Welcome Back to School!

adv-South-Country-back-to-school.jpg

Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Joseph Giani, discusses the significant initiatives the South Country School District is undergoing.

As of July, Superintendent  Giani's contract was extended again, awarding him another five years. Going into the second school year of his strategic five-year plan, Dr. Giani shared what is coming up for the district.

"Last year, we created a five-year strategic plan outlining a number of things we are trying to do in terms of student improvement," he said. Over the last two school years, he explained, the focus was on communication by creating four new advisory committees, working with the teachers union and the parents, creating Parent University, implementing the Response to Intervention model, creating reading programs and a turnaround program for struggling ninth- and 10th-graders.

This year, he said, the focus will be on teaching, learning, guidance, family engagement and facilities. "This year, we're going even further with the district academically," he added, by hiring four new directors. There will be three curriculum directors, a director of elementary education, a director of humanities, and a director of STEM. The fourth director will be a director of guidance and counseling services for K through 12 to support both parents and students. "We are really focusing on curriculum and support for students, teachers and parents," he said, excited for the new school year.

* The hiring of a new position called Supervisor of Operations and Maintenance will work on all the facilities this year. Dr. Giani said he believes the new position will get the district where they need to be by developing a five-year plan to improve facilities. The new position will oversee supervising the custodial crew, maintenance crew and overseeing security.

* Student Support Services has moved out of South Haven into the Brookhaven Annex on Fireplace Neck Road next to Brookhaven Elementary School, leaving South Haven vacant. Dr. Giani said the move is a much better location and fit for the service. Now, they need to decide what will happen to South Haven. He said the district is not looking to get rid of the building, but instead to move a program there. Using the building for an extended career and tech program or preschool are among the ideas being considered, but the final decision will be based on what is best for the district. A family engagement center, bilingual education program and the removal of all school "guards" are among the initiatives.

* The new family engagement center will be located in the old Student Support Services building in front of the central administration office that has been vacant for a number of years. Dr. Giani said the new center will be staffed with two family engagement coordinators and the building will be open two nights a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The center will allow parents and students to come in for homework help and possibly other extra help nights depending on need. Over the summer, the center was furnished and computers were installed through a grant funded by the state. The center was scheduled to open in September, but after an accident involving a truck running into the side of the building, it was set off its foundation. Giani said the center would open once the building is fixed. "Depending on community need, we will create evenings of extra help and get teachers to run it," he added.

* At Brookhaven Elementary School, one kindergarten class of about 20 children will run as a start to the new bilingual program. Half the class will be English-speaking and the other half will be Spanish-speaking, Giani explained. By the end of the program, he said, the Spanish students will be fluent in English and the English students will be fluent in Spanish.

* All the guards district-wide are being replaced starting in September by "school responders." A number of the guards who applied to the new position will still be employed. However, the new position requires training with new responsibilities. Giani said the responders will be led under the direction of the school principals and be in charge of supporting a safe, respectful, responsible environment in a proactive, positive manner. The new position, he said, hopefully will take away the prison-like atmosphere where guards wore orange shirts. Instead, the responders will be in blazers and ties. As of now, the over-20 responders district-wide have undergone training.

* At Bellport High School, Principal Tim Hogan said they are in the second year of fully implementing the RTI model and the credit recovery program. The biggest addition this year is a new system called Scholar Chip. It will be implemented first in the high school, then the middle school as a building management system requiring all students to use their identification to enter the building and the cafeteria. This new system, Giani said, will help with attendance and also building security. Hogan said he believes it will be beneficial to the high school, "upon arrival attendance is already taken and it will help manage our cafeterias and outside events in a much better fashion." The system will be up and running a few weeks into school after everyone including students, staff and parents are acclimated, added Giani. The big change will also help manage school visitors by requiring all guests to check in and receive a pass.

* Lastly, the entire district will go wireless this year, fourth- and fifth-graders will be given laptops for in-class and in-home learning, and Frank P. Long Intermediate School will be further tested after a summer of removing asbestos.

At the end of Dr. Giani's five years, he said his goal is to be off the focus school list and for all schools to make adequate yearly progress. "It's a big job, but I think we now have all the things just about in place to do that, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us," he said. "I am excited the board gave me five years. I love it here and it's a great place to be." Hogan said he was happy to hear of Dr. Giani's extension. "We've been struggling at South Country with stability in administration and it's very refreshing that we are starting to build something," he said.

By Nicole Allegrezza....reprinted from the Long Island Advance