Engaging in a Class Discussion:
First Day of School at J.F. Kennedy,
Greeting Students with Principal Debbie Shalom:
First Day of School at Parkville,
School Bus Arrival with Prinicipal Eric Nezowitz:
First Day of School at Saddle Rock,
Posing for a "Pic" as the Buses Roll In:
First Day of School at Lakeville,
Superintendent of Schools
Another School Year Begins
By Dr. Thomas P. Dolan, Superintendent
The question still surprises me even though I have heard it almost every summer for the last several years. It seems that no matter where I go in July and August, almost everyone I meet asks: "So, you don't work over the summer, do you?" For a fleeting moment, before I assure them that there is plenty to do in our schools over the summer, I imagine what it would be like if we were to lock the doors to the schools at the end of June, reappear a day or two before the students arrive, open up those doors, and try to be ready for another school year. It simply would not be possible any year, but especially this one, given the wide range of activities going on in the district. It is almost comical to consider such a proposition.
The Great Neck Public Schools have certainly been very active over the summer in preparation for the 2012-2013 school year. We welcomed back over 6,200 students on Tuesday, September 5, for the 199th year of the district's operation. As you will read in the following paragraphs, we have put the summer months to good use.
Improvements to Facilities Throughout the District
The greatest effort this summer has been enacting the improvements to our physical plant that the community approved last year through the Capital Projects Proposition. These projects will enhance our facilities, with many of them completed as we begin the new school year. One of the most challenging has been the addition of a new slate roof at the Lakeville School. Our contractors have taken great care to preserve the aesthetic beauty of that building while also addressing some structural issues that became emergent. We are very pleased with the quality of their work, and anticipate that this project should be completed within the next few weeks.
Another major project has been the revision and enhancement of the Lakeville Road sidewalk adjacent to the South campus. It had become difficult for students to traverse this path and an opportunity to make it safer also allowed us to beautify the area considerably. I bring to the community's attention the stone gates that are approximately halfway up the hill. Those columns were the original entrance to the Henry Phipps Estate before the land was donated to the school district. They had fallen into disrepair but are now restored and can serve as a reminder to the entire community of the generosity of the Phipps family.
I am also very pleased with the progress that has been made on the North High School/North Middle School track. The track that previously existed was a cinder one that prevented North High School and North Middle School from hosting interscholastic track meets. In the spring of 2013, we will be able to have track meets for both of these schools and I look forward to attending the very first one and seeing our student athletes run on this state-of-the-art facility. The infield grass is also being refurbished and the field that will be in place will serve students and the community for many years to come. A newly surfaced track at South High School will soon be in place as well.
These projects involving athletic facilities will mean some disruption of our home-games schedule this year. We have found venues for all of our home games when we will not be able to play on our own sites, and are working at finding practice facilities to meet the needs of our student athletes while we improve the facilities they play on. If there is some minor inconvenience this year, I would ask that everyone understand that this is within the context of improving our fields while still maintaining a full schedule. Many thanks to Athletic Director David Zawatson for contacting area schools to find both practice and game facilities for all our teams.
Other projects, including a new roof and boiler at the Cumberland Adult Center, new or enhanced generators in virtually all of our buildings, new parking lots at North High School and Lakeville School, a refurbished auditorium at Baker School, and many new bathrooms and lockers at North Middle School, have all been completed this summer. In considering the extensive list, I must tip my hat to our own Buildings and Grounds and Custodial crews who have had to work around new and unfamiliar construction. Additionally, I must commend our Director of Facilities Alfredo Cavallaro, and his assistant, Steve Challis, for managing these various projects, all the while communicating with the community and building administrators in an effort to meet everyone's needs. I also thank the community for their support of these projects and their understanding as we complete them. I apologize for any inconvenience they may have caused and hope that any disruption will soon be ended.
Annual Professional Performance Review Plan
Very early this summer, the district was required to complete and submit an Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plan to the State. We did so within days of the deadline and received word that our plan needed a few tweaks before the State would approve it. Subsequently, we submitted our revised plan to the State. I am certain that this resubmitted plan now meets all the State's requirements and does so in a way that will allow Great Neck to continue to function in the way we have, despite the fact that this evaluation system is being imposed upon us whether we need it or not.
The entire teaching staff came together on August 29 and 30 to be trained in APPR, but the majority of those two days were spent on far more important and productive initiatives. Our principals planned worthwhile sessions for their staff on these days. The results of these efforts will be seen throughout the year, I am sure.
New Administrators & Teachers
We welcome to our administrative staff two individuals whom we are very pleased to have been able to attract to Great Neck. Dr. Anael Alston is now the principal of North Middle School having achieved the position upon the retirement of Denise Nolan. Dr. Alston has already been in contact with the North Middle School community and has been thoroughly engaged in many meetings across the district on a variety of topics. He was most recently the principal of the Robert M. Finley Middle School in Glen Cove and the work that he did there was, by all accounts, outstanding. Dr. Alston is a most welcome addition to the district and to the North Middle School community.
Next, we welcome Emily Zucal as new assistant principal at the Lakeville School. Ms. Zucal comes to us from the New York City school system where she was a respected and admired principal. She also brings a wealth of talent, dedication, and enthusiasm to her new position!
Late in August we welcomed several dozen new teachers. As we predicted, we were able to recruit outstanding applicants to the vacant positions that existed in the district. These individuals came to us with excellent experience, in terms of their training and former positions. Yet, during their two days of orientation, as they were greeted by a wide range of individuals from the district, they seemed to be reinvigorated as they recognized the opportunity and challenge represented by a new career in the Great Neck Public Schools.
PEP Grant Awarded
I would also like to bring to the community's attention the recent news that our school district has won a Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) Grant. Due to the hard work of Mr. Zawatson in collecting the data for this grant, the district will receive up to $1.2 million over the next three years to enhance our physical education program. This grant was brought to our attention by Assistant Superintendent Joseph Hickey, who also alerted us to certain resources that contributed to our successful application. Many thanks and congratulations to Mr. Zawatson and Dr. Hickey.
"Whom Are We Teaching?"
At the end of the school year, this past June, an article by Karen Gellender appeared in these pages and offered some very thoughtful commentary on the state of education today. Ms. Gellender pointed out that "criticizing teachers is all the rage right now." She proposed instead that we should be asking, "What are the kids being taught?" rather than who is doing the teaching. We would be well intentioned - administrators and teachers - to spend some time this year focusing on just that issue. Parents and students will see some interesting initiatives in what we are teaching in our schools this year.
But, I continue to believe that the most important question we ask will not be about who is teaching or what we are teaching. The most important consideration will continue to be: "Whom are we teaching?" This Board of Education, this administration, and this teaching staff will continue to keep our students at the center of all decisions we make.
So, another new school year has begun! Here's to hoping that it is a positive and productive one for every member of the school community, and that the hard work done over the summer to our physical plant, the additions to our professional staff, and the many other initiatives reported on here, will be both well received and well enacted.