Superintendent's Blog

Celebrating Service

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott, from Little Women.

We are all learning how to navigate the many challenges which we are facing these days and I am hopeful that our students and families are finding courage in the understanding that we will overcome whatever obstacles that lie before us.  We will face these challenges together with the confidence that comes from having the character traits, knowledge, and skills to find the opportunities that await us on the other side of this difficult period in time.  The South Orangetown Central School District attends to each child’s growth in the realms of character development (the “being”), intellectual development (the “knowing”) and the application of what they have learned (the “doing).  This commitment to the principle of “be, know, do” is the driving force behind what motivates each member of our staff to serve our students and, like the rudder on a ship, provides the direction for our efforts.

So…I would like to take a moment to recognize the career milestones of our colleagues at SOCSD who have taught us how to sail our ships:


Kathleen Conway (CLE), Kathleen DeStefano (WOS), Carol Heinemann (WOS)


20 YEARS: Kim Woodford (DO), Anna Coughlin (WOS), Lisa Savarese (WOS), Carole Widmayer (WOS), Sunita Hill (CLE), Kerri McBride (CLE), Susan O’Rourke (CLE), Judy Pocalyko (CLE), Jacob Tanenbaum (CLE), Jennifer Abrahamsen (SOMS), Kristine Condon (SOMS), Janesa Martinez (SOMS), Emily McKay (SOMS), Allison Meyers (SOMS), Marisa Nadler (SOMS), Frances Piazza (SOMS), Karen Bell (TZHS), James Donovan (TZHS), Christine Drivas (TZHS), Frances Duffy (TZHS), Patricia Kelly (TZHS), Nancy Lungaro (TZHS), Michael Matulac (TZHS), Daniel Rafferty (TZHS), Seth Resnikoff (TZHS), Lisa Reynolds (TZHS), Steve Sherman (TZHS), Beth Smith (TZHS), Russell Wagoner (TZHS)

25 YEARS: Riva Fisher (WOS), Heidi Hill (WOS), Carol Kuhn (WOS), Tatiana DiPierno (SOMS), Glenn Spiegelman (SOMS), Brian Newburger (TZHS), Steven Purkis (TZHS), Jonathan Rossi (TZHS)

30 YEARS: Paula Klika (CLE), Burke Anderson (SOMS), Suzanne Solomon-Hollander (SOMS)

TZHS Earns NYSED Recognition School Status

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Tappan Zee High School has been named a High Achieving Recognition School by the New York State Education Department. This is the second consecutive year that the high school has earned this designation, which is awarded to exemplary public schools that demonstrate high achievement for all students. The New York State Department of Education identified Tappan Zee High School because we are currently in Good Standing and we are among the top performing schools in the state under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability system for academic performance in the core subjects along with an exceptional rate of graduation. Tappan Zee High School also exceeded the NYS measures of progress relating to College, Career, and Civic Readiness indicators along with reducing chronic absenteeism.

Earning the status of ‘Recognition School’ under the Every Student Succeeds Act accountability system does not happen by accident – it takes hard work, commitment, and focus from our staff and students.  Additionally, our strategic planning process promotes high academic performance in the core subjects and addresses those critical areas of student readiness that are not easily measured on standardized testing. Last October, I wrote a blog on how we, as a district, can ensure that our students are “future ready” and I believe that this most recent recognition is evidence that our efforts are paying off.  As such, I wish to congratulate our Tappan Zee High School administration and staff, our families, and above all, our students.

Strengthening our community during the global health crisis

We are living in a global health crisis, and one of our main priorities is to stay healthy. However, our utmost priority is to ensure that people around us are healthy too. This crisis has presented an opportunity for each of us to practice empathy, including even our youngest students. For example, our broadened perspective now includes the importance of taking our neighbors’ health and wellness into consideration, beyond our own self-interests. By isolating ourselves, we sacrifice some of our own needs to promote the good of society. We are all learning this lesson first-hand. However, despite these challenges, I am confident that our students and staff will continue to persevere and succeed. We see examples of this daily and I discuss this in a recent video on our South Orangetown Central School District Communications YouTube Channel.

Beyond empathy, our students have demonstrated resilience, persistence, and a will to succeed. Our Tappan Zee High School valedictorian and salutatorian are good examples of how we can succeed by focusing on our goals and working as a team. While each of these two students has exemplified themselves individually, each acknowledges that it was through the love and support of their parents, classmates, and teachers that enabled each to shine ever more brightly. In this sense, when a few of us shine, we all shine. None of us can do this by ourselves. The stronger our connections are with each other, the more we can achieve. That is why, now more than ever, it is especially important to stay connected. On this related note, I hope that we will continue to build relationships with each other during this crisis through the use of online technologies.

Our South Orangetown YouTube channel is one of the several ways we can stay in touch. In this week’s YouTube video, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the valedictorian and salutatorian of the Tappan Zee High School class of 2020. I admire these two individuals for their hard work, talent, and, above all, their positive outlook. Please take a moment to watch this week’s video and join me in congratulating Jason Olszewski (Valedictorian) and Hannah Ahn (Salutatorian).  Be well and stay safe!

Shining Brightly During Tough Times

Dear South Orangetown Family,

The COVID-19 outbreak has been stressful and challenging for our families, our staff and our community. I understand and recognize your concerns and am committed to strengthening our home-school partnership. Our teachers have worked tirelessly to create high-quality distance learning lesson plans and are excited to begin once the State Education Department clarifies its expectations to ensure a fair and equitable delivery to all students.

These are confusing and unsettling times. To provide additional clarity and stability for our families, we have developed a list of frequently-asked questions regarding our school closure.

In the days ahead, we will continue to work with our families to ensure that our students are provided with the highest-quality education possible under the circumstances. Posted on each of our schools’ homepages are activities and resources that our teachers thoughtfully developed to keep students engaged in learning while they are at home:

At this point, we anticipate that the current school closure will be extended and plan to launch distance learning after March 30. In the meantime, I encourage you to visit the links above and have your children familiarize themselves with the materials that are available. This preparedness will contribute to their success once distance learning begins.

Our teachers and administrators have done a great job so far in diligently preparing for this new journey. They are excited to teach and our students are eager to learn. However, we must get this process correct before we embark on this distance learning adventure. We are going to be in this together for the long haul and I want to ensure that we are all adequately prepared to deliver and benefit from distance learning. We want this effort to be sustainable in the event that it becomes a long-term effort. 

We, as a school community, are all doing our level-best to protect our students, our families, and ourselves from the threat of COVID-19. Trust is a powerful currency and I know that constant and clear communications will keep us strong. Please bear with us as we all navigate the challenges that lay ahead and I am confident that our collective efforts will provide a healthy and productive experience for our students.

Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones. It’s during difficult times like these that the true character of South Orangetown shines the most brightly.

Coronavirus Information


Important Information Regarding COVID-19

On March 5, I participated on a conference call with other area superintendents and representatives from Governor Cuomo’s office and the NYS Department of Health NYSDoH).  The purpose of the conference call was to gain a better understanding of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) disease outbreak. The NYSDoH is the lead agency on matters pertaining to how school employees should or must respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. I am appreciative of the following NYS government officials who provided helpful guidance as part of our discussion: Dr. Elizabeth DuFort, New York State Department of Health, Division of Epidemiology; Adrian Mezzo, New York State Department of Education; Dana Caratenuto, Governor’s Office, Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs and Policy; Dan Fuller, Deputy Secretary for Education for Governor Cuomo; and, Mike Mastroianni, Governor Cuomo’s Office.

 Here are the salient points that the officials from Albany shared with the local superintendents:

  • There is currently no uniform guidance to determine how and when schools should close. The NYSDoH and the Governor’s Office agreed to work on a guidance document and make it available to superintendents as quickly as possible.
  • The Governor is aware of the challenges of providing online instruction and the 900/990 instructional hour requirement for schools. It is on their radar and they know that both need to be addressed.
  • The NYSDoH is not currently recommending avoidance of mass gatherings or local trips. This may change with time.
  • The NYSDoH recommends postponing international school trips to Level 2 and 3 countries, defined by the CDC, be postponed. There are five countries on the list. However, this list could grow over time. The link is here.
  • At the time of the call, there were 13 confirmed cases in New York State and they were in New York City and Westchester.
  • If someone is tested for COVID-19 coronavirus, the results take 6-8 hours after the sample is in the lab. The next step is confirmation which will be handled by the NYSDoH.
  • If there is a confirmed case in our district, the NYSDoH will quickly notify the district and work with us to determine the appropriate steps to take.
  • If we are uncertain about a possible case, we should contact the NYSDoH.
  • Many of those currently quarantined in New York State came in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. However, someone who is self-quarantined because they indirectly came in contact with someone who may have come in contact with a confirmed case is considered very low risk.  
  • Someone who lives in a home with a person who is being appropriately quarantined is not considered a contact and may still attend school. If the person quarantined becomes a confirmed case, the NYSDoH will contact the school district.
  • When a case is confirmed, disease detectives trace every minute of the person’s life to determine with whom they had contact. NYSDoH will follow-up with those individuals identified as contacts.
  • The NYSDoH monitors health care workers and they are monitored by their hospitals to determine whether quarantine is necessary. If a health worker is employed in a hospital that has treated a known case, the District does not need to be concerned about the health worker’s children who attend schools. Health care workers appropriately monitored by their employers are considered low-risk. 

The final takeaway from the phone conference is that the New York State Department of Health is the lead agency on this matter. Schools do not have the authority to quarantine and should be careful not to be more restrictive than the public health and medical experts. It is important that we all work together as a community to support each other and stay on top of this in order to minimize the negative impact of this major public health concern.

Above all, while it is important that we exercise an abundance of caution, it is even more important that we do not respond to the COVID-19 outbreak with an overabundance of fear. Please call our local health department about any rumors you may be hearing. If you are uncertain about a possible case and have questions, reach out to the Rockland County Health Department at 845-364-2512 or the New York State Office of Public Health at 518-473-0771. In addition, the NYSDoH has established a Novel Coronavirus information hotline for the public: 1-888-364-3065.

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