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Superintendent's Corner

January 2018

Happy New Year!

As we enter a new calendar year, we are reminded of the numerous organizational and individual accomplishments that we have enjoyed in 2017 and the exciting opportunities that lie ahead in 2018. There were so many sources of Royal Pride as our students continually rose to, and then exceeded, the high expectations we held for their performances. Great organizations do not rest on their laurels or accept the status quo as good enough and the Port Jefferson School District is no exception.

Port Jefferson continued to receive national and state recognition in 2017 for the quality of our schools and district. ranked our district and high school as among the finest in the Nation. Earl L. Vandermeulen High School was selected by the United States Department of Educations as one of the best high schools in our country.

Academically, in 2017 we saw increases in students' AP scores and in the percentage of students passing New York State Regents exams with honors. We increased the number of our advanced course offerings with the intent of growing the number of students who experience challenging courses with the goal of increasing college acceptances and post graduate success. The number of Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment courses was increased. We partnered with Suffolk County Community College to offer our students college experience through their Early College Program. High school graduation and college acceptance numbers remained strong as our graduates left our district with choices for their future. Twenty five students were named as AP Scholars and two were National Merit Semi-finalists. 

We continued our focus in 2017 on promoting our students' character and social & emotional development. Students engaged in service learning opportunities through a variety of school and club activities. We began a 6th grade Promoting Wellness pilot which is currently being implemented. Our Sources of Strength program at the high school develops peer support. The Royal Educational Foundation has provided the fiscal support for school programs for students from Kindergarten through high school that promote involvement, confidence, and self- esteem.

Our music and fine arts students continued to excel in 2017 and, as a result, enjoyed County, State, and National recognition. Port Jefferson was selected once again by the NAMM Foundation as one of the “Best Communities for Music Education.” as well as Edna Louise Spear Elementary School recognized as a SCMEA Elementary School of Musical Excellence (1 of only 2 schools recognized). Our student-musicians and student-artists continue to impact our school community through their performances (Dickens Festival, Rocketship Park groundbreaking and dedication, PJ's Go Green and Health and Wellness Expos, St. Charles Memorial Concert, PJFD 9/11 Ceremony, etc.) and successful art shows and exhibitions including the Scholastic Art Awards, Suffolk County Legislator "Park a Day" competition, Shanti Fund peace celebration, and PJ Village's Harvest Fest window painting competition. We also enjoyed outstanding performances by district-wide drama students (Antigone, Into the Woods, Peter Pan Jr., and What Happened After Once Upon a Time) in 2017.

Our student-athletes enjoyed successes in 2017 as teams and as individuals. Seventy-three percent of our high school students participated on at least one athletic team. Our girls' basketball team was league, county, and state regional champs as well as New York State runner-up, losing the championship game at the final buzzer. Numerous teams earned Team Scholar - Athlete or Sportsmanship Award recognition. Boys' cross country team was county champion. The Girls' tennis team was league VI champion. A Port Jeff student was the County boys' golf champion and another student took first place in two county girls' swimming events.

Our Investment Team placed fifth in the nation in the SIFMA Foundation Capital Stock Market Competition and the only team to place from New York State. 
In 2017 we continued our cooperative relationship with our school-community. The Village Constable's office provided tremendous support during the New York State Section XI track qualifying meet hosted by our district. We hosted the Village of Port Jefferson's Annual Health Expo at the high school and numerous Village adult and youth recreational programs. The Infant Jesus youth basketball program continued to access our facilities on a regular basis.

We are confident that 2018 will continue to bring success to our students, schools, and district. In addition to our Goals and Objectives for the 2017-18 school year, there are specific challenges that lie ahead which will require our best thinking, planning, and action.

  • Focusing on Innovation and the future needs of all learners. Are our students keeping pace with their Long Island peers' development through STEM initiatives?
  • Promoting wellness in our students, staff and community. Healthy lifestyles, managing stress and anxiety, and preventative strategies related to substance use and abuse. Our work in the area of character and social and emotional development will continue.
  • Continuing our active role in the negotiations in the LIPA lawsuit regarding tax assessment to protect the Port Jefferson School District with a fair settlement.
  • Creating a fitting Armed Forces Tribute to those who have attended or been employed by the Port Jefferson School District and who have served our country in the armed forces.
  • Addressing our facility needs: aging infrastructure, safety and security of students and staff, overcrowded and overused athletic fields, and compliance with State and Federal regulations.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the result of our recent Capital Bond referendum. It was soundly defeated in December, ending 2017 on a less than positive note. Our school-community has made a powerful statement and our Board of Education and district leadership heard you and are ready to move forward, albeit slowly, from here. We intend for our process to be more inclusive of stakeholders and the general public. Although disappointed by the outcome, we are grateful that so many residents took the time to vote. The bond proposal was an effort to catch up with our facility issues by providing adequate funding. Our Board of Education and Administration are in the process of getting a better understanding of the message communicated in the bond vote results to determine which next steps would be in the best interests of our students and community. 

We do hope that our community learned in the process that we have school facilities that are in need of constant attention. Since I began my tenure as Superintendent in July of 2016, we have had to address; lead in drinking water, failure of a main electrical line in the high school and middle school, installation of air conditioning units and sufficient electrical lines to accommodate student medical needs, and the bursting of an 80 year old waste water pipe under the stage and pit area in the high school auditorium. None of these facility concerns were expected or budgeted for.

The Port Jefferson Board of Education and Staff are excited about 2018 and although there are challenges ahead, we view each new challenge as an opportunity to excel. Based on our successes in 2017, we have every reason to be optimistic as we enter the New Year.

Paul Casciano, Ed.D.

Sunday, March 18, 2018