only to maintain our health and safety protocols, but also to avoid further stressing our stretched transportation system or creating overcapacity routes. Thank you for your understanding and patience with this policy.
Inspired by news reports of wildfires and mass flooding, Syosset student Lawrence Hon created a film that highlights the importance of protecting and preserving our environment. His creative and compelling film, “Nature Matters” earned a silver medal in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, an Award of Excellence in the National PTA's Reflections Program, and it was also selected by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers to be displayed this past summer at The New School in Manhattan. I’m so impressed by his creativity and skills with 3D software. Take a look at the short film here - I have no doubt you’ll be just as impressed.
Enjoy this wonderful long weekend!
October 1, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
We’re seeing some encouraging news in the latest data on COVID positivity rates and vaccination status. It is certainly my hope that the downward trend in positivity rate and the upward trend in vaccination rate continues, and we can thus continue to work our way back to a normal schedule of school events without increasing the risks to our students and staff
Earlier this year, the elementary principals shared that we had delayed some “back to school” type events in September as we evaluated whether the opening of schools would worsen the Delta wave case counts. We also observed some clusters of outbreaks attributed to outdoor activities among elementary (and thus unvaccinated) children. So it is encouraging that even with all children back in school on a daily basis, cases appear to have plateaued or even started to fall.
Consistent with our approach of calibrating activities to improving COVID conditions or availability of risk mitigation, the secondary schools have been in the lead as we continue to methodically add back events -- since large numbers of students are vaccinated, the risk to them from holding larger gatherings is diminished. We hope these trends continue and more restrictions can be lifted.
Some quick stats for Nassau County:
12-15 year olds - vaccination rate 65.5%
16-25 year olds -- vaccination rate 81.4%
11791 (Syosset) vaccination rate 81.2%
11797 (Woodbury) vaccination rate 93.0%
I’m happy to report that solar panels have been installed at Baylis and Robbins Lane and should start providing energy within the next several days. The installation of solar panels was a conservation measure recommended as part of the Energy Performance Contract (EPC) for conservation projects, which permitted the District to reallocate budgeted utility and operational costs into energy saving capital Improvements without the need for increased taxes.
I’m sure you’ve seen the news reports about the decision by Huntington Coach to cease (and then later restore) transportation services for the Huntington School District. As you may know, Huntington Coach is also Syosset’s bus company, and we have been working closely with them this school year to ensure our routes are covered despite a significant shortage of drivers impacting school districts nationally. We have been assured by Huntington Coach that this week’s situation was isolated to the Huntington School District and Syosset would not be impacted. Nevertheless, we continue to work closely with them on a daily basis to oversee and hopefully continue to improve our transportation services.
Earlier this week, we held our pre-kindergarten lottery under the watchful eye of the District’s auditor. We had about twice as many applications as we had seats available. Not everyone who was awarded a seat through the lottery moved ahead, so now we have begun the process of moving through the waiting list. I’m appreciative of our new partners - Greentrees, Kiddie Academy and North Shore Synagogue - and look forward to seeing this program serve a new generation of Syosset’s young people.
Niche.com Ranking (A Bright Spot for Grown-ups)
I try not to get terribly invested in national rankings, but during the pandemic, I’m committed to celebrating good news wherever it can be found. For the first time, Niche.com ranked Syosset among the Top 10 school districts in the country (we’re #9)!! It’s a nice bump up from #13 last year, and a big jump from #82 in 2016. The District also ranked 10th for Districts with the Best Teachers in America and 3rd for Districts with the Best Teachers in New York.
National listing: 2022 Best School Districts in America - Niche
NYS listing: 2022 Best School Districts in New York - Niche
Last year I told you about the Syosset Relief Club at the high school, which has worked diligently to aid front line workers and those impacted by the pandemic. I’m not alone in my admiration of the accomplishments of these students. The group has recently been recognized by the American Red Cross, Legislator Lafazan, Senator Gaughran, and Representative Suozzi for their impactful work. And with over 200 members, Syosset Relief Group has earned the Top Hour Earning High School accolade from the American Red Cross by collectively accumulating over 2000 community service hours. These are impressive accomplishments by a newly-formed club, and I’m so proud of their work.
Enjoy this wonderful weekend.