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,
Welcoming Students Back to School:
First Day of School at E.M. Baker,
Superintendent of Schools
Another School Year Begins: Offering an Academic Experience that Challenges and Supports Every Student
By Dr. Thomas P. Dolan, Superintendent
There are those in Albany who would have us believe that the only school days that mattered last year were those that involved students taking state-developed and state-created tests. Following that logic, they might also think that the only days that will matter this year are those that see our students being tested and tested and tested.
Having experienced last year in the Great Neck Public Schools, I found that there were many days that were far more important, far more significant, and far more indicative of the quality of the experience that students enjoyed. As I reflect on 2012-13, there were several noteworthy events that will serve as better harbingers of the year ahead. I'd like to share a few of them.
--April 8, 2013. In a district with almost a 200-year history, there are few opportunities to see something occur for the first time. One such "first" in recent memory occurred on this date when the North High School track team hosted a home track meet at our brand-new North Middle School track. The performance of the student athletes was certainly heightened by their excitement at having a track on which they could run that they could call their own. Several members of the team thanked me for this addition to our physical plant and I quickly reminded them that this new facility was a gift from (and to) the community. Their excitement was only enhanced by this reminder.
--May 7, 2013. Full-scale musicals are somewhat predictable at the secondary level; however, on this date, Seusical the Musical took form at the E.M. Baker School brought to us by the talented production team composed of Baker teachers Tara Georges, Tina Tomasello, Michelle Furrey, Cynthia Gorney, and dozens of extremely talented, dedicated, and enthused elementary students. Their ability and their passion were palpable to every member of the packed audience.
--June 4, 2013. When it comes to musical productions there are few that can compare to North High School's annual STAGES event. Think of it: the year begins with four teachers (Roger Ames, Susan Babkes, Jeff Gilden, and Neil Saggerson), 30 students, and a blank tablet of paper. By the end of the year, what they offer this community is a fully staged musical comedy that has been conceived, written, scored, and performed by this talented group. The thinking and learning that go into this collaborative activity likely transcends many a college-level course. The return of the many STAGES alumni each year speaks to the impact this academic event has on the lives of our students.
--May 16, 2013. The book, Because of Winn Dixie, is one that many elementary school students enjoy; but the students of Michelle Puleio at the Saddle Rock School learn to experience the book in a very different way every spring. These students, by way of a multi-disciplinary lesson that calls upon literacy, computation, design, and construction skills, actually build the doghouse that features so prominently in the story. On these days, her classroom takes on the feeling of a workshop as students plan, purchase, and produce, with the culminating activity being the completion of this artifact from the story. Students wait all year for this creative learning experience. Their products never disappoint.
--June 21, 2013. Certain events can inform any newcomer to the ethos of an organization. If the only occasion a person witnessed at South Middle School last year was its graduation, you'd know that it is a school that combines rigor with respect and even sneaks in that oft-ignored commodity--love. The ceremony was as joyous as could be imagined, but when Principal Dr. James Welsch sings his farewell, you know that you've come upon a very, very special school. On that very same day, I was also witness to the North Middle School graduation and it was evident by the combination of enthusiasm and exuberance that the administrative team there has established its own new traditions. Theirs was an equally supportive and affirming event.
--September 4, 2012. On this date, the members of the Class of 2025 entered our elementary schools for the first time. Think about what this means: children enter, some with little experience of what it means to go to school, to cooperate, and to learn together. They meet on that first day some individuals with whom they will "travel" for the next dozen or so years. At the Parkville School, it was remarkable to witness this, and to witness how quickly Principal Debra Shalom and her staff acculturate these children into their new role as students. This process is part of the foundation upon which we build our success.
--May 30, 2013. The basement of the Lakeville School was transformed on this night into a recreation of the Lascaux Caves, complete with Paleolithic-like drawings and an eerily recreated geologic setting. Art teachers Monica Casazza and Cliff Broffman initiated this project for that evening's Spring Walk Through event. Parents and students flocked here for the experience, and left knowing a bit more about the topic and a lot more about the considerable talent of our students and staff.
--April 12, 2013. I had the opportunity to drive to Baltimore, Maryland, with Assistant Principal John Duggan on this date to see our South High School Robotics Team compete and qualify for the National Championship that was held in St. Louis, Missouri, later in the spring. Business/Technology Head John Motchkavitz and Technology Teacher Matthew Corrigan were our faculty advisors, but I doubt they'd disagree with me if I stated that our students functioned independently of them as they demonstrated their technical skills using the robot (named "Rebellion") that they constructed. Just as important, our students interacted with teams from around the world and everyone who came in contact with them left with a sense that our team is a leader in this burgeoning field. Success in the St. Louis competition and in interacting with other teams should reinforce that thought.
--February 11, 2013. Dr. Mary Ehrenworth of Columbia University visited the John F. Kennedy School on this date to speak to parents interested in learning more about how to assist their children in developing independent reading skills. When you put an invitation out for such an event, especially when it is in the middle of the day, you're never certain how many people will attend, given the complexity of our lives. It was a credit to the entire JFK school community that the auditorium was full and that parents were engaged and participated in this workshop in ways that everyone found impressive. It was clear that parents wanted to be active partners in this process and I can only consider how our students are the ultimate beneficiaries of this partnership.
--June 20, 2013. The symbolic culminating event of any school district is high school graduation, and our three ceremonies last June could certainly serve as an accurate representation of what we value. (North High, South High, and Village School commencement ceremonies can be viewed on GNPS/TV over Cablevision Channel 75 and Verizon Channel 32.) Talented student musicians feted their accomplished classmates. Thoughtful representative speakers were reflective, amusing, and thankful for their time in Great Neck. Finally, parents enjoyed this opportunity to pause and consider all that had gone on in the last decade of their children's educational experience knowing that they had been well prepared to succeed in college and career.
It is that last phrase, that our students have been "well prepared to succeed in college and career," that prompted me to offer this retrospective. We have been told by the state that our children are not as college- and career-ready now as they were last June. I do not know how this retrograde academic achievement can occur, unless it is done by manipulating numbers that are within the state's control, solely to prove a point. I can state emphatically that our students continue to be the greatest resource upon which we can rely. Their needs are being met and every staff person in the district is committed to continuing to do so.
Towards this end, and in an effort to answer community questions about district results on State Testing, a presentation on the district results will occur at 8:00 p.m., at South High School, on September 16, at the Board of Education meeting (please note this earlier than usual start time). At this time, we will share our district results, offer comparisons to previous years, discuss these results within the context of our highly competitive region, and answer questions. The data we will share will be exactly that which we have received from the state, along with the state's assessment of the progress we are making.
Events like those I described from last year have occurred in previous years in Great Neck and will occur in future years, as well. 2013-14 will be another exciting year for students, one that offers learning experiences beyond what is proscribed, and limited only by the imagination of our students and staff.
The Board of Education and School Administration are entirely supportive of an academic experience that not only challenges every student and prepares him/her for the world beyond school, but also one that offers the kind of experiences that will be long remembered, and remembered with great emotion.
The 2013-2014 year began with a full day of school for students on Tuesday, September 3. We greeted our more than 6,500 students, offering them the full range of activities, like those I describe above…and more.
I thank the Great Neck community for your continued support of our schools and I invite your involvement and participation.
Engaging in a Class Discussion:
First Day of School at J.F. Kennedy,