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Middle Country Central School District

Despite a few job openings, local school districts are ready for the new school year. Stock photo

With schools across the nation facing issues filling positions, including vital teaching jobs, local school districts, for the most part, are looking toward the new academic year in a good position with staffing.

While COVID-19 created severe obstacles for schools in the last couple of years, local districts are moving past them.

Some difficulties

Kevin Scanlon, the new Three Village Central School District superintendent, said the district is among those well staffed regarding teachers. Slight shortages involve jobs such as teaching assistants and monitor positions. Substitutes for teaching and various openings, including custodial, are also hard to find. Scanlon said that with more than 500 teachers in the district, 30 to 50 of them could be out on any given day.

Neil Katz, Smithtown Central School District assistant superintendent for personnel; Jim Polansky, Huntington school district superintendent; and Roberta Gerold, Middle Country Central School District superintendent, all said their districts are in the same position with permanent teaching positions being filled, but there are small issues finding noncertified employees.

Routinely, it can be challenging also to find candidates in the fields of English as a New Language, family and consumer sciences, technology and language classes. Scanlon added that it’s difficult to find certified American Sign Language educators. 

“Also, business teachers, which is unusual because 25 years ago you probably had your choice of teachers,” he said. “Some of the local colleges in New York also used to produce 120 candidates a year in tech teachers, now they’re producing maybe 12 to18. So, the numbers are quite short of where they were years ago in those specialized areas.” 

Scanlon added finding such teachers is even more difficult than finding math and science teachers.

“We are all competing against each other trying to find them,” he said.

Polansky said, from time to time, there can be last-minute resignations at the end of the summer.

“Those can present issues, but those are few and far between, and sometimes if you have an added aide position that comes up due to class formation, that doesn’t take place until late in the summer,” he said.

Gerold said, “One of the many byproducts of the pandemic has been a smaller pool of applicants, which has impacted the Middle Country school district’s ability — as it has school districts across Long Island and the country — to hire talented educators.”

Like other districts, Middle Country found ways to ensure it was properly staffed.

“While the hiring process has been particularly challenging heading into this school year, our human resources and personnel teams have worked hard to creatively find new solutions to attract the next generation of educators to lead our community into the future,” she said. 

There has also been a need to stay proactive regarding teacher retirements. While student enrollment has declined in some local districts, the number of teachers retiring has increased.

Katz said the number of employees currently retiring makes sense as the population was growing in the area 25 to 30 years ago and schools were expanding, which led to the need to hire more teachers at the time. Those employees are now meeting their retirement requirements.

“We’re hitting that point that there’s this balloon of the number of teachers that are eligible for retirement,” Katz said, adding COVID-19 exacerbated the problem in recent years.

Polansky agreed.

“You’re going to see more in the next couple of years because it is kind of generational,” he said. “That’s another thing that we need to take into account.”

According to New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, 33% of active members could potentially retire in the next few years.

Solutions

Some news outlets have reported states such as Florida dropping the requirements for people to secure a teaching position such as having a bachelor’s degree. Polansky said, “There’s a fine line between helping your teacher availability and compromising quality. You don’t want to be in a situation where actions are being taken that actually lessen the quality of the educator that’s in front of your children in the classroom.”

He added that such a move could cause more problems in the long run.

“We have to make teaching a desirable profession,” he said. “There are a couple of ways to do that, and it’s incumbent upon states and local school districts to make that happen.” 

Administrators said their districts always start the hiring process early in the calendar year to prepare for the first day of school, attending recruitment events at colleges in New York state, hosting their own career fairs and placing ads in papers.

Scanlon said the Three Village school district will run an ad in The New York Times at the end of January or early February. He added that advertising in the paper is something many high-caliber schools do. Looking toward the future, the superintendent said there are talks about bringing back a Future Teachers of America club to the high school to encourage students to choose teaching as a career.

Gerold said one of the Middle Country school district’s “initiatives has been our successful partnership with Stony Brook University to fortify our roster of substitute teachers. During the pandemic, the district partnered with Stony Brook University to place student-teacher substitutes in schools. Through this, we’ve been able to satisfy the substitute teacher needs throughout the district and identify strong educators who are poised to excel in leading classrooms.”

Katz said the Smithtown Central school district tries to reach out to different associations and offer more competitive salaries. However, even using various hiring methods and starting early, sometimes a new hire will get a better offer right before the academic year begins.

“We’re getting into bidding wars,” he said. “Candidates are pushing one district against the other in bidding wars. Kind of like the housing market.”

Despite a few job openings, local school districts are ready for the new school year. Stock photo

Newfield High School, above, will serve as one of the polling sites for this year’s school budget and board of education elections. File photo

Tomorrow, residents of the Middle Country Central School District will have the opportunity to weigh in on the future of their local schools.

On Tuesday, May 17, the district will hold its school budget vote and trustee election in the new gymnasiums at both Centereach and Newfield high schools from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The district’s proposed budget of $274,944,707 is up $5,863,749 from the previous year. According to the district’s planning presentation, the stated objective of this year’s budget is to “preserve the pre-K through grade 12 comprehensive program that is currently in place to ensure that students have the opportunities, resources and supports to successfully involve themselves in schooling and extracurricular activities so that they meet the expectations described in the Middle Country mission statement, and to do so by staying within the allowable tax levy cap.”

Centereach High School will serve as the other polling location. File photo

In the process of preparing this year’s annual budget, the district encountered a number of challenges related to increasing costs, decreasing state aid and declining district reserve balances. Homeowners will see an estimated tax levy increase of 3.10%, which approximates to a $177 increase per household. 

Voters will be asked to elect four trustees. Incumbent Robert Feeney is being challenged by Tiffany Lorusso; incumbent Kristopher Oliva by Robert Hallock; incumbent Dawn Sharrock by Kimberly Crawford-Arbocus; and incumbent Denise Haggerty by Leah Fitzpatrick for a remaining two-year term.

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Kings Park High School. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Karen Lessler

On April 5, Kings Park Central School District Superintendent of Schools Timothy Eagen notified students, parents and guardians that earlier in the day the district was informed of the passing of Karen Lessler, Kings Park High School’s principal.

“This loss is sure to raise many emotions, concerns and questions for our entire school, especially our students,” he wrote in a letter posted to the district’s website.

The high school made its Crisis Intervention Team available to students, parents and school personnel Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We are tremendously saddened by the loss to our school community and will make every effort to help you and your child as needed” Eagen wrote.

According to her obituary on the St. James Funeral Home website, Lessler passed away on April 4  after a battle with pancreatic cancer, just a few days after her 65th birthday.

She recently retired as the board of education president in the Middle Country Central School District.

“She was a dynamic leader and friend to all,” according to a post on the district’s website.

In a May 2021 TBR News Media article, Lessler said she lived in the Middle Country school district for almost 40 years, leaving Northport to settle with her family in Centereach. She has two adult sons with children of their own. 

Legislator Caracappa with Moira Kochis, Social Worker for Middle Country Central School District

Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (Fourth District) recently visited Eugene Auer Elementary School in Lake Grove, a school supply collection site for Middle Country Central School District. Moira Kochis, the District’s donation coordinator, arranged to meet with Caracappa to accept a large array of school supplies collected from his drive this past August.

“On behalf of the MCCSD Social Work Department, thank for your donations of school supplies,” said Ms. Kochis.  “We greatly appreciate Legislator Caracappa’s generosity and thoughtfulness.  We will put the supplies to good use for our families.”

“It was a pleasure meeting Moira and presenting the school supplies so generously donated to my office by our residents, particularly Niko Gentile, a local Boy Scout who collected items to donate as part of a badge project. This allowed me to share with Ms. Kochis, who in turn will distribute to students in need. I’m grateful to represent such a great community that’s always willing to step up and help,” said Leg. Caracappa.

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Centereach High School

Middle Country Central School District announced its top scholars for the class of 2021. 

Photo from MCCSD

Isabel Rodriguez of Newfield High School and Aryan Sharma of Centereach High School have been honored as this year’s valedictorians, while Ilssa Siddiqui of NHS and Priyansh Parikh of CHS have been named salutatorians.

“As we approach the conclusion of the 2020-2021 school year, it is my distinct honor and privilege to celebrate the Class of 2021’s valedictorians and salutatorians — Isabel, Aryan, Ilsaa, and Priyansh,” said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of schools. “The district is immensely proud of each of you for your ambition to adapt to, and succeed in, the scholastic challenges that were presented throughout this school year. We applaud the four of you for your stellar academic achievements and commitment to the Middle Country community. We are confident that you will continue to achieve great things in the next chapter of your lives.”

Isabel carries a 102.6042 weighted GPA at Newfield with the potential to graduate with more than 40 college credits. In addition to her academic pursuits, Isabel serves as the treasurer for the Foreign Language Honor Society and vice president of the National Honor Society. She’s also a member of the Pit Orchestra, class of 2021 student government, the Leadership Club, Environmental Club, Tri-M Music Honor Society, and member of Newfield’s girls’ varsity soccer team. This coming fall, Isabel will be attending Vassar College.

Ilsaa, who is known for her incredible work ethic, achieved a weighted GPA of 102.1250 as salutatorian at Newfield. 

Coupled with her academics, Ilsaa has served as a member of Gerold’s Leadership Club, vice president of the Environmental Club, secretary of the Foreign Language Club, is currently a member of DECA, vice president of the National Technical Honor Society, secretary of the National Honor Society, and senior editor of the Yearbook Club. She has also volunteered at the Selden Mosque as an assistant teacher. Ilsaa has committed to Hamilton College where she hopes to pursue a career in either computer science or pre-law.

During his tenure at Centereach High School, Aryan’s academic fortitude has afforded him a weighted GPA of 102.00. For the last two years of his high school journey, Aryan’s academic workload consisted of all AP courses. 

His success in these courses helped him attain National AP Scholar status. Outside of the classroom, Aryan is active in extracurricular activities and community service. He is currently the GO vice president, and formerly held the position of junior class treasurer. Aryan is a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, the National Technical Honor Society, the math team, and countless other clubs which he primarily serves in a leadership capacity. 

Aryan has been accepted to, and will attend, Stony Brook University in the fall where he will study biochemistry with plans to pursue a career as a cardiothoracic surgeon.

Centereach High School’s salutatorian Priyansh has excelled throughout his academic career and will graduate with a weighted GPA of 101.8. Priyansh’s academic workload has been punctuated with several AP courses, in which he excelled. 

He was recognized by the College Board as an AP Scholar with Distinction. Priyansh is involved in a multitude of extracurricular activities in school and in the community. In his role as GO treasurer, he played an active role in all of the activities that take place in the high school. Priyansh is also a member of the National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society, DECA Club, and participated on the winter track team. 

Photo from MCCSD

Post-graduation, Priyansh plans to attend Penn State University where he will pursue a degree in computer science.

Legislator Nick Caracappa with Dr. Karen J. Lessler, President of the Middle Country Central School District’s Board of Education

At a recent Board of Education meeting for the Middle Country Central School District, Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa was recognized and awarded with a Certificate of Appreciation.

The certificate was the Board of Ed’s way of thanking the Legislator for his efforts in successfully eliminating Stagecoach Elementary School in Selden as a polling location for general and special elections. Caracappa, a former Middle Country School Board member himself is currently in negotiations with the Suffolk County Board of Elections to eliminate polling locations from other schools in the district as well.

“Thank you Legislative Caracappa for following through on protecting our students by removing the voting from Stagecoach Elementary.  We certainly appreciate the partnership,” stated Middle Country School’s Board of Ed. President, Dr. Karen J. Lessler. Superintendent Dr. Roberta Gerold commented, “Middle Country thanks Legislator Caracappa for his commitment to the safety and security of our district – we appreciate him!”

“Our children’s safety is the number one priority in these efforts,” stated Legislator Caracappa. “I acted on this measure not only as an elected official, but as a father. I am humbled by the recognition for what was truly a community effort. My thanks go out to the Selden Fire Department, along with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine for providing alternate polling sites for voters. Additionally, I thank Dr. Lessler, Dr. Gerold, and the entire Board of Education for acknowledging me with this Certificate of Appreciation.”

Photo courtesy of MCSD

A Little Change Makes a Big Difference

Photo courtesy of MCSD

A distinguished teacher from the Middle Country Central School District has shown that a little change makes a big difference. Selden Middle School teacher, Ms. Marrero, organized the district’s Shop with a Cop, a program that rewards children with the opportunity to purchase clothing and other necessities while shopping with a police officer. Several students from the district’s elementary, middle and high schools were paired with a volunteer to shop the aisles of Walmart for 60 minutes.

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The Ward Melville Patriots girls volleyball team advanced to the next round of Class AA playoffs after defeating Centereach on Oct. 28. The Patriots won the first two sets of the match but the Cougars rallied from a nine-point deficit in the third set to win  25-21. Ward Melville, then went on to take the fourth set to secure overall victory. the Patriots next match will be against Bay Shore Nov. 1 at 4 p.m.

 

A scene from the 2019 Newfield graduation ceremony. Photo by Greg Catalano

Loui Chen

As Newfield High School valedictorian, Chen graduated with 51 college credits and an unweighted GPA of 98.12. The valedictorian also has been a member of the pit orchestra, chamber orchestra, the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra and SCMEA All-County orchestra. Athletically, he served as captain of the varsity fencing and soccer teams and helped lead the soccer team in his position as goalie to the Suffolk County League III title.

Chen said Newfield High School prepared him well for the future.

“I think the biggest lesson I took away from Newfield was being accountable for my own actions,” he said. “The teachers and coaches I’ve had have always allowed us to grow at our own pace and while they did push us to become better — a lot of the motivation had to come from ourselves as the students. They have taught us the importance of taking responsibility for our own actions and being accountable for both our successes and failures. Newfield has given us a step in the right direction, but still allowed us to take that step on our own feet so that we are able to continue walking on our own after we leave Newfield.”

Chen will attend Yale in the fall to study math, something he has loved since he was a child.

“I think I’m a very logical thinker and I love solving puzzles, so I always leaned toward math growing up,” he said. “As a major and a future career however, I am very undecided on what I want to do. The situation is more of me going to college to see what there is and see what I like rather than already knowing what I want to do. I am going with more of a blank slate and I am open to seeing all the possibilities that I may not have been exposed to in high school.”

Anaya Zaineb

Newfield High School’s salutatorian, Zaineb, graduated with nearly 40 college credits and an unweighted GPA of 98.1. Her success in AP-level courses earned her the title of AP Scholar with Distinction. She also was a member of the newspaper club, the book club, student government, environmental club, treasurer of the National Technical Honor Society, historian of the Foreign Language Honor Society and president of the National Honor Society. In addition, she was a member of the varsity fencing team, a homework helper and an assistant teacher at her Brentwood mosque.

“Attending Newfield High School has helped me find my true voice in the community,” she said. “I was presented with an abundance of clubs, activities and sports to discover myself at Newfield. The bonds I have formed with some of the teachers will forever be inseparable and have molded me into the person I am today.”

The salutatorian will be attending Stony Brook University’s eight-year dental program.

“From a young age, I always knew I wanted to study something in the medical field,” she said. “It wasn’t until volunteering and job shadowing that I discovered my true passion for dentistry. Thus, being accepted into Stony Brook’s Scholars for Dental Medicine program has been a true honor. The program’s flexibility and exposure to the dental community is perfect for my plans in becoming a dentist.”

Scene from the 2019 Centereach graduation ceremony. Photo by Bill Landon
Centereach High School valedictorian Faiza Syed. Photo from Middle Country Central School District

Faiza Syed

Centereach High School valedictorian Syed graduated with a weighted grade point average of 102.791 and completed 13 Advanced Placement classes and three college-level courses. Due to these accomplishments she earned the title of an AP Scholar with Distinction.

Syed, who has spent her entire school career in the MCCSD, was also elected by her peers to serve this year as the president of the school’s National Honor Society, was a member of the National Arts Honor Society and Italian Honor Society and was a competitor on the math team and Science Olympiad.

“I believe Centereach High School has prepared me for my future because throughout high school I have learned information along with skills that will be applicable during college and when pursuing my career,” she said. “High school has also taught me the importance of collaborating with others and the necessity of combining knowledge with creativity in order to develop solutions to problems and apply what I have learned.”

In the fall, Syed will attend New York Institute of Technology, where she will be enrolled in its seven-year medical program to become a pediatric neurosurgeon, which she said has always interested her.

“It would be an honor to be capable of helping cure children who unfortunately suffer from neurological abnormalities,” she said.

Centereach High School salutatorian Samantha Cotes. Photo from Middle Country Central School District

Samantha Cotes

As this year’s Centereach High School salutatorian, Cotes has completed 11 AP courses and four college-level courses at local universities, amounting to three semesters worth of credit. She served as the General Organization president of her class, and she was integral in coordinating and running events, including homecoming, the food drive, the toy drive, Trick or Treat Street and the Senior Citizen’s Afternoon Tea. Cotes also was a Tri-M Honor Society officer, a member of the National Honor Society, math team and Science Olympiad, and was a varsity athlete on the track and field and cross-country teams.

“My time at Centereach has given me a lot of opportunity for personal growth through the people I’ve met and the activities I’ve been involved in, which is something that will help me succeed personally and professionally,” Cotes said.

The salutatorian, who took part in Stony Brook Medicine’s Science and Research Awareness Series, will attend SUNY Binghamton where she will study medicine.

“I have always been interested in anatomy and medicine but attending the SARAS program at Stony Brook Hospital and volunteering there enforced my interests,” she said. “I don’t have a dream job, but ophthalmology excites me.”