Superintendent's Blog

Welcome Back 2020

Welcome back to the 2020 – 2021 school year! We have just finished our first week of 100% distance learning for our students and, while nothing is perfect, we can proudly say that we are off to a good start. This is a good time to take stock in our values and beliefs and stay true to our SOCSD Reopening Plan. Our community has had significant involvement in this plan that was designed to bring our students and staff safely back-to-school, in-person, and now it is time to put this plan Into action.

In order for us to continue to be successful at our school reopening, we need to be mindful that the health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority. By keeping each other safe, both physically and emotionally, we will establish the foundation for all future success. Let’s not be too hard on ourselves when we encounter the inevitable glitches that are associated with trying something new. And, make no mistake, this is new for all of us. We will make mistakes, we will have setbacks, we will learn from our mistakes, and we will all be better off for having tried to do things differently. Here are some of the lessons that I have learned this week from our 100% distance learning experience:

  • Academic:​ Our daily classroom routine at SOCSD is built upon the foundation of consistent scheduling for assignments and classroom work. Classroom lessons and resources are “pushed out” digitally and physically from our Office of Curriculum and Instruction to our classroom teachers.​ Another feature of our learning environment is having live, daily instruction for all students, whether participating in-person or virtually. It is important that students do not spend too much of their day staring at a computer screen and, as such, students’ and teachers’ schedules are synchronized.​
  • Staffing: The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for all of us to be outside of our homes and for some of our more medically fragile staff, coming to work is not possible.  Therefore, as a school district, we have faced some initial challenges concerning staffing.  However, we have managed to cover all of our classes with qualified staff and are ready to start in-person, hybrid instruction on September 14.  All of our instructional staff have received training and professional development to ensure best practices and consistency in delivering the hybrid model of instruction.​​
  • Communications and Family Engagement:​ We were able to test our computer and Internet systems this past week and we have a “green light” to move forward with hybrid instruction.  Our Internet bandwidth capacity was more than adequate to cover the 100% distance learning and we are confident that this will be the case as we shift to the hybrid in-person model. Many of our families were able to take advantage of the distribution of supplies and computer equipment that took place at each of our four schools.​
  • Student and Staff Welfare:​ Our classroom activities will stress the social emotional aspects of student development (beyond the mastery of academic content) in the first few weeks of school.  Students must first feel safe and secure before they can be confident with scholarship.  As such, we will use a trauma-based approach to instruction with an emphasis on social-emotional learning in the first few weeks of school​. It was very encouraging to see such strong student attendance during the initial remote learning phase and we are confident that this trend will continue as we transition to in-person hybrid learning.​
  • Resource Management:​ Our Office of Management and Finance has done and excellent job of procuring and deploying personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies for all staff and students.  We have established health and safety protocols at each of our school locations.  If you have not done so already, please watch our instructional videos that provide information as to how we will conduct our daily operations at each school keeping safety in mind (PPE use, social distancing, personal hygiene, and temperature checks).

The governor of the state of New York has frequently mentioned that our reopening efforts are driven by data. The value in data is that it removes much of the emotional aspects of making decisions that could possibly lead to bad outcomes. However, we also know that our emotions and our instincts play a huge role in how we make sense of our daily lives. Therefore, I am asking each of you to maintain an appropriate balance between understanding the scientific data and the significance of tempering this data with an acknowledgement of our own basic human instincts and emotions (our best decisions are often a function of both).

In the words of heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, “don’t count the days, make the days count.”​ On Monday, September 14, half of our students will be returning to our campuses for the first time in many months. Let’s focus on making THAT day count as a foundation for all other days that follow.  Bearing that in mind, I would like to wish each of you a great school year, but most importantly have a healthy and happy first day back-to-school.​

2020 Year-End Celebrations

Despite the school closure, this June has been as busy as any other. Navigating this unprecedented health crisis amid shifting and sometimes conflicting guidance while ensuring that all our students have access to the nutrition, technology, instruction and support they need has been challenging. We are grateful to our families, staff and community for their flexibility and understanding.

Over the past several weeks, our school administrators and staff have worked hard to develop plans to recognize our students for their accomplishments, distribute belongings and close out the academic year safely and in compliance with executive orders, New York State Education Department guidance and health department guidelines.

In addition to virtual field days, field trips and performances, here are a few ways our schools have adapted their year-end activities:

Our school leaders at William O. Schaefer Elementary School, Cottage Lane Elementary School and South Orangetown Middle School have filmed orientation videos to welcome incoming kindergarten, third grade and sixth grade students and provide them with a peek inside their new schools;

  • Tappan Zee High School hosted its first-ever, virtual Senior Awards Ceremony on the new TZHS Counseling Facebook page this week, with video presentations by teachers and community scholarship sponsors, to publicly recognize the accomplishments of our seniors;
  • Tappan Zee Athletics has been a part of and is producing a number of virtual ceremonies and social media projects to recognize student-athletes, including:
    • Rockland County Athletes of the Season Ceremony, which aired on Local Live on June 10;
    • Tappan Zee Athletics Virtual College Signing Day, which will air on Local Live this Sunday, June 14 at 7PM; and,
    • Tappan Zee Athletics Sports Awards Banquet, which will air on Instagram Live on Wednesday, June 17 at 3PM
  • WOS, CLE and TZHS have completed their processes for socially distanced retrieval of student belongings; SOMS begins next week.
  • SOMS will present its virtual Eighth Grade Moving Up Ceremony on the evening of June 21, followed by a contactless, drive-through pick up of certificates and locker contents on June 22.

Special thanks to SOCES PTA, SOMS PTA, TZHS PTSA and the TZ Red & White Booster Club, who have been extraordinary partners in terms of supporting these efforts and creating new ways to celebrate our rising fifth- and eighth-graders and our graduating seniors.

Last Sunday, Governor Cuomo announced that he would “allow socially distanced graduations outdoors with up to 150 people total beginning June 26, subject to any outbreaks or significant changes.” Based on this announcement, TZHS has surveyed seniors and parents to determine the size, date and conditions for its outdoor graduation ceremonies. Principal Rudy Arietta will communicate details directly to the Class of 2020 and their families by early next week. Year-end plans previously communicated by WOS, CLE and SOMS will remain in place as scheduled; no additional K-8 events will be held.

While it is good news that our region has entered Phase 2 of reopening, I urge you to continue practicing social distancing, hand washing, wearing of face coverings and other CDC-recommended health measures to prevent COVID-19 transmission and protect our community from a resurgence.

Regardless of the unusual circumstances, June is a time for celebration–virtual or otherwise. Congratulations to the Class of 2020 and to all of our students on a successful end to the school year!

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


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