Herricks school board adds four holidays to academic calendar

Herricks school board adds four holidays to academic calendar
Herricks High School students James Brautigam and Giselle Correia perform a mime skit at the Jan. 19, 2016 Herricks school board meeting. (Photo by Samuel Glasser)

The Herricks school board added four holidays to its 2017-18 academic calendar, a recognition of demographic change in the district.

As discussed at a November meeting, the calendar closes schools on the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, the Hindu festival of Diwali, and the Chinese Lunar New Year.

These holidays represent “the rich diversity of our community. Everyone thought that the time had come” to include them in the calendar, Fino Celano, the district’s superintendent, said.

The adopted calendar keeps the same number of school days but starts classes before Labor Day, which has been done in previous years, Celano said. The first day of school will be Aug. 30.

The move drew applause at Thursday’s meeting in Herricks High School.

Discussion about adding holidays started a few years ago when the board noted demographic shifts in the district, Nancy Feinstein, the school board president, said in November.

Students of Asian descent account for about 57 percent of the student body in 2015, up from 45 percent in 2005-06, according to state Education Department data. The white student population decreased to 35 percent from 50 percent over the same period.

In forming the new calendar, the district had to keep at least 180 instructional days between Sept. 1 and the start of the state Regents exams in June.

The East Williston and Roslyn school districts are both considering adding three holidays to their calendars. The Great Neck school district decided to formally recognize the Lunar New Year in 2016.

Also on Thursday, the school board announced that James Ruck will stay on as Herricks High School principal for another year.

Ruck, who has decades of experience as a teacher and schools administrator, was hired on an interim basis for the current school year, replacing Samuel Thompson, who left after a year to become principal of Farmingdale High School.

Before the regular school board meeting, about 100 high school students had the chance to bring their concerns directly to the school board at its annual “Fireside Chat” session.

Students said the high school’s wireless internet network occasionally crashes, disrupting their research or classwork.

The district will receive approximately $960,000 from the state for technology upgrades, but revamping the wireless internet system will cost approximately $1.5 million, David Pickman, the district’s technology systems coordinator, said.

The work will take place over three years starting either next year or the year after, Pickman said. The plans must be approved by the state and the complex work will need to be outsourced.

Students also complained about the long lines in the cafeteria, saying it can take as long as 20 minutes to get a sandwich.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Lisa Rutkoske said a complete makeover of the cafeteria was included in the recently approved $29.5 million package of capital projects, and that construction would likely begin during the summer of 2018.

The school board also heard performances by four students enrolled in the Student Television Arts Company, or STAC, program for gifted and talented arts students.

The program encompasses a wide range of creative disciplines, including music, art, theater, photography, film-making, script writing, graphic arts and web design, teacher Luke DeLalio said.

“We are constantly doing hands-on projects — a combination of traditional skills and high-tech applications,” DeLalio said.

About 36 students from grades nine through 12 are enrolled each year. The class meets for the last two hours of the school day, and works to develop critical thinking and problem-solving.

STAC alumni have gone on to work in fields as varied as art and theater, law, medicine and politics, DeLalio said.

The student presentations involved a skit in mime by senior James Brautigam and junior Giselle Correia, a video produced by senior Vika Longi and a song written and sung by sophomore Savannah Mehran.

The students said they have long been interested in the arts, but sometimes their paths have taken unusual turns.

Longi was training to be a ballet dancer, but after an injury derailed her plans, she realized that could branch out into other creative pursuits, she said.

Correia considered going into dentistry but also wrote poetry and was interested in film and aspires to write screenplays.

District officials also announced that Herricks High School was one of 19 in New York nominated for the U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon Award, a designation given to Herricks Middle School several years ago.

The award program was launched 35 years ago to honor high-performing schools and those that are making great strides in closing achievement gaps among student groups.

“If we don’t win, I don’t know who will,” Celano said.

The winners will be announced in September.


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