Written by Dr. Thomas P. Dolan, Friday, 11 September 2009 00:00
There is an illusion of inactivity in schools during the summer months, and that false appearance is clearly attributable to the absence of students. Students are noticeable by their non-attendance and, as a result, our schools are sad and lonely places for these two months. We all look forward to greeting students when the Great Neck Public Schools begin the new year on Sept. 9. Rest assured that, despite any appearances, much work goes on to prepare for students’ return. Summer is, in fact, a very busy time in most school districts.
That has been the case in the Great Neck School District this summer. Even without the regular program being operational, there have been pockets of activity that I have had numerous opportunities to observe. A vibrant summer program at Saddle Rock for our younger students permitted them to engage in social, academic, enrichment, and athletic activities for several weeks. Other special learning opportunities have also taken place across the District.
Another major exception to the rule of quiet in our schools was the Summer Enrichment Program that was held at North Middle School this year. A total of 759 students enrolled in enrichment, academic intervention, and other learning activities and courses. Near the end of their stay, 194 of these students took a total of 224 Regents examinations and other State tests. Hats off to Principal Kathleen Walter and Assistant Principal Leslie Cohen, as well as their entire staff, for their skillful and thoughtful administration of this broad program.
Students in this summer program also participated in several artistic ventures. On August 6, a performance highlighted some of these students in styles ranging from Broadway show tunes to popular music to a beautiful violin solo to Gilbert and Sullivan. Pam Levy and Dan Tomaselli led this ensemble of students and it was clear that the fun they had on this day had been a regular occurrence all summer long. Michael Schwartz organized instrumental performances to ensure that our students would return to school without losing the prodigious musical skills for which they are known. Each of these events was well attended and well received.
Numerous other activities have also been occurring without student participation, but all of these have been undertaken in anticipation of their arrival. Among the most complex and critical is the development of our transportation plan so that students arrive at the appropriate location every single day. Consider some of these numbers and try to develop your own plan! Total number of students to be transported: 7,514. Total number of schools to be transported to: 118. Total school buses and school bus vans needed: 160.
There are several other factors that would only serve to confound your computations, so let me just tip my hat to Dominick Cappelletti and Donovan Howell for their efforts, and those of our entire transportation staff for organizing this complex operation, while always focusing on safety as their highest priority. Buses roll on September 9 and Great Neck students will be carefully delivered to the appropriate locations in as timely a fashion as safety and traffic permit.
Other behind-the-scenes activities include routine maintenance of our schools and several construction projects that must be compressed into the two months available for this purpose. Among the activities that have gone on are the installation of new cabinetry at the Parkville School, upgrading of computer labs at JFK and Lakeville, ceiling replacements at Cumberland and numerous projects at South High to help the school meet Americans with Disabilities Act compliance requirements. All of these projects, and a few others, are to be completed before school starts, and there are some that will continue on into the school year. Overseeing the completion aspect of these activities is the District’s new Director of Facilities, Alfredo Cavallaro. He joins the District this year, having worked most recently for the New York City Schools. He has considerable training and experience in the field and is looking forward to maintaining and upgrading the 14 properties for which he has direct responsibility. I join with him in thanking all of our Buildings and Grounds staff for their efforts, as demonstrated by our level of preparedness.
Teachers have been hard at work preparing for the new school year by way of a broad range of curricular projects. Some are regular revisions of materials that we have long relied upon, while others represent more major restructuring of course materials based on State requirements or locally recognized needs. Among the many projects already completed are: Interdisciplinary Units for Kindergarten, Historical Fiction Mini-Lessons, Launching Reading Workshops for Second Grade, Geography for the 21st Century, Bullying Prevention, Fashion Marketing, and various workshops to prepare for changes in the secondary math curriculum. While teachers are the organizers and implementers of these activities, they are all organized and coordinated through our Curriculum Office, which is led by Assistant Superintendent Terry Horowitz.
Another busy department has been our Technology Department. There are always updates, upgrades, uploads, and upshots in this field; however, the major project this summer has been to modernize the District phone system. An entirely new configuration is in place, and the new telephone numbers are assigned. Fortunately, for one year, the old exchanges will immediately link you to the new ones. Many thanks to Marc Epstein, Jason Martin, and Joe Cangialosi for spearheading and then trouble-shooting this important initiative. We also welcome Cathy Davidson to this impressive group as she joins us in the role of coordinator of information systems. The value of data, and its accurate reporting to the State, cannot be underestimated in this era; Cathy brings real talent in this field to the District. Welcome, Cathy!
All of the new phone numbers can be found in the district calendar; this important document adorns many a household across the District. The calendar is full of valuable information and will often supply the answers to your questions without even having to make a call. The calendar is a joint project of the United Parent-Teacher Council and the Public Information Department. One other note about the District calendar is that there will be a change announced later in the year, as New York State adjusted most of its testing dates after we went to print. Therefore, the Conference Day that was to be used for scoring in February will not be needed. Details will follow on how we will adjust the calendar to take into account this late-breaking change.
So much for the apparent inactivity at schools! As you can see, summer has been put to good use in Great Neck as we prepare for the return of students on Sept. 9. That will represent the start of another school year for our staff and for our students —- a year that promises challenges and rewards in just the right combination.
Schools are fortunate to have some time to prepare for each year, and not only for the reasons noted here. Summer also allows us to have a real “start” to each year, thus reinforcing this chance to re-dedicate ourselves to our efforts in a meaningful way. I know that I speak for the entire District and Board of Education (and I feel fortunate to be able to do so) when I welcome all of our staff, students, and parents to this school year, and wish everyone success in all of their endeavors.