Tags Posts tagged with "Superintendent Jennifer Quinn"

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn

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Nicole Haff’s students hang on to the walls of Terryville elementary as part of a project to increase togetherness when everyone remains seperate. Photo by Deniz Yildirim

By Deniz Yildirim

It’s safe to say that many of us are looking forward to the end of 2020, no one more so than teachers. Last school year was disrupted by COVID-19 and this school year had a challenging start for the same reason. Teachers had to think outside of the box to reinvent every part of their day to accommodate safe practices like social distancing; could you imagine story time without gathering your class on a carpet or learning your students names without seeing their faces?  

Despite all of these challenges, Comsewogue schools are making it work, and are creating some much needed cheer for the holidays. For the past six years Terryville Road Elementary School has hosted a door decorating contest and produced some truly genius and show stopping doors. Since classes have been split into two groups, the obvious theme was “We are seperate together.” This year students worked “together” to decorate pieces which they applied to the door. With the help of teachers and aids, classes created delightful and creative doors like Jackie Dunn’s 4th grade class. They decorated both doors and included the space between them to make a mountain landscape with a zipline which students are riding into each others’ room. 

Even virtual students were able to participate. Annemarie Sciove, the Terryville elementary principal, compiled pictures of finished school doors and included pictures from virtual students which was then presented to the school during an in school virtual assembly. 

“It’s very important to remember we are together even if we can’t see each other.” Sciove said. 

In keeping with that mindset, the school donated over $1,000 to families in need during this difficult time. Superintendent Jennifer Quinn makes a point to visit every school during this hectic time and this year her nephew has joined the Terryville family. She said, “Terryville never ceases to amaze me! The doors are a visual representation of  what we are doing with our hearts.”

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Comsewogue High School. Photo by Deniz Yildirim

Unlike other neighboring districts, Comsewogue is holding off on plans to bring more kids into school until late February or early March, citing the steadily increasing COVID-19 numbers on Long Island. 

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said the decision was made partially based on a survey released to both parents and students as well as by the reopening committee that comprises staff, parents and students. She said the Suffolk County Department of Health also suggested now was not the best time for bringing in more students. 

“We said since the beginning, our plan is fluid,” she said in a phone interview. The district has changed several things since schools opened in September, including accepting rapid testing where initially the district was wary of the tests’ veracity, bringing back music class, hot lunches and allowing more students to use playground equipment and have more students together during gym. 

In the November survey for district residents, the results of which were posted on its website, Comsewogue got responses from a little under 750 students. Of those, 88% said their mental well-being was average or better, on a scale of 1 to 5. 

As for remote work, survey results show about 40% of students spend more than three hours on remote work a day, while 30% say it’s two-to-three hours, and about a quarter of students said they spend less than that. The vast majority of students said an earlier deadline on remote assignments would not make life easier.

The district said it expects the average remote workload should be between 3.5 and 4.5 hours, excluding AP classes. District officials said the survey results show they are doing the best job they can under the circumstances.

“We don’t want our students staring at the computer screen all day,” said Jennifer Polychronakos, assistant superintendent for instruction. 

A total of 40% of students said they would be comfortable returning to in-person learning without social distancing and masks, while 60% percent said “no” or “not at this time.”

The district also got responses from 160 district parents, of which almost 90% said their children are coping with current learning standards, based on a scale of 1 to 5.

Around 70% of parents said they would not like to see students return to school without masks or social distancing.

Quinn said the question was composed to effectively say the district could not hold students in-person all at once and still maintain social distancing.

Other schools are pushing ahead with reopening plans. The Port Jefferson School District has tentatively set an early January date for bringing students in for four days a week. The Rocky Point school district this week started bringing back students for four days of in-person learning.

At Comsewogue, Quinn said she and other people on the reopening committee are concerned about rising COVID infection rates and hospitalizations. Back in July, New York State set the limit that the infection rate could be at to reopen was 5%. 

The superintendent cited Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said Sunday, Nov. 29, the U.S. was expecting a difficult Christmas time in terms of both COVID-19 infections and related deaths. 

“The risk of making someone sick is a concern for us right now,” Quinn said. “You listen to Dr. Fauci who said our country might be closed — I want to keep our schools open.”

The district is hosting a board of education workshop Dec. 3 where the superintendent said in a call to parents, they will be discussing what the district will do if the area is designated a yellow zone by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), entailing 20% weekly testing of in-person students and faculty in schools. The next board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 7. 

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New Artwork Four Years, 2 Million Pieces in the Making

Young people at the Comsewogue High School, both current students and graduates, looked down at their feet with a unique sort of pride. There on the floor, amongst a mosaic of approximately 2 million pieces, they could see all the time they spent on hands and knees, carefully laying each and every shard of stained glass and colored pebble by hand. 545 square feet of space, all of it spread out to create an image exemplifying what the students, teachers and admin say make Comsewogue unique.

The new mural, on the other side of the high school’s front doors and vestibule, displays a large Native American man, which the district says represents the area’s historic roots; a tree of knowledge to represent the growth of learning; and a rendition of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” to represent the artists that were at Comsewogue and all those who will eventually find their way there.

High school Principal Michael Mosca said the project started in 2016 when current Assistant Superintendent Joe Coniglione was still principal of the high school. As assistant principal, Mosca walked the halls with Coniglione, who would pause at the entrance to the high school, thinking of what it could be.

“Every time we would walk past this space, he would always stop and he would look at it, and I would see the wheels turning and I could tell something was going on in there,” Mosca said. “It’s something a lot of our students could be proud of and say, ‘This is ours, we did this, and it’s going to showcase our Comsewogue pride.”

Comsewogue senior and first president of the Arts Honor Society, Alexa Bonacci, said “it’s incredible” to see all the hours she and her classmates have put into it come to fruition. Whether it was after school or even during, she said she has gotten 90 hours of community service hours working on this project alone.

Many of those who worked on the project have already graduated, but many came back to their alma mater to see the hours upon hours of work they put into it realized.

Gianna Alcala, a Comsewogue graduate and past president of the Art Honor Society, worked on it for three years, spending time on it even during the summer to help get it all completed. When she started on it during her sophomore year, there was only a section of the Native American’s head and some of “The Starry Night” image. She remembers cutting tiles into fourths or eighths in order to get better detail.  

“I’m in awe,” she said now seeing it all complete. “I could always see it finished in my head, but the fact that it’s actually come to life, it’s amazing.”

Coniglione said creating something new was a learning process, from having to redo a part of it after the floor cracked, and some redesigns of the mosaic from its original design.

“Every tile was glued down one at a time, nothing was on a mesh,” he said. “It took place over multiple graduating years, so to have a vision, and to have multiple years complete it with that same vision, is pretty impressive to me.”

Art teacher Gina Melton, a now-20-year veteran of the district, has been at the head of the project since its inception, helping lead the students in the project. The last year saw a huge bulk of the effort go to the mosaic.

“For all the high school kids who put so many hours into this, I’m really so proud of them,” she said.

Coniglione said it’s teachers like Melton who have made such a difference in the beauty of their schools.

“This building was built back in the ’70s, and it’s beautiful because of [Melton] and other art teachers like her doing creative projects within the school,” he said.

Mosca thanked custodian staff for helping to preserve the mural as students were walking around it and for helping finish its border.

Also included in the mural is a small but noticeable mint green homage to former Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella, who passed earlier this year, as well as a butterfly in homage to Rella’s wife Jackie, who was well known for her love of bright, fluttering insects.

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11th grader Michael Lussos honors Eddie Van Halen during the schools between-period Live at the Fishbowl concerts. Photo from Comsewogue SD

This article is thanks to a combined effort by Andrew Harris, a special needs teacher at Comsewogue, and 5th period life skills students at the high school.

The start of the 2020-21 school year has been a unique challenge for so many school districts, but Comsewogue is rising to the occasion.

Beyond the teachers and all the work they have been doing, even the simplest activities involving Jackie’s Garden at the Comsewogue High School have been improving the days of students, one sprig of lavender at a time.

Students present sprigs of lavender to the guidance department for those who may be experiencing anxiety. Photo from Comsewogue SD

“It ended in what seemed to be such a kind and simple act of students presenting lavender sprigs to our guidance department for students who might be experiencing stress and anxiety; but it was the culmination of some outstanding academic lessons from their teachers Heather Rand and Natalie Rubinstien” said Mike Fama, the principal at JFK Middle School.

Teacher’s Rand and Rubinstien explained it this way: ”Four years ago, we created the garden to honor Mrs. Jackie Rella. We grow vegetables for the school salad bar and just appreciate nature. This year, due to the stress of the pandemic, we read about how school gardens can benefit social/emotional well-being. Students started thinking of ways our own garden could benefit students at JFK. After reading about the emotional benefits of lavender, they decided to create bundles for the JFK guidance counselors to give to students who are feeling stressed.”

On the first day of school Sept. 8, high school students were welcomed by a smiling staff and hundreds of sunflowers that couldn’t help but bring their spirits up. Immediately, partially due to the pandemic, art, photography and all sorts of lessons naturally gravitated towards the garden and outdoors. There in the garden were beaming sunflowers, which were planted in May to honor those graduating seniors. 

“It was amazing how our entire community came to support our Class of 2020,” said high school principal Mike Mosca. “While these gestures could never replace the events they missed out on, it went a long way to show our seniors how much their community cared about their accomplishments.”

Actions like this are a part of the Social Emotional Learning, or SEL, which has become a priority at Comsewogue. If the kids feel safe and welcome, then certainly outstanding learning will follow. We all knew that going back to school would be anything but normal this year but Comsewogue, as it always does, tried their best to make the challenges they faced getting back to school an even better experience this year.

Overall, the district is creating unique and positive things that we have never seen before and are trying our very best to make it better than it has ever been. 

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said it this way, “We are providing a learning environment that not only makes our student’s health and safety a priority but are continually thinking of newer and better learning activities than we’ve ever tried before.” We aren’t satisfied with the ‘new normal’ but want it to be something even better and keep improving after that.

“Staff and students at Comsewogue as well as our community are a resilient group-perhaps like nowhere else,” Quinn said. “With the help of the community we were ready and added some new and dynamic learning opportunities.”  It’s equivalent to tripling the number of different schools we have. There are remote, virtual, and live classrooms happening all at once. Virtual is when a family made a decision to do all learning at home. Remote is for the students who come in every other day and are doing learning remotely on their days home. 

Technology wise, we prepared our students and staff for a giant leap into the future. 

Students actively take care our the courtyard garden, AKA, Jackie’s Garden. Photo from Comsewogue SD

“This is a big change for both students and teachers educationally. I have definitely learned quite a lot about new programs, Chromebook usage, and how to teach and connect with students using a remote/virtual platform” said special education teacher Cammie Zale. 

According to Don Heberer, the district administrator for Instructional Technology, “I think students, teachers and parents are realizing that teaching and learning with educational technology is no longer optional — there’s no going back. I feel like the technology needle jumped five years forward in a matter of a few months. We were already headed in this direction, but COVID-19 has propelled us forward at warp speed.” 

Mr. Heberer and our Educational Technology Specialist Teacher Frank Franzese hold frequent virtual professional development sessions for the staff to keep them abreast of the rapid changes going on. 

Like many educators, science teacher Shane Goldberg posts many exciting lessons that can involve video comments from her while simultaneously students can view the specific documents that she is using for the class or lab she is covering.

“While distance learning has presented some real challenges for both students and teachers, it has also created new opportunities for learning,” she said.  “By creating videos of my lessons, I can ensure that all of my students are able to access all of my lessons, even if they are absent from school. I have also seen that some students are doing very well learning in a virtual classroom. They have the freedom to work at their own pace. In a live classroom, some of these students may become bored because the teacher will need to slow the pace of instruction to meet the needs of all of their students. Unfortunately, it is the students that need frequent interaction and teacher direction in order to stay on task that may be having the most difficult time adjusting to this kind of learning environment. This is why I make every effort to encourage all of my students to ask questions frequently, using private messages. These students also have the opportunity to meet with me during live meetings several times a week.”

At John F. Kennedy Middle School, families dropping off their kids are welcomed by scores of staff members waving, smiling, and welcoming them into the school.  

“The greeting we get each morning warms my heart every time. We are blessed to be part of the Warrior Family.” said Denise Kline, a mother of an eighth-grade student.

Also beneficial are the many outdoor learning environments and activities established throughout the district. Since the first day of school, students have been seen on the lawn with their laptops doing various lessons while the teacher might be speaking about photosynthesis using the real plants right in front of them. If the teacher wants them to go more in depth, they can do research, watch a video, or take a test outside on a beautiful autumn day.

Elementary teacher Melissa McMullen’s students all bring their own yoga mats.

”In addition to the typical subjects we will stop for a moment to do some breathing or movement activities,” McMullen said. “It’s been shown that this helps stimulate our minds so why not?” 

2020 Graduate Alyssa Esencan receiving her Sunflower. Each graduate had their name read and were planted by staff members. Photo from Comsewogue SD

Taylor Zummo, a Social Worker at the high school, added, “The students have been enjoying the activity of Mindfulness in relation to their social and emotional learning. Simply taking time to reflect and be present in the moment has been so helpful for many students to feel less overwhelmed with school. This is a practice that can be done anywhere, which makes it so versatile. Using the practice of mindfulness outdoors is a way that students can pay attention to their feelings, as well as focus on the sounds of nature in order to find themselves some quiet and restful relaxation.”

Nicole Kidd’s physical education students can be seen doing much more outdoor activities as well. 

“We have been super lucky with amazing weather,” Kidd said. “My wellness classes have really enjoyed their yoga and meditation practice outside. We have been taking our mats out to the tennis courts and practicing there. It has felt so good to be in the fresh air and sun.:”

At JFK, science teacher Steve Nielsen can be seen walking through the halls with his puppy who the students adore. It benefits both the students and the dogs because one of the best places for these dogs to get used to is the atmosphere and activities at large institutions such as schools, according to the Guide Dog Foundation. 

“I never knew how profound an impact animals, especially dogs, can have on people,” Nielsen said. “Students and adults alike are drawn to this year’s JFK school mascot Named Pear. She is a delightful black Labrador guide dog in training and brings smiles to all that pass her by in the halls. Everyone wants to pet her.” 

Throughout September, Sunflowers blooming in the garden were given to many of the 2020 graduates.They were planted in May in their honor. Once they were gone, a generous local landscaper, Frank Prinzevalli, who operates Prince Landscaping and Design Corp., contacted us and said he is looking to help out our students and community. He felt that replenishing the beautiful flowers might bring everyone’s spirits up, so he decided to purchase and donate over 100 pots of mums. The was an overwhelmingly abundant amount to make our students and staff smile every time they  walk the hallways or look out into the flourishing courtyard throughout the Fall, 

“I have children of my own and we need to continue to keep them on a positive and happy path in these challenging times,” said Prinzevalli.

Recently, a mini concert series called Live at The Fishbowl was implemented at the high school courtyard. For the first one, a student musician entertained between periods while students scurried to their classes slowing down for a moment to take in the sounds. Students and staff enjoyed a timely tribute to Eddie Van Halen. It was broadcast live online, where many in the community were astounded at how good his rendition was. 

“We were excited to have Mikey Lussos perform for the school,” Mosca said.  “We have so many talented students who are unable to showcase their skills because of this pandemic. It was great to have him rocking out in our courtyard. We’re constantly looking for different ways to give our kids opportunities like this and Mike certainly made the most of it” 

Comsewogue, always one of the leaders in education. hopes to inspire not only their own staff and students, but continue to lead Long Island, if not the whole country, and continue to be better and more resilient and come up with more wonderful and unique learning experiences this year.

“The district is consistently reevaluating to ensure that we provide the best atmosphere for students in these unprecedented times,” said Assistant Superintendent Joseph Coniglione. “Our goal is now as it always was to make sure we offer students the best opportunities we can, even during a pandemic.” 

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EXIT Realty were with Comsewogue officials delivering over 200 backpacks for kindergarteners. Photo from EXIT Realty

A backpack for every incoming kindergartener. Supplies for every fresh face to the Comsewogue School District. It may seem like a tall order, but a local realty office and donations from the community helped make it happen for the second year in a row.

EXIT Realty’s Jason Furnari, right. Photo from EXIT Realty

Last year, EXIT Realty Island Elite in Port Jefferson Station started a fundraising drive to buy every incoming kindergartener a backpack for the upcoming school year. Doing it again this year, the realty office helped facilitate the donations of 246 backpacks, enough for every incoming student starting their K-12 journey. The backpacks are also filled with a number of school supplies such as pencils, colored pencils, erasers and markers. While it won’t be everything the student needs throughout the year, it’s a good start.

Jason Furnari, the broker owner of the PJS realty office, said upon opening just a year and a half ago he knew he wanted to support the community in some way. He himself is a Comsewogue alumunus, having graduated in 2003. He also said it’s a continued legacy of Joe Rella, the popular former superintendent who passed away this year in February. Rella was Furnari’s chorus teacher in middle school.

“I really like the area we’re in, so we decided to give back to the Comsewogue School District,” he said. “It’s always about giving back to people and doing good for people, and that’s what the community’s about, it’s really family based.” 

The realty office set up an Amazon wish list and posted it to community social media groups and in notices around their office and elsewhere in the local area as well. All who participated would go online and order the items they wanted for delivery to the Port Jeff Station office. Some community members also donated some lightly used backpacks from students who have already aged past the early grade levels.

The backpacks are a great boon, but especially in a time like this where so many have been financially hit by the pandemic, having to not worry about at least one kid’s school supplies can be a big help.

Comsewogue superintendent, Jennifer Quinn, said the backpacks do a world of good for incoming students. 

“We live in such a great community — we have so many businesses willing to help our school district and EXIT Realty is one of those,” Quinn said.

The realty office has also supported two graduating seniors with $1,000 scholarships both last year and this year. 2020 graduates and siblings Tricia Sandhala and Arav Sandhala were recipients of this year’s awards. 

Furnari said the office will continue with their backpack and scholarship donations into the future.

“We’re really excited to start the school year and end the year helping out the young generation coming in and those on their way off to college,” he said.

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Comsewogue’s reopening plans include students at Clinton Avenue Elementary School will be taught in alternating classes of Blue and Gold, with teachers rotating between classrooms. File photo

Following survey responses from parents and community members, the Comsewogue School District released its kindergarten through sixth-grade reopening plan, ahead of the state’s July 31 deadline. More details of the reopoening plans are available on the district’s website at  www.comsewogue.k12.ny.us.

During two public forums with parents on July 27 and 28, the district outlined the reopening plan and answered questions.

“I’m glad we were able to develop a safe plan to bring our elementary students back,” said Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn. 

To deal with the time it would take to implement temperature checks/COVID screening for students and staff, the district will be adjusting the arrival time as well as shortening the school days from eight periods to seven periods. 

“In order to make up for that time we will be doing a districtwide character education program that will be run remotely,” the superintendent said. 

The maximum class size will consist of 15 students socially distanced. A typical class of 25-30 students will be divided into two groups, Blue and Gold. Each of those groups will be placed in a classroom for the entire day. Teachers will rotate three periods in each class, the remaining periods will be handled by other staff members. Aides will monitor hallways/rooms between transitions. Lunch will take place in the classroom. 

Quinn said they will combine reading teachers, librarians and math/Academic Intervention Services teachers to help fill in the remaining periods. 

“We are not just putting in substitute teachers for half the day; they’ll be with certified teachers and in small groups,” Quinn said. 

Transporting students to and from schools will no doubt be a challenge. The district is encouraging parents to drop off their children at school each day, and if they live close enough, consider walking them to school.  

For those coming to school by bus, students will be required to pass a COVID-19 screening and undergo a temperature check at their respective bus stop. There will be monitors at each bus stop.

Once all students are cleared, they will board from the back of the bus and will sit socially distanced and are required to wear a mask. Students will leave from the front of the bus. Disinfecting the buses will occur between school routes. Parents who drop off their children will also be required to undergo a COVID screening and temperature check from their car. Drop-off locations will be separate from the school buses, according to Susan Casali, associate superintendent. 

Parents were concerned of what would happen to their child if they were deemed sick or had COVID-19 symptoms. Quinn said that students would be able to resume class work online and would need a doctor’s note to return to school after having had quarantined. 

In addition, the district will have HVAC systems upgraded with recommended filters, install more custodial staff at each building, use electrostatic sprayers used to disinfect quickly, there will be hand wipes in each classroom as well as hand sanitizers around the building, nurse’s office used for healthy people and an isolation room used for sick people. 

Before and aftercare will be provided at each elementary school. 

“We will be keeping [before and aftercare] in the gymnasium because it is our largest area that won’t be used,” Casali said. “They will be arriving wearing masks and will be six-feet apart.”

All pickups of children will be done in a designated area, parents will not be allowed to enter the building. The gym area will be sanitized each day. In the event students are not able to go outside for recess they will be able to use that space. 

Special education programs will continue. The district is asking all parents to complete a mandatory form to let them know if their child will be attending school in-person or virtually to begin the school year. The decision will be in effect from the first day of school through Dec. 31. The district said it has purchased enough Chromebooks for all students. 

Comsewogue plans to host future meetings to talk specifically about grades 7-12 plan.

More school districts will be releasing their reopening plans in the coming days. Check back at www.tbrnewsmedia.com for the latest on reopening plans.

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One of the hardest questions for district officials is how will students use the bus alongside social distancing. Stock photo

New York State has asked school districts to come up with plans to reopen their schools, but based on state guidelines, reopening may be in a form some parents may disagree with, based on districts’ own surveys.

Assistant Superintendent Joe Coniglione and Superintendent Jennifer Quinn look at the sprouts of sunflowers in Jackie’s Garden. Photo by Andrew Harris

New York is requiring school districts submit reopening plans to the state by July 31. The state Education Department released new guidelines July 16 for school districts to help guide that decision making, though many such districts have already had committees established to help guide those plans. 

The Education Department said schools will have to perform COVID screenings of staff and students, maximize social distancing and create methods for isolating sick students before being sent home. It suggests districts use additional space, whether that’s underutilized real estate or gymnasiums, as places for teaching.

Still, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said students can come back for in-person learning if their region remains in Phase 4 of reopening with an infection rate below 5 percent on a 14-day average. Schools will close again if the region breaks a 9 percent infection rate after Aug. 1. 

Though many school districts have sent surveys to parents asking what their plans for their children are, few have released their results so far. Those that have show some majority of parents want their kids back in the classroom come fall. Superintendent of the Hauppauge School District Dennis O’Hara said during a Newsday-hosted forum last week that among 2,300 respondents, 90 percent said they would like to see their children back in school. 

The Comsewogue School District is one of the few to have publicly released the results of that survey, which show the majority of parents say they will be sending their kids back into school this fall. 

The Comsewogue School District, which includes over 3,700 students, received 1,187 responses to its survey. The district reported almost 60 percent of respondents, or 699, would send their children to school; 181 said they would not; while 307 were still undecided. 

In that survey, 361 parents said they would need childcare provided by the district.

“I think we have to get a plan in place that is comfortable for parents, but what is right for one family might not be right for another family,” said Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn. “We’re going to give parents the opportunity to make the decision that’s best for them.”

Quinn added the district expects 80 percent of its students to come back for the fall semester. Finalized plans will reveal what can be done for the 20 percent whose parents decide not to send them back.

Comsewogue’s reopening committees were formed earlier in the spring and have met with the teachers unions and administrators. Those suggestions will circle back, and tentative plans will be presented to teachers at each building and then later to the community.

The district plans to host two Q&A sessions for parents of kids in grades K-6 July 27 at 7:30 p.m. and July 28 at 11 a.m. via Zoom. Information on joining these meetings can be found on the district’s website at www.comsewoguek12.ny.us. Comsewogue plans to host future meetings for grades 7-12. The district will announce when its final plan has been approved and finalized on the district’s website and social media before the end of the month.

“We’re trying to bring back as many kids as we can, as often as we can,” Quinn said. 

What that will look like is still to be determined. The district can confirm that all special education and English-language leaner students will be back in school every day in the school week. Quinn said the district hopes they can bring elementary students back full time, though that is more circumspect for the higher grade levels. If the committee determines they cannot safely have all kids back in school full time, they will be put on an alternating A-day, B-day schedule.

“I don’t think it’s ideal, but we’re going to have to do the best we can,” the superintendent said. 

For students who may have to continue learning online, at home, Quinn said there are renewed efforts to further develop distance learning, particularly with a heavier emphasis on interaction with fellow classmates and teachers.

Perhaps the most challenging conundrum is transportation. In the survey, a plurality of 42 percent of respondents said their children would take the bus, while 24 percent said they would take personal transportation, while 33 percent were still undecided.

Yet how a district can possibly work out a bus fleet that can maintain social distancing and get all kids to school on time will still be a major challenge. The district hopes that many more parents will personally transport their children.

“We really want our kids back for the first day of school,” Quinn said. “There’s an emotional component to this and the pandemic, with kids not being in school and not being with their friends and teachers … we’re confident if we can bring them back in small groups, we can meet their needs.”

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Jennifer McGuigan's five children work on their schoolwork at home. Photo by McGuigan

By Deniz Yildirm

With the arrival of the Coronavirus, New Yorkers have been forced to practice social distancing and with that, so called distance learning. Distance learning is a relatively new phrase which means a method of studying in which lectures are broadcast and classes are conducted over the internet. And while many teachers at Comsewogue are familiar with online tools, there is still a steep learning curve. 

Don Heberer, the District Administrator for Instructional Technology and Frank Franzese, the district’s Educational Technology Specialist teacher have been working tirelessly to help teachers and students shift to distance learning. 

“Everyone is putting in long hours” Franzese said. “There’s no such thing as a one way email. Every teacher is trying to give their classes a first rate education using technology, even when it’s stressing them out. So I’m going to do everything I can to help.”

Despite the speed of setting up this distance learning, the quality of work is really outstanding. “I’m so impressed with the level of collaboration and dedication my teachers have to making this work and connecting with students.” said Terryville elementary Principal Annemarie Sciove, who has has two young children and said she understands how important it is for children to feel connections with their teachers and the challenges of working from home. Despite this challenge, third-grade teachers Mrs. Sciarrino and Ms. Benson are working together to create some of the most comprehensive google classrooms for their students. So far they’ve uploaded countless resources and worksheets even though it’s their first time using google classroom. Sites like xtramath.org, storyonline.net and classroom.magazine.com are just a few of the websites they’ve shared with students to help them continue to grow at home. And even though spring break has been cancelled, these teachers have found a way to make this week extra special by planning a “virtual vacation.” Students will “visit” special places via youtube and google earth then report back to their teachers. 

“It’s a great learning experience and a warm up to our country report project in May,” Sciarrino said. 

Teachers have also been uploading videos of themselves, including teachers Mrs. Dunn and Mrs. Zoccoli who have created videos for their classes where they are offering support and encouragement. 

Physical education teacher Mr. Chesterton posted a video challenging his students to a jumping jack countoff (he got up to 50 while one student reported 100). This kind of teaching is really meaningful to the kids who are stressed out and missing school. 

Just ask Jennifer McGuigan, like so many parents she is facing the challenge of supporting her five children (the oldest John in college, 11th-grader Joe, ninth-grader Lydia, seventh-grader William and fifth-grader Lila.

 “I want them to know it’s okay and it’s easier to do that with the support of the teachers,” McGuigan said. “It can be a lot sometimes, every one of them has at least five classes they have to check in to but it’s a welcome distraction.” 

She also says it’s helpful to establish a schedule and reiterate that no one is looking for perfection, teachers are just looking for students to do their best. 

Superintendent Dr. Quinn couldn’t agree more, as she’s recently said in her call home, “We’re in this together.”

Deniz Yildirim is a librarian at the Terryville Road Elementary School. For students, she has posted a video showing how they can make a temporary library card so they can borrow ebooks.

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Kingstone and Miles Fowler practice distance learning. Photo from Kristina Fowler

During challenging times like these, the Comsewogue School District reacted to be fully prepared to not only provide and keep its classes and academic standards at a high level but also to keep the students’ social and emotional well-being stable despite no longer being in the school buildings.

The administration, staff, students and community saw fit to have educational packets and more in place while the upper grades were provided with Chromebooks and resources online available before school was closed. The technology department was in close contact and continues to be communicating with everyone on a daily basis with updates and more.

“I was happy to receive additional training available up to the very last day,” said Camie Zale, a special education teacher.

“Teachers and students are comfortable with using technology and communicating with various websites and apps on a normal basis,” said Andrew Harris, a teacher at the middle and high school. “Unfortunately, I’m nowhere as savvy as most of these students who have grown up with this technology. If I ever have any problem, I can ask any of my students who usually solve it in a matter of seconds … they are amazing.”

Don Heberer, district administrator for instructional technology, said the 1:1 take-home Chromebook program in the high school and classroom carts at John F. Kennedy Middle School had allowed students and teachers to become comfortable with using the technology for education.

Melissa McMullan, a sixth-grade teacher in the middle school, said the school did a great job getting Chromebooks into kids’ hands. The process, she said, has been tricky to find what works and what doesn’t on an online space.

“The kids and I will solve the need for distance learning together like we always do,” she said.

Students in the elementary schools have grade-level packets posted online along with hard copies sent home. The district is also providing support to both teachers and parents remotely on using the technology.

”Comsewogue has always prided itself on being innovative and willing to try something new,” Heberer said. “We know that it will be a challenging change for everyone; however, Comsewogue staff has worked hard to provide the students, teachers and community resources during this period.”

The Comsewogue district has taken to online as well for interteacher-related processes. Harris said teachers received a message from the Pupil Personnel Services department that they will hold upcoming annual meetings on Google Hangouts as part of their annual review process. It has taken time and effort but he feels he has become comfortable and “up to speed” with the various programs.

“For me, I am learning as I go,” Harris said. “The first day I mostly communicated the way I was most familiar with — I picked up the phone and called most parents to let them know what was going on with their child’s education. From there I switched to text messages, and finally have been using Google Classroom and more as I get better.”

After checking in with several of the students, Harris said many teachers realized they were perhaps giving too much work. One parent communicated that her daughter was working from early morning until about 5 p.m. on her assignments and starting to stress out.

“I think many of the teachers didn’t want the students to feel like they were on vacation and get complacent,” said Joe Caltagirone, a teacher at the high school.

Harris said he wanted his very first assignment to be something light and be beneficial to his students and their families. He posted a YouTube video on how to do Box Breathing, a technique of taking slow, deep breaths to relieve some stress and help concentrate.

“I know people are highly stressed so I asked that the student watch this video first,” Harris said. “I also requested that they teach members of their family how to do it. I know from experience when you teach others you become very proficient at what you’re teaching. I asked them all to comment on how it made them feel.”

Harris, also a yoga instructor, said that breath work is easy to learn and perhaps the best thing people can do in these stressful situations.

Having said all of this, there are many in the Comsewogue community that may not be as comfortable as students are with technology, though there are many people willing to help distribute food and other resources to our senior citizens.

“The problem is that they may not know that there is help out there. Where many of us can easily access social media sites, many of these seniors don’t have the ability to do so,” said Ed Garboski of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association.

“Currently, I’m trying to find a way to bridge that gap,” said Harris. “We are trying to put together an electronic way to have our students write letters to the senior citizens who are being quarantined at local facilities. If we have to, we will have the letters printed and distributed to those seniors directly or through the facility’s printer, so they are not compromised.”

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn stated that the whole staff is committed to doing whatever is necessary to make sure the students continue to get everything they need to have a great education, and much more.

Information and quotes provided by Andrew Harris

Comsewogue Won’t Be Stopped by COVID-19

By Deniz Yildirim

Like the rest of New York, Comsewogue School District is facing unprecedented challenges with courage and teamwork. Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) orders, all six of the district’s schools were closed on Monday, March 16, for a tentative two-week period. Administrators and teachers worked hard to create packets and uploaded countless resources onto the district’s website so students can continue their education at home.

Preparing work for over 5,000 students with numerous and distinct needs such as learning disabilities and language barriers could only be completed with hard work and collaboration. Reading teachers, English as second language teachers, teaching assistants and even special area teachers like music teacher Ellen Rios came together to create comprehensive packets that were sent home with students on Friday, March 13. Parents could come in person to pick them up if their child wasn’t in school to get it themselves.

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn has been regularly calling parents with updates and also informed families that the district is even willing to lend out its Chromebooks to students who couldn’t otherwise access the online learning tools.

“This is a scary time for everyone and our students’ health comes first. We want to share what we have to make them feel safe and help them continue to learn,” said Quinn. “Families are advised to call the district so they can prepare the appropriate materials and ensure a smooth and sanitary pick up.

In addition to student work, Comsewogue is continuously posting statements on its website (in English and Spanish) in order to keep families informed. One such notice comes from Robert Pearl, the district’s new administrator for Pupil Personnel Services and Micheala Finlay-Essig, the assistant director of PPS; they have been rescheduling important meetings regarding student services that will now be “teleconferencing” meetings through Google Meet. The instructional technology department led by Don Heberer has never been more critical and everyone can testify to the key role they are playing.

“We’re here to help our students, teachers and community,” Heberer said. “We have been supporting our teachers through technology professional development, so the teachers can support our students’ learning. We are updating the district website and mobile app daily to keep our community informed and provide vital resources.”

Comsewogue graduate, parent and now teacher Kristina Fowler said she’s never been prouder of her community. Fowler has a unique perspective because she’s been in everyone’s shoes, so it’s particularly meaningful to hear her say that Comsewogue is going above and beyond her expectations. She supports her two sons, fourth-grader Kingston and second-grader Miles and lets them “play” with their friends via FaceTime. Most recently, Kingston and Kristina helped classmate Liam Schneph with a question he had about his new hamster.

“It’s so important to stay connected and let kids be kids,” she said. “Comsewogue won’t be stopped by COVID-19.”

Deniz Yildirim is a librarian at the Terryville Road Elementary School

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Robert Niedig, Robin Hoolahan and Sean Leister deliver bags of food to students who need it. The program is expected to continue as long as the schools remained closed. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though schools in the Port Jefferson area may be closed, districts have been working constantly to get food to the children who may need it now more than ever.

Volunteers and staff help deliver meals at both JFK Middle School and the Comsewogue High School March 19. Photo by Leigh Powell

Port Jefferson Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister and a few volunteers stood inside the high school’s cafeteria Friday, March 20. For the weekend, the district was handing out three meals, one for Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively. 

The program is based on the district’s previous reduced cost lunch program, but now its being donated to anybody 18 or under free. Nobody has to sign up, and nobody at the door checks if the person lives within the district.

“The program is not restricted, it’s for any child 18 and under that feels they have a need,” Leister said.

When school was normally in session, Leister said the district had 110 students signed up for the program, where around 65 normally picked it up. In the last week or so, the district has been producing around 50 to 60 meals each day. Middle School Principal Robert Neidig has also volunteered to deliver to those resident’s houses who said they were unable to come out to pick their meals up. He said families have been really appreciative, even one young girl who comes to the door so excited to see the meals he’s brought.

“It’s like if I were delivering them candy,” Neidig said.

Each bag comes with a sandwich, bagel or wrap, along with fruit and milk. Any untaken meals are being given to Infant Jesus RC Church for them to distribute any remaining food.

Leister said the district has also applied to New York State to allow them to make breakfast and dinner meals as well. Local residents can get these meals at the Port Jefferson High school from 11 to 1 p.m. on weekdays.

Meanwhile in the Comsewogue school district, staff and a score of volunteers worked Thursday, March 19 at two separate schools to donate around 1,800 meals to children in need within the district.

Volunteers and staff help deliver meals at both JFK Middle School and the Comsewogue High School March 19. Photo by Jennifer Quinn

Comsewogue School District Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said the staff took everything from the schools cafeterias and even raided the faculty food pantry. Originally the district thought they would be able to only give out 1,100, but they went far above what they expected. 

This is one of the toughest things we’ve ever experienced — we will do what we need to do, together,” Quinn said. “We need to make sure our families are fed and our children are educated, and we are as whole as possible by the end of all this.”

Food included in bags were cold cuts, bread, apple sauce, juice, milk, cereal, cereal bars, and frozen hamburgers and meatballs. Staff and volunteers placed the bags inside the cars of those who drove up to the high school and JFK Middle School. Volunteers also drove meals to families who said they were unable to come by the two pickup locations.

There were around 30 volunteers who came by to offer aid. Quinn said they were offered aid by over 100 residents, but she felt she had to turn most away to try and reduce the chance of any kind of contagion.

The Comsewogue district is expecting nonprofit food bank Island Harvest to donate them another 300 meals come this Monday. Quinn added the district is likely to raid the cafeterias in the other schools, and should have another 1,100 meals after they receive aid from a New York State program giving food aid to schools during the mandated shutdown.

The Comsewogue School District is expecting to host its next bagged food drive Thursday, April 2.