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Miller Place School District

Photo from MPSD

Graduating with the class of 2021 of Miller Place High School, Kyla Bruno will be leaving as valedictorian, finishing at the top of her class with a weighted GPA of 102.34. Kyla plans to attend college at Northwestern University and will be majoring in mathematics, with a minor or double major in music. 

Photo from MPSD

Throughout her high school career, Kyla has accomplished a tremendous amount academically. She was awarded AP Scholar with Honors, Performing Arts Teeny Award for Outstanding Instrumentalist, and was recognized by the College Board National Hispanic Recognition Program.

Consistently achieving honor roll while enrolled in all AP and honors courses, Kyla has also received Special Recognition of Excellence in language arts, geometry, Spanish, and orchestra. She was additionally named an All-State Musician. 

Not only is Kyla academically gifted, but is a very active athlete as well, earning the Scholar-Athlete Award for tennis and track. She is a member of both the spring and winter track teams and was recognized as All-League and All-County on her tennis team.

Leaving with a 101.30, the second-highest GPA in the Class of 2021, Jason Cirrito was named salutatorian at Miller Place high school.

Jason was notably awarded for his academic excellence, but also had a big involvement in his community. He achieved High Honor Roll for every marking period since 9th grade and received awards for Advanced Placement Scholar with Honors and the Geometry Honors Award.

He was also given the Outstanding Acts of Kindness Award for helping his classmates and community members without expecting anything in return. 

Spending his time at the Port Jefferson Library, Jason helped coordinate events and also served as the assistant coach for the Miller Place Parent Teacher Organization basketball team. 

To add to his stellar academic and community service achievements, Jason was known as an involved student-athlete. He was a member of the cross-country team, soccer team, and the winter and spring track teams. 

This fall, Jason will be attending Vassar College and plans to major in math education and become a secondary math teacher.

Juniors and seniors in Thomas Fank’s fourth-period virtual enterprise business class. This year, the three classes at Miller Place High School have won more than a dozen awards for their creativity and business planning. Photo from MPSD

For students at Miller Place High School, fourth-period is actually a working office. 

The virtual enterprise business class is open to juniors and seniors there, and its idea is to allow students to “run” a virtual business, which they completely create.

It is a business ownership simulation class where students network with other students around the United States and world under the auspices of the Virtual Enterprises International organization. Throughout the school year, students create, manage and work collectively with their peers to help ensure their business concepts and ideas are successfully put into action. Students then take their business model and begin to network with other VE students from all over the country.  

In Thomas Fank’s fourth-period class, 22 students have worked diligently on their business model for an online boutique they created called As Scene on the Screen — a store with movie, TV and pop-culture memorabilia. 

But it’s not a real store, Fank said. It’s all virtual and a simulation that allows students to see what it’s like to run a business and deal with customer service. Just like a real business, As Scene on the Screen buys products from wholesalers, and then sells items for a profit, all with virtual funds. 

“They’ve sold items and created their business throughout the whole year,” Fank said. “And now, we just got results back from a bunch of the national competitions — 13 awards.”

Since the class started in the district three years ago, it’s won 30 awards. And over the last couple of years, it has piqued the interest of many students. Along with fourth-period, he has 28 students in his second-period class and 26 in eighth. 

And just like an office, the class shows how important teamwork is when running a business.

Anthony Gagliardi, head of marketing and design with As Scene on the Screen, said that working on their digital portfolio — which includes both professional and personal portfolios — students move through the different steps to do just as a typical corporate setting would do in the real world.  

“Now we’ve gotten up to working on a website,” he noted. “Just explaining about ourselves, what we do for this company, and that really just shows how we function as a class.”

Throughout the 40-minute period they have available, each and every minute is spent in meetings, making sales, working on company documents and networking with other students across the country and around the world. 

“The students will do trades and complete purchases from other schools,” Fank said. “This helps stimulate the virtual economy.”

As a capstone class, students are able to earn six college credits through SUNY Farmingdale. Underclassmen are encouraged to take lower-level business electives, like accounting, digital design, business law, sports marketing or computer literacy, prior to the course so they’re completely prepared.

“I think that’s what’s helped lead to kind of the success that we’ve been seeing so far,” Fank said. “So not only are they getting kind of real-life readiness — career readiness skills — they’re also getting six college credits.”

Jack Soldano, head of design at the virtual company, said this class is different than his other classes throughout the day.

“Every other period of the school day there’s a lot of memorization, formulas, historical figures, and this class is such a breath of fresh air, because it allows you to be creative and have some fun with a task,” he said. “It’s a great teamwork experience.”

Stock photo

Local school districts are still maintaining low COVID-19 numbers, while the rest of Suffolk County is nearing 6% in some areas. According to district leadership, that’s because schools have been constantly evolving their plans to keep students, staff and the community safe.

Centereach High School in the Middle Country School District. The district superintendent is just one of many continuing to keep students safe. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Middle Country school district covers a large jurisdiction, Dr. Roberta Gerold, superintendent of schools, said. In non-COVID times, there are roughly 11,000 students within the district, though now approximately 7,500 are in buildings due to hybrid and remote learning options. The district has only had 102 positive COVID cases since the start of school, a 1.3% infection rate — with 52 of those cases coming from Thanksgiving break.

“We have such strong guidelines we’re containing it, not spreading it,” she said. “We know where [students and staff have] been and who they’ve been with.”

Like all the other districts, students are required to wear a mask at all times, except during mask breaks. Social distancing has been implemented with barriers on desks, and teachers are asked to keep their windows and doors open.

If a student is showing symptoms, they are immediately placed into an isolation room and brought home.

But that barely happens, according to Gerold. “The community is doing a good job because they’re not sending us positive kids,” she said. “We’re not getting a lot of cases in the schools.”

Ronald Masera, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said that over the summer, local superintendents began putting together plans to better prepare their districts.

“When the pandemic started, there was a feeling of uncertainty,” he said. “But now what we’ve found is we could place a great deal on social distancing.”

Because they have been implementing and following CDC guidelines, he said they’re not seeing spread within the schools.

“Controlled environment helps keep the community safe,” he said. “Even if we see the community numbers rise, I think the government, politicians, leadership and superintendents know how important keeping schools open is.”

A representative from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office agreed, and said the new guidelines released last month are to keep the doors of local schools open.

“We encourage them to not be closed, but to test instead,” they said.

Guidelines now require mass testing in schools in red, orange and yellow micro-cluster zones before they reopen, followed by vigilant symptom and exposure screening conducted daily. Impacted schools can reopen as early as Monday, however students and faculty must be able to provide a negative COVID-19 test result prior to going back to the classroom. New York State will provide rapid test kits for schools wishing to participate.

After a school reopens in a red or orange micro-cluster zone, vigilant symptom and exposure screening must be conducted daily. A quarter of the in-person learning school community — both students and faculty/staff — must be tested per week, and the school should ensure that it provides opportunities to test on school grounds, or otherwise facilitates testing and accepts test results from health care providers.

If the school does not hold a testing event or provide testing on school grounds, test results provided to the school as part of the 25% testing of the population must be received within seven days.

The governor’s representative said that no regions have hit the 9% emergency number, which would close the county again. Schools, however, have flexibility regarding choosing a comfortable closing percentage.

“They can use their own metrics to close down districts or schools as long as those metrics don’t go against the state mandate of 9%,” the representative said. “A lot of things are state law governed. Schools are done by the locals, and we wanted to be within the local district rules.”

The latest number of confirmed and new COVID-19 cases in the Town of Brookhaven, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services on Dec. 7 is 17,307, while a school district like Shoreham-Wading River has seen just a total of 43 positive tests for students and teachers/staff as at Dec. 8.

“I would like to thank our parents, staff and students for implementing the required COVID-19 health protocols this year. The daily temperature checks, health screening forms and conversations about washing hands, wearing masks properly and socially distancing have been really effective in keeping or schools open, healthy and safe,” said Superintendent Gerard Poole in an email statement. “The district is fully prepared for a shift to distance learning if a closure is mandated. We have a great distance learning plan and have already shifted this year successfully for a day or two when necessary due to COVOD-19 related school closures.“

File photo of Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan. Photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said that they are hopeful to remain on their current course, but are prepared to pivot their instructional models as directed by the governor’s office.

“Moving forward, our schools will continue to follow the guidance provided at the local, regional and state levels, including any prescribed steps needed should our area become designed a yellow, orange or red zone,” she said. “We are grateful to our students, staff and community for their unwavering support of and adherence to our initiatives. Their collective efforts have helped to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our schools and allowed us to keep our buildings open for in-person instruction.”

Marianne Cartisano, superintendent of Miller Place school district, said schools, to date, are the safest places for children to succeed academically, socially and emotionally.

“We are also fortunate to have the acknowledgement of social responsibility in our community, coupled with everyone’s common goal to keep schools open,” she said.

The latest number of confirmed and new COVID-19 cases in the Town of Brookhaven, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services on Dec. 7 is 17,307, while a school district like Three Village has seen just a total of 72 positive tests for students and teachers/staff as at Dec. 8.

“Our district continues to follow the guidance of the Department of Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Cheryl Pedisich, Three Village superintendent of schools, said. “We are fully prepared to implement any prescribed measures to keep our schools open, safe and operating in the best interest of all of our students and staff.”

Elwood school district Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Bossert said he agrees with statements made by Cuomo and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a recent joint press conference.

“Governor Cuomo used the words ‘amazing and astonishing’ to describe how low the infection rates are in schools as compared to many of the communities surrounding them,” Bossert said. “We agree that our schools are safe places for students, faculty and staff. The guidelines that have been put in place in collaboration with the Suffolk County Department of Health are designed to keep students and staff safe and school open.”

Bossert said in addition to mask wearing, distancing and appropriate hygiene, it’s important for those who are symptomatic or think they have been exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 to stay home.

“We are so very thankful to our parents and community members for demonstrating an understanding of the role we each play and acting out of an abundance of caution when making decisions about their children,” he said. “We are confident that we can keep students safe in our school buildings — where we know they will enjoy the greatest benefit of our instruction program, socialization with one another, and have positive interactions with their teachers.”

Smithtown school district superintendent, Mark Secaur, said he is planning for several different scenarios, including the potential of COVID testing in schools, or going back to completely remote.

“Based on the relative safety of our students and staff, providing education for those two things has been at odd at times,” he said. “But it’s the balance we have to navigate because of the pandemic.”

“We have proven that schools are safer than the outside community,” Secaur added. “Kids have been amazing. They’re excited to be with their friends again, and the kids have been more resilient than some adults.”

 

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Other Nearby Districts Revise Protocols/Quarantine Students

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Rocky Point schools have moved to keep students for in-person learning four days a week.

Starting Nov. 30, Rocky Point middle and high school students are to go to school Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with Wednesday remaining as a dedicated virtual day.

The decision to push this part of the reopening plan to after Thanksgiving was made earlier this month, Nov. 4, according to a letter to parents signed by Superintendent Scott O’Brien.

“What is most important is that any change we make is done carefully, and with health and safety at the forefront,” O’Brien wrote in his letter.

The live-streaming component of what the district called “Phase II” began Nov. 9 to log into a period-by-period class schedule.

Those students who are switching to virtual from in-person learning, or vice versa, also have a start date of Nov. 30.

“With a recent increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in our district and the surrounding area, it was necessary to reallocate our transitional resources to address cleaning and disinfecting due to recent positive cases,” O’Brien wrote in his letter.

Since September, Rocky Point has seen 25 students test positive for the coronavirus while nine staff/teachers also tested positive as of Nov. 30, according to the state’s COVID Report Card.

Other neighboring districts have similar rates of infection, with school districts overall having much lower infection rates than the general populace. Shoreham-Wading River, with its plan of having students in school five days a week resulting in an infection rate of 1%, that currently being 22 students and six staff members.

The SWR district did have to close the high school and quarantine over 100 students and several staff members a month ago after two students who allegedly attended some kind of social gathering tested positive.

Still, Superintendent Gerard Poole said in a letter posted to the district website that they have revised protocols so that schools will not be closed the day a positive case is reported if contact tracing can be performed in time, along with the needed cleaning and disinfecting.

“The intent of this revision is to reduce the number of school closures,” Poole wrote. “Please know that the decision to keep a school open, as opposed to closing for a day, will always be made carefully with the health and safety of our students and staff as the priority.”

Meanwhile in Miller Place, the district said Monday the district contact traced three Miller Place High School students, one North Country Road Middle School student and one staff member from there who have all tested positive for COVID-19. None were symptomatic when last in school, and all have since been quarantined.

Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said in a letter posted to the district website that the positive cases were relayed to the district through the Safe School Helpline.

“We have also been working with multiple staff members and community families who have been identified as close contacts of persons testing positive for COVID-19,” she wrote. “If required, staff have been quarantined as close contacts.”

Chris Pendergast celebrates his 70th birthday at 89 North Music Venue in Patchogue with family and friends. Photo by Elliot Perry

At St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach, Monday, Oct. 19, those who came to mourn the passing of Chris Pendergast filled the pews, or at least as much as they could while trying to distance due to COVID-19.

Founder of ALS Ride for Life and renowned North Shore figure, Pendergast passed Oct. 14 surrounded by friends and family. He was 71. The nonprofit he founded reported Monday, Oct. 12, that Pendergast was starting to receive home hospice care. The organization announced his death Wednesday afternoon.

Authors Dr. Christopher Pendergast and Christine Pendergast

ALS Ride for Life started when Pendergast embarked on a ride with his electric scooter from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to Washington, D.C., 22 years ago to raise awareness about the disease and raise funds for research. After a few years, the ride was contained to New York state — from Riverhead to the Bronx — where participants stop by schools along the way that take part in the organization’s presentations throughout the school year. 

Pendergast, a Miller Place resident and former Northport elementary teacher had lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for 28 years. When doctors diagnosed him, they thought he only had a few years to live. 

Many who gathered together to pay respects to the Ride for Life founder have been touched in some way by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a debilitating condition that, over time, paralyzes a person and eventually leads to their death. Father Francis Pizzarelli, director of nonprofit Hope House Ministries, led the funeral Mass at the church, and said to those gathered that his own brother had been diagnosed with the disease at 36 years of age several years ago. Without even knowing it at the time, the Pendergast family reached out to his brother to offer him advice and comfort, something that made “a profound difference in his life.”

Not only did he defy those odds, but he would spend more than two decades after his diagnosis raising millions for ALS research and spreading awareness for it.

Chris’ wife of close to 50 years, Christine Pendergast, said beyond all the work he’s done over the past two decades in advocacy and fundraising, he will be remembered by her and her family as a loving father.

“While everybody is remembering Chris as an ALS advocate and fighter, at the end of the day he was my husband, our children’s father and our grandson’s poppy,” she said.

Monday’s funeral Mass was one of somber remembrances, and tissue boxes were always close at hand. But at the same time, both Pizzarelli and the Pendergast family looked for ways to say though he may be gone, his life should serve as an example. 

Pendergast’s daughter, Melissa Scriven, said during the funeral Mass her father was a supremely intelligent man, one who was exacting when it came to her homework as a child. Before he was diagnosed with the paralyzing disease, Pendergast was a handyman, able to “fix anything, even if it was with duct tape.” Her dad’s favorite meal to make when his wife was working late was “tuna noodle casserole, warm, with crushed Doritos … so my brother and I didn’t really like it when my mom worked late.” 

During a funeral that was filled with music, some of which were songs Pendergast loved in life, Scriven played one she said was her dad’s favorite, John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” in which everyone’s tears dried ever so briefly as they joined in the chorus: “Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.”

Pendergast Leaves Lasting Mark

The founder of ALS Ride for Life became an icon and symbol for the North Shore for never giving up. Even as he lost the ability to speak and had to communicate with an eye-to-speech device, his determination never seemed to relent. Just this year, Pendergast, alongside his wife Christine, released the book “Blink Spoken Here: Tales from a Journey to Within” about his life since his diagnosis in 1993.

Ray Manzoni, chairman of the board for ALS Ride for Life based in Stony Brook University, knew Chris for many years, as both their kids went to school together in Miller Place. It was one day after both he and Pendergast were together after Mass that the educator told Manzoni he was likely to die in a few years, and that he wanted to raise awareness. 

Pallbearers lift Pendergasts casket into the car that will take him to his final resting place at Washington Memorial Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

Since then, the organization has raised over $10 million for advocacy and research. Their yearly Ride for Life trips were later accompanied by visits to close to 90 school districts on Long Island.

“Anyone who knew him, I believe he helped us all to live a better life,” Manzoni said. “He was a teacher of gifted and talented kids, and he took this terrible disease and turned it into amazing positive life.”

Paul Weisman, a member of ALS Ride for Life, was diagnosed with the disease in January 2013. Getting introduced to Ride for Life, he started going out with the nonprofit’s founder during their school trips. He would also visit some districts without Pendergast. The organization and its founder gave him a real purpose, “something to strive for, something bigger than myself, to raise as much awareness to fight this disease.”

“Meeting Chris, he gave me hope that three to five years might not be true, that there may still be life here,” Weisman said. 

Pendergast had four mantras: Never give up, never lose hope, always remain optimistic and be willing to defy the odds. Weisman loved that last one so much he had it tattooed on his left arm. Upon showing his new ink to the Ride for Life founder, Weisman said his mentor and friend smiled.

“Chris could smile and light up a room,” he said. “We all want to do something with our lives, but he certainly did.”

Pendergast’s roots on the North Shore ran deep, so much so that he became renowned in local school districts. He traveled from classroom to classroom, auditorium to auditorium, helping young people from elementary on up understand ALS but, more importantly, serve as a role model for what bravery truly looked like. Manzoni said students would often embrace Pendergast after these talks. As the years fell by, young students who were inspired by the Ride for Life founder would internalize his message. The board chairman said one time an EMT stopped by the side of the road during the annual ride and told Pendergast how his example inspired them to want to help others.

“If you had the honor of meeting him, riding or walking next to Chris in his ALS Ride for Life from Montauk to Manhattan, or hearing his story of determination, you walked away a better person,” Miller Place Superintendent of Schools Marianne Cartisano wrote in a statement. “He left you with the lasting impressions that made you want to be more tolerant, kinder, more understanding and compassionate toward others. His fight against the devastation of ALS left you inspired, knowing him filled your heart and being in his presence left you humbled.” 

ALS Ride For Life Talks Future Efforts

Despite the passing of its founder and leader Chris Pendergast, ALS Ride for Life isn’t thinking of slowing down anytime soon.

Manzoni said the organization wants to continue its fundraising efforts, starting with himself getting on a bike later this month and hitting the road, going to school districts they have visited before the pandemic. He plans to spend enough time at each to wave to children and “hopefully greet someone who has supported our program and to say ‘thank you’ to them, give them banner in recognition.” The organization has also developed a revised packet on how, even during a pandemic, people can support ALS over the school year.

“ALS is not going away, and we have to continue the fight,” he said.

There are even talks of doing a documentary film on Pendergast’s life, something Manzoni said the organization is wholeheartedly all for.

Weisman, still an active member of Ride for Life, said one of his last conversations he had with Pendergast was “to keep going until we found that cure for ALS,” he said. “He firmly believed, as I do, that there’s a major breakthrough coming somewhere around the corner … it’s up to us to finish it.”

Weisman added that while the pandemic has made their normal school trips much more difficult, they have some preliminary ideas to host online talks instead.

“Chris laid down 28 years of work,” he said. “Now it’s up to us.”

The family requests donations be made to ALSrideforlife.org and Hope House Ministries at HHM.org.

File photo by Julianne Mosher

Schools are staring down the barrel of funding cuts because of the COVID-19 crisis.

While students have been returning to their new normal of hybrid classes, remote learning and plastic barriers between desks, school districts across New York state are concerned about the news surrounding a potential 20% state funding cut.

Elwood Super Ken Bossert, pictured above before the pandemic, said every single school will need to make painful cuts if things don’t go their way. Photo from Heather Mammolito

According to New York State Education Department, the State Division of the Budget has begun withholding 20% of most local aid payments, forcing reductions in some payments to school districts across the state. The reductions in aid, combined with increased costs during pandemic times, could affect not only students, but community members too.  

“All public schools throughout New York state will have to make deep and painful cuts if federal assistance in the form of school aid is not secured,” said Ken Bossert, superintendent of Elwood school district. “The governor’s proposal of reducing aid by 20% will impact districts that rely heavily on aid in a devastating way. Not only will programs and staffing be redacted, the gap between the ‘haves and the have-nots’ will widen.”

Mark Secaur, superintendent of Smithtown school district, noted that during the height of the pandemic in New York last spring, the state adopted a budget that contained three review periods, in which local aid distributions might be reduced on a rolling basis, based on the revenues the state received. 

“On August 18, districts throughout New York state received a state aid payment for the 2019-2020 school year that withheld 20% of the expected payment,” he said. “Also included was a note that all future payments would be reduced by 20% in the absence of federal relief.”

Secaur added that for Smithtown, this equates to a potential loss of upward of $9 million in state aid. 

“When developing our 2020-2021 school budget, the district took into consideration the potential loss of state aid and made adjustments,” he said. “However, these losses, coupled with the unfunded expenditures required for the safe return of students, will likely force the district to significantly utilize the fund balance and reserves to balance the budget.”

In addition, the budget doesn’t cover the costs that are protecting children returning to their classrooms. 

“Cleaning supplies, dividers for rooms … the cost is close to $4 million,” said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country school district.

That sum didn’t include the cost to keeping the schools operational — even when students weren’t in them when the pandemic hit. 

“There was still a cost to keep the schools running,” Gerold added. “It was a rough couple of months.”

Gerard Poole, superintendent of Shoreham-Wading River school district, agreed.

“In a time when students need more, we won’t be able to provide that,” he said. 

While Poole and his peers are trying to stay optimistic, and are pleased to have students back, he wonders if it will be sustainable. “It’s an uncertain time — it won’t be the easiest thing for districts to put a budget together this year,” he said. “We just have to take it day by day.”

“We’re trying to plan for a budget without knowing what’s going to happen.”

— Roberta Gerold

While each district is different on the Island, they can all agree that continuing to plan during an uncertain time is very difficult. 

“We’re trying to plan for a budget without knowing what’s going to happen,” Gerold said. “If we have the info, we can figure that out. … It’s a scary time for sure.”

Miller Place school district declined to comment but did release a letter Sept. 3 penned to elected officials, asking for their support.

“As our elected officials we implore you act quickly to stop any and all federal and state reductions regarding payments to New York state school districts,” the letter said. “As district leaders we remain focused on the mission of returning students to our classrooms, and providing them with the social, emotional and academic supports they need in order to achieve their 2020-21 instructional goals.”

The letter continued, “Please recognize any reductions in federal or state aid payments would dramatically reduce our ability to sustain our district’s fiscal health, as well as maintain the support needed to ensure our students and staff physical health.”

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Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal. File Photo by Kyle Barr

While some districts came out with their reopening plans last month, parents across the North Shore sent letters and petitions to district officials demanding to have some kind of distance learning option. 

Several weeks later, school officials have come out with details about some of these initiatives. A few are hosting efforts in house, while others are offering the option of using a BOCES-run program.

Rocky Point

Rocky Point Union Free School District will offer a five-day 100% remote model for K-5 students after parents in the area pleaded to at least have the option. 

The district already presented its plans to have elementary students in school full time. In a letter posted to the district website Aug. 14, Rocky Point describes the distance program as a blend of synchronous or asynchronous learning. This will either be handled by Rocky Point staff or through enrollment in the Eastern Suffolk BOCES Online Elementary Program, which will include students from other districts as well. Schedules will align with what they would be doing if they were in-person, though parents need to commit to distance program for the full school year, September 2020 through June 2021. 

Parents must fill out a form that is available on the district website by 3 p.m. Aug. 20.

The district was also set to unveil plans for a remote option for students in grades 6-12 Wednesday, Aug. 19, but those plans were not available by press time.

Miller Place

In a letter to parents Aug. 12, the Miller Place School District showed off its plans for remote instruction for K-5 and 6th grade students. The district does not currently have plans to offer a full remote option for students in grades 7 through 12, and their model remains hybrid-only.

The district will offer students who enroll in the remote learning program live instruction five days a week, with days lasting between five and five and a half hours each day. Instruction will also include the normal set of English, math, writing, physical education, art, music and social and emotional learning.

Parents will need to commit to this option for the entire school year running from September 2020 through June 2021. Students cannot choose to reenter the normal 5-day schedule if parents choose this option.

Students will also either be assigned district staff or be enrolled in the Eastern Suffolk BOCES Online Elementary Program in a cohort of students which will likely include kids from other districts.

Parents should have already emailed district personnel in order to access the program. Parents with questions can email [email protected] for more information.

The district said it is unable to offer a remote program at the middle and high school level, as they said they do not have the resources to mirror the new course offerings with a remote program. The district also claimed it does not have the legal authority to livestream classes to students at home, saying that cameras are not allowed in classrooms during instruction.

“From a legal standpoint, it is considered discriminatory, and not equitable, to offer courses to in-school students and not have those same courses available to remote learning students,” the district said in its statement. “The district is not willing to reduce or eliminate course offerings, including electives, for in-school students, in order to accommodate families requesting remote learning for non-vulnerable students.” 

Mount Sinai

The Mount Sinai school board has said its intent to allow parents to participate in a full-time remote program. The district is planning to have a remote instructional model for all grades K-12, and parents must sign an intent form available on the district website if they intend to full remote instruction.

The district plans to use Google Classroom as the main platform for remote learning. Attendance will be taken daily through the platform. 

“Parents should be aware that if they choose to opt-out their child from attending in September, the window for returning to school would open in January, the beginning of the second semester,” Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said in the Q&A available on the district’s website.

For elementary students who participate in remote learning, there will be videos recorded by their designated classroom teacher posted four days per week on the teacher’s Google Classroom page. Students will have the opportunity to interact with their teacher on Wednesdays when the students participating in in-person instruction are not in session. Teachers will also be available via email throughout the week to answer questions. Students will be given the same workbooks as their in-person counterparts and will be offered physical education, art and music content one day a week Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

For remote students in the middle and high schools, teachers will post videos and other assignments to Google Classroom in line with schedules as if they were in school.

“Simply put, remote learning is not the same as in-person instruction and students must be actively engaged in learning when they are not in school,” the district’s remote learning document stated. “Teachers will make every effort to ensure that students are provided ‘live’ instruction as much as possible.” 

Teacher videos and assignments will be posted as soon as practicable when lessons take place, which the district said will “allow teachers to continue with the curriculum without interruptions.”

Shoreham-Wading River

The SWR school district has not released any plans for a remote option for students of any grade level. If a parent currently wishes to not have their students in school, then they must be unenrolled and instead be homeschooled.

The district has adopted a plan that would have every student in school five days a week for in-person instruction, all while meeting New York State Department of Health guidelines for distancing and controlling the spread of COVID-19. The district also plans to reopen the Briarcliffe school for kindergarten students. 

At the districts board of education meeting Aug. 18, Superintendent Gerard Poole related more details about how the district would take temperatures of students and allow them to board and exit buses without being in contact with other students. Poole also clarified that students will need to be wearing masks at all times unless in a setting where 6-feet distancing can be maintained.

The district does have a remote learning plan in place should the school need to close at any time during the school year.

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Miller Place High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

The Miller Place School District is tentatively planning on a 5-day in person learning experience for elementary students come fall, while secondary school students will deal with two days of in-person instruction, one day of live online learning and two days of remote learning.

All school districts were required to release their reopening plans July 31 to New York State for review. Like all reopening plans, these are tentative based on a final decision by New York State officials. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to make the final decision for districts, but has promised to do so by Aug. 7.

In a letter to parents breaking down the district’s 35-page plan, Miller Place will have classes down to an average of 17 at the elementary level. The middle and high school plan would mean the total number of students in class is reduced by 50 percent throughout the school year.

“If Governor Cuomo does not allow full on-site instruction for our K-5 students, they will be placed on a hybrid model of two-day on-site instruction, one-day live remote instruction and two-day remote learning,” the letter signed by Superintendent Marianne Cartisano stated.

According to the district’s plan, this past May Miller Place purchased Dell laptops to supplement existing devices so now each student has access to a computer at home. This fall, each student and teacher should have access to a device they can use in school and from home. For the online learning component of this fall, the district has gone with Google G-Suite, and teachers and admin are expected to take six hours of professional development prior to the start of the school year.

Students in both elementary and secondary will be expected to have physical education, music, art and other special courses, though it did not state whether this will be held in classroom or outdoors, as other districts have explicitly planned on doing.

Compared to other neighboring districts, Miller Place will not explicitly have students in special education classes in school five days a week. Instead, students’ times and coursework will be determined on an individual basis, with plans drawn up for each child in conjunction with parents and members of the school’s Committee on Special Education. Students will use their school-provided laptops from home, and on-site instruction will be provided two days per week with access to district technology within the building. Special education teachers will still be individually responsible for each special needs students both at home and in school.

As far as before and after school programs, the district said it plans to again partner with SCOPE for these plus the Pre-Kindergarten program.

Miller Place said for those vulnerable students who cannot participate in in-person learning for medical reasons a full-time online learning may be offered in a program facilitated by district personnel, by Eastern Suffolk BOCES or home tutoring instruction. These programs will offer a basic and generic schedule for students to complete their instructional program and course requirements, though it did not offer specifics of what that may entail.

The district will not provide a separate learning experience for parents who do not want their kids to attend for the part time in-person instruction. However, the district has provided resources for parents looking to homeschool their children at millerplace.k12.ny.us/Domain/75.

Miller Place’s survey sent to parents in July received 1678 responses. Of those who responded, close to 88 percent or 1,472 parents said they would have their kid attend school in person for at least some part of the school year. At the same time, most parents said they were not in favor of having children wear masks during normal instruction.

Though many students would, the majority of parents, about 60 percent, said they would not be able to have their child driven to school each day, and would need to take public transportation.

Miller Place School District Hosted five separate graduation ceremonies throughout the day July 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

Waiting to see if New York would eventually change its restrictions on graduations, of a max 150 people per event, Miller Place School District finally held its commencement ceremonies July 24 at the high school football field, its scorebord emblazoned with 20:20. 

Five separate ceremonies were conducted throughout the day, and though rain drizzled on and off in the morning hours, students sat through hour long ceremonies while spaced across the field. The 9 a.m. group of graduate listen to inspiring words by salutatorian Larry Davis and valedictorian Joseph Bisiani before each individually walked up to receive their diplomas. 

Comsewogue's 2017 senior class tosses its caps. Photo by Jill Webb

Several school districts on the North Shore held off confirming their graduation ceremony dates, waiting to see if New York State would change its limitations on commencements, namely the 150 person limit per event.

That didn’t happen, and now several school districts, including Comsewogue and Miller Place, are planning their ceremonies for the end of this month.

Comsewogue

In a letter to parents signed by high school principal Michael Mosca, the Comsewogue School District announced it will host 3 separate ceremonies for the class of 2020 July 23. A rain date is set for July 24. 

The classes will be broken up by last names with:

Last names A-F at 3 p.m.

Last names G-M at 5:30 p.m.

Last names N-Z at 8 p.m.

Graduatesare asked to come with family in one vehicle at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled session, and will park facing the high school football field and two large video walls to give a close up view of the commencement ceremony. Graduates will exit the car to check in with faculty, complete a COVID questionnaire and get their line up assignment. Families must remain in their cars, while the ceremony will be broadcasted on FM radio and streamed on the district’s Facebook page.

After the ceremony, graduates will have a formal recessional off the field and go directly to their vehicles, which will then be cleared to allow the next group.

Miller Place

In a letter signed by Superintendent Marianne Cartisano, the Miller Place School District has set two separate graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 July 24 with a raine date of July 25. It will take place outside in the Miller Place High School stadium field.

The names will be broken up by last names as follows:

Last names A-L at 3 p.m.

Last names M-Z at 7 p.m.

Each family is allowed two guests per graduate.

Ceremonies will also be live streamed on the date, and links will be available at a time closer to the commencement date.

“We know this is not the optimum plan for seniors and their families, as we all hoped we would be able to gather and celebrate in one ceremony,” Cartisano wrote in the letter.

More details will be mailed to parents in the near future.

This post will be updated with other school district’s plans for graduations when those become available.