Education

Back to school 2021: Here’s what’s new in each district

It may not be Labor Day yet, but school is officially back in session.

Students across the North Fork began the 2021-22 school year Wednesday. While protocols to protect against the spread of COVID-19 remain in place, the daily routine in schools appears to be the closest to normal it’s been since the pandemic first shut down schools in March 2020.

A new superintendent has taken over at Mattituck, one year after Southold and Greenport each introduced new superintendents. 

Here’s a breakdown of some of the other changes at each local district.

Mattituck-Cutchogue

Mattituck-Cutchogue School District is opening its doors with a record-breaking 28 new hires and people in new positions this September — including a new superintendent.

The unprecedented number of new hires comes on the heels of retirements across the district, with only one newly added position. Ilana Finnegan, the previous elementary school assistant principal, started as Mattituck-Cutchogue’s first director of curriculum/instruction and innovation in July. The position covers a broad scope of responsibilities that range from grant writing and compliance reporting to curriculum alignment and English as a new language programming, among other things. 

“The list could go on, it’s kind of a catch-all position that was created to help move the district forward,” said Superintendent Shawn Petretti, formerly the high school principal. 

The high school also updated its home and careers classroom, which will now host all seventh-grade home and careers classes in addition to two new electives centered on healthy eating and international foods.

The school renovated a room for a new advanced placement capstone course as well, which will start this year. The class, which is part of the English department curriculum, is targeted at teaching tenth-graders interested in taking other AP classes how to research and present information. Mr. Petretti said the class will be co-taught by teachers from the English and history departments, and the district is hoping to eventually add a “second tier” to the program with a science component. 

The high school is also adding courses in musical theater, AP computer programming and advanced art for students who may want to pursue an art major at the undergraduate level. 

Mr. Petretti said the Board of Education adopted the district’s reopening plan last Thursday night, edited to accommodate new restrictions that don’t allow students and staff to eat within six feet of each other. The district will follow state mandates requiring all individuals to wear masks in school buildings. 

“Many folks, myself included, are disappointed … that the COVID cases have gone up and we are going to need to open with the wearing of masks for all students,” Mr. Petretti said. “As disappointing as that is, it is going to be refreshing that this is going to be a far more normal year than our students saw last year.” 

All clubs and activities will run this year and, so far, it’s shaping up to look like students will return to sports as normal. Shields are no longer on desks and back-to-school nights will be in person.

Southold

Southold School District Superintendent Anthony Mauro said a full ventilation and AC system renovation is being done on the school’s auditorium and the completion of that work is pending. Roof work was completed over the summer and a new batting cage was installed with funds from a donation from the athletic association.

“Our changes this year were typical based on the comings and goings of school districts annually,” Mr. Mauro said.

The district will comply with state mandates requiring masks indoors. And social distancing restrictions have been reduced from six feet to three feet. Remote learning will be provided only for students under quarantine and those who tested positive.

Mr. Mauro said the district is “turning our building back to what it used to be, taking down shields and washing and storing them, bringing desks back in.”

The district saw various teachers retire and new hires have joined the faculty to teach French and science and there are a new guidance secretary, teacher aide and part-time lunch aide as well.

The district is considering offering a before- or after-school child care program at Southold elementary school. Students from K-6 would be eligible. Mr. Mauro said it depends on the level of interest if the program starts up. The morning child care hours would be from 7 a.m. until the start of school and the after-school program would run from the end of the school day until 6:30 p.m.

As part of the district’s summer upgrades, the school’s tennis courts were repaired. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

Greenport

September also means new hires and renovations at the Greenport School District this year. 

After a spate of recent retirements, the district has several new teachers among its faculty and is still searching for a new librarian, after the previous one resigned to take a position closer to home. 

“We believe that’s going to make a huge difference in the building, to bring in new blood, new thinking,” Superintendent Marlon Small said. 

Some of the new employees include a math teacher, a science teacher, two elementary school teachers and two Spanish teachers, one of whom is involved in the district’s effort to expand its language program to the third grade. 

“Starting in September, elementary school kids grade three and up will be exposed to Spanish classes,” Mr. Small said. Greenport has also gained “new resources” for science programs at the elementary level and is starting to plan for an elementary-level STEAM program next year, he said. 

The district anticipates locker room renovations to wrap up sometime in September and plans to begin masonry work on the building exterior this month as well. Work on its PA system and security cameras will also start in September. Mr. Small noted that the district’s tennis courts were repaired over the summer, using repair reserve funds. 

COVID-19 restrictions at Greenport have not changed since Gov. Kathy Hochul’s late August mask mandate for anyone inside schools. All classes will be held in-person, with a remote option available for students in quarantine. Students and staff are expected to wear masks indoors and maintain a distance of at least three feet. 

“One of the things that we explained to our school community is the fact that we’re a unique building with pre-K through grade 12 in the same building and we felt it was important, in order to have our kids back in the building, that we follow those safety protocols,” Mr. Small said.

Oysterponds

The Oysterponds School District will continue with the cohorts that were started last year to help maintain social distancing, according to Superintendent Richard Malone.

Oysterponds students return to class Wednesday, Sept. 8.

Outdoor learning will continue whenever possible under tents that were set up last year. The district also conducts random testing of staff.

Students will continue to wear masks inside the building, however, shields on the students’ desks have been eliminated. If a child has a medical validation not to wear a mask then that child’s desk would have a shield, Mr. Malone said.

A part-time Spanish teacher, who will be shared with Greenport, joins the district, and a new health aide has been hired.

The school also will reintroduce after-school clubs, which were discontinued last year. A twice-weekly extra homework club will be started to address some of the loss of learning that may have taken place last year, Mr. Malone said.

The guidance counselor will be working to introduce new programs that address the social and emotional development of the students. She’ll also be working with the teachers on a professional developmental training program along with the character education program that she develops during the week.

New Suffolk

New Suffolk Common School will pick up where it left off at the end of last year in terms of COVID-19 regulations. Students will wear masks indoors as mandated by the state and the district will continue daily temperature readings.

Phil Kent, the school’s superintendent and principal, said the district will welcome a new part-time physical education teacher and part-time Spanish teacher. Both will also work in the Mattituck school district.

The interior of the school building got a paint job over the summer. 

Mr. Kent said the school is hoping to enhance the curriculum this year by bringing back field trips and inviting local artists and authors back into the building as long as they are healthy and vaccinated.

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