East Williston schools set to add 3 holidays

East Williston schools set to add 3 holidays
From left: East Williston school Superintendent Elaine Kanas, school board President Mark Kamberg and board Vice President Robert Fallarino are seen at a Feb. 1, 2017 school board meeting. (Photo by Ted Ryan)

By Ted Ryan

The East Williston school board plans to add three Hindu, Muslim and Chinese holidays to the district’s calendar for the 2017-18 school year, district officials said Wednesday.

The Chinese Lunar New Year, Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and Eid al-Fitr, a major Muslim holy day, are set to be official holidays on the new calendar, which starts on Tuesday, Sept. 5, school board President Mark Kamberg said.

“It shortens February break by one day, and it includes the closing for religious observance of the [three] holidays that have been discussed,” Kamberg said.

The school board has not adopted the calendar changes yet, but will vote to approve them at a meeting later this month.

The three holidays follow the lunar calendar and their dates change every year.

Eid al-Fitr and Diwali fall on June 25 and Oct. 19 this year, respectively. The next Lunar New Year is Feb. 16, 2018.

The addition is in response to the rising number of minority students enrolled in the East Williston district.

In East Williston, Asian students made up 24 percent of the student body in the 2014-15 school year, Kamberg said, up from 7 percent in the 2005-06 school year.

East Williston’s Hispanic and Latino student population has increased from 3 percent to 5 percent in the same period.

“Our numbers have been increasing over the past years,” Kamberg said.

School board members thanked the community for the input on the holidays and the demographic information provided by district officials, without which they said the changes could not have been made.

“On a personal level, I believe it is something that we should be doing as we look ahead as our community evolves and changes,”  Kamberg said.

Also during Wednesday’s board meeting, the Wheatley School principal, Sean Feeney, said the high school is scoring well on national rankings.

Wheatley is listed as being in the top 0.79 percent of all schools by U.S. News & World Report and is also among the top schools on lists such as those of Niche.com and The Washington Post.

If the Wheatley School wanted to improve its rankings further, it would need to reduce the number of elective classes and dual-enrollment classes that give college credit in hopes that students would replace these programs with Advanced Placement classes to improve the school’s ranking, Feeney said.

He said he thinks a school’s rankings do not necessarily reflect the quality of its students’ education.

“AP courses are wonderful, they’re wonderful options for many of our students,” he said. “But there’s more to an education than simply taking all APs. That we believe strongly.”

Ultimately, the Wheatley School will not aggressively pursue rankings and will focus on the student experience, rather than improving the school’s already impressive national reputation, Feeney said.

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