Schools present staff development reports

Elaine Kanas

On Wednesday, Oct. 7, members of the staff from North Side, Willets Road and Wheatley made an impressive presentation regarding the staff development initiatives they have been involved in and how these learning opportunities for the staff translate into new programs and learning for our students.  

There is so much to write about … so much to share! As I write this newsletter to you, I am en route to my son’s wedding celebration this weekend and do not have time to do justice to the presentation the teachers and administrators shared.    

I will share information regarding the presentation, in detail, in next week’s newsletter.  In the meantime you can access the PowerPoint presentation at > School Board > 15-16 Meeting Presentations > 15-16 BOE Presentations. 

Outdoor Ed

I often write to keep you updated on new curriculum standards and SAT changes, etc.  Those matters, while important, are commonalities all school districts share. 

There are aspects of schools that are unique to the individual school or district that distinguish one school from another and make each school/district special in its own way.  

In the East Williston School District, the Outdoor Ed program for our seventh graders, which has been in place for approximately three decades, is one such distinguishing factor that contributes to the uniqueness of Willets Road. 

Last Friday, our seventh graders returned from a five-day trip to the Greenkill Outdoor Education Center in upstate New York.  

This learning adventure for our students blends academic learning with an equally strong focus on social and interpersonal development.  Living in bunks, exploring the woods and the natural environment under the direction and supervision of trained naturalists, and pitching in to help serve and clean up at meal time in the dining hall, the seventh graders, make many important learning connections to the seventh grade curriculum, such as the study of rocks and minerals, and to life science with the study of classification of living organisms. 

Our students make connections to social studies and the study of the Revolutionary period as they pass by old stone walls that were used more than 200 years ago to mark the borders of early farmland. They also learn about forest eco-systems and how the woods they are exploring are not old growth due to the fact that the early settlers initially cleared the land to farm and cut down trees to use the wood in the building of settlements. 

Orienteering skills and GPS skills are attained as students learn to navigate their way through unfamiliar territory, building an understanding of how satellite technology works. With an equal focus on developing the “whole child,” students build skills of collaboration and positive interpersonal interaction so essential to success in all aspects of life. 

During their time at Greenkill our Willets Road students rotate their learning groups regularly so that they have the opportunity to work with a variety of classmates. An important plus of the program is that students have the opportunity to make new friends and reconnect with old friends. 

The trip is specifically planned for the start of the school year so that the activities can contribute to the building of a unified team spirit to support our seventh graders throughout their special last year at Willets Road and preparation for their transition to Wheatley as eighth graders.

Examples of some “courses” the students study while at Greenkill include:  Ornithology, Wildlife Studies, Forest Ecology, Living with the Land, and Native American History. Outdoor skills courses include survival and GPS/Geocaching.  Character development and challenge education workshops include the low ropes course and team building (low elements and ground initiatives where students, using a combination of non-competitive tasks, share ideas, teamwork skills and communication to solve a problem or create a task.

After dinner, there are special programs such as Birds of Prey and the Life and Times of a Revolutionary Soldier.  There are also campfires and “Dutch auctions” where students engage in fun activities in which groups race to earn the most points by using creativity, ingenuity and luck to impress the instructors.  

In addition to the above, students also work on their expressive writing skills as a result of their Outdoor Ed experience.  

Students keep a journal throughout and engage in reflective writing throughout the week.  Now that they have returned to school they use material from their journals in their English classes to create a writing piece.  Their completed personal narrative includes organized paragraphs, exciting introduction and sensory details and imagery, figurative language, dialogue, and a strong conclusion.  I hope to get a chance to read some!  

A wonderful experience such as Outdoor Ed would never be possible except for the commitment and generosity of our Willets Road staff members who leave their own families at home while they travel to supervise our students during this special week of learning.  Many, many thanks to Colette Hardy who coordinates the Outdoor Ed Program and the other staff members who accompanied the students on this trip, Natalie Brew, Michelle Santoro, Kristen Griswold, Bridget Lennon, Antonia Laruccia, Melinda Gomez, Jessica McGee, Audra Beberman, Michelle Sims, Ron Roaldsen, Dave Burke, Joe Virgilio, Scott Hoefling, Pat Shanahan, Joe Coladonato and Donald Paulson.  Many thanks also to Willets Road principal Steve Kimmel and Director of Science and Technology Dave Casamento for their support of this program. 

Work Session/Audit Reports

The East Williston School District continues to be well served by the expertise and talent within our school district community.  

At this week’s Board of Education work session, a representative of the Audit Committee, Vincent Vincenzo, expressed the committee’s supportive view of the school district’s annual independent external audit report. 

The district received an unmodified opinion from the external audit firm of Cullen & Danowski, which is the highest rating a district can obtain. 

The Audit Committee is made up of five community members: Patrick Gillespie, Alan Goldstein, BOE Liaison Leonard Hirsch, Michael Rosenberg and chairperson Vincent Vincenzo.  Alan Yu, a partner with Cullen & Danowski, noted that in most of the districts his firm audits, audit committees are made up solely of members of the Board of Education, but in East Williston the Board has an audit committee comprised of qualified financial experts from our community with strong financial backgrounds. 

Mr. Yu went on to say that our Audit Committee members engage in a rigorous review of the external audit process and the financial statements and are among the most diligent Audit Committees he has worked with.  Special thanks to our Business Office led by Assistant Superintendent for Business Jacqueline Pirro, for their fine work, which was noted by the Audit Committee and the District External Auditors at Wednesday’s Work Session.

Fall Festival

This past Tuesday, Oct. 6, North Side School celebrated their Annual Fall Festival sponsored by the North Side PTO.  

This is a terrific event intended to bring the whole North Side community together in an afternoon of fun and celebration. I had the chance to stop by. It truly was an amazing sight, from face painting to games to food. So many parents, staff and children were there having what looked to be an incredibly fun time. Thank you so much North Side PTO for hosting this special annual event.

Peru Update

Part 2 of the East Williston School District’s exchange program with the Colegio San José de Monterrico begins today, Friday, when 18 Peruvian students and their three chaperones arrive at Wheatley to meet their host families.  They will be spending 10 days in our community, visiting students in all three schools.  You may remember that last May, faculty members Isabel Simoes and Angel Rivero accompanied a group of our juniors and seniors to Lima, Peru to establish an exchange program between the two schools.  More details to follow.

New Faces in 

Our Neighborhood

As I’ve mentioned before, I’d like to highlight our new faculty members in my weekly newsletters.  Please join me in welcoming them to our district.  At our Sept. 1 staff convocation, our administrators introduced our new members to the district staff.  

Stephen Kimmel, Principal of Willets Road School shared the following comments regarding the following new faculty members at Willets Road.  

Jessica Liakonis-

fifth grade teacher

Ms. Liakonis has been an elementary teacher since 2004. She joins the Willets Road staff as a fifth grade teacher.  

Last year she taught fifth grade at the Wantagh School District. She began her teaching career at William Floyd School District where she taught both fourth and fifth grade, was the dean of discipline and a Teacher Center course instructor.  Ms. Liakonis received her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Southampton College and a Masters of  Science in Literacy from Dowling College. We Welcome Ms. Liakonis! 

hMichelle Ricci –

reading specialist

Ms. Ricci joins the Willets Road staff as a reading specialist. She began her teaching career in 2007 in the East Islip School District teaching 5th grade. Most recently she taught 6th grade Language Arts and Literacy at Oldfield Middle School in the Harborfields School District. 

While at Harborfields she also taught 6th grade Social Studies and Literacy, AIS Reading for grades six, seven and eight AIS Reading and Study Skills for grades two, six and seven. She received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from SUNY at New Paltz and a Masters of Science in Literacy Education from Dowling College. Welcome Ms. Ricci! 

Virtual Backpack 

Flyer Update

Just a reminder: Please check the VB periodically for the latest postings. (On the district homepage, > scroll down left side vertical navigation bar to Virtual Backpack > click on VB.) 

The following is a listing of the new flyers posted on the VB this week:

oNorth Side PTO Fall Festival flyer

oCounty Seat Kiwanis Bicycle Safety Fall Festival


and Commendations

Wheatley’s 127 AP Scholars

Congratulations to the 127 Wheatley students who earned the designation of AP Scholar by the College Board in recognition of their exceptional achievement on the college-level Advanced Placement Program Exams. 

The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program offers students the opportunity to take challenging college-level courses while still in high school, and to receive college credit, advanced placement, or both for successful performance on the AP Exams. 

About 18 percent of the nearly 1.9 million high school students worldwide who took AP Exams performed at a sufficiently high level to also earn an AP Scholar Award. The College Board recognizes several levels of achievement based on students’ performance on AP Exams.

Fourteen students qualified for the National AP Scholar Award by earning an average grade of 4 or higher on a five-point scale on all AP Exams taken, and grades of four or higher on eight or more of these exams. The students who earned this distinction are Leigh Anderson, Krista Chen*, Luis Costa, Samuel Fieldman, Sarah Golden, Mohammad Khanzada*, Bonnie Lerman, Jade Marcus, Jeffrey Poomkudy*, Ashwin Reddy*, Courtney Schwartz, Christopher Shen*, Kuan Yu and Andrew Zuckerman*.

Sixty students qualified for the AP Scholar with Distinction Award by earning an average grade of at least 3.5 on all AP Exams taken, and grades of 3 or higher on five or more of these exams. These students are: Leigh Anderson, Shalini Bansal, Joshua Bergsohn, Gabriel Besada*, Joy Bestourous*, Alexandra Boubour, Sienna Brancato*, Emma Casali, Robert Chang*, Krista Chen*, Donovan Cheung, Luis Costa, Luke Cuomo*, Madison D’Ambrosio, Chintan Datt*, Nicole Degliomini, Jennifer Dioguardi, Melanie Esquilin, Samuel Fieldman, Sarah Golden, Rohan Gulati, Timothy Han, Arihant Jain*, Katie Kaminsky, Arjun Kapoor, Mohammad Khanzada*, Amandeep Khokhar, Justin Kopp, Maura Koszalka, Jacqueline LaGinestra, Gabriella Leccese, Samantha Leong, Bonnie Lerman, Samantha Lessen*, Ziv Lotzky, Juliana Luber, Jade Marcus, Claudia Miller, Hannah Mittman, Julian Nathan*, Jordan Pollack*, Jeffrey Poomkudy*, Priya Prasad, Ashwin Reddy*, Namita Reddy, David Rosenzweig*, Jared Rothstein*, Courtney Schwartz, Gabriella Schwartz, Neil Shahdadpuri, Christopher Shen*, Daniel Singh*, Amanda Sivin*, Dustin Sloane, Jordan Weinstock, Harris Wekselblatt, Jake Williams*, Kuan Yu, Cindy Zhou* and Andrew Zuckerman*.

Twenty-five students qualified for the AP Scholar with Honor Award by earning an average grade of at least 3.25 on all AP Exams taken and grades of 3 or higher on four or more of these exams. These students are: Ron Aldad*, Kayla Barroca*, Kelsey Beresheim*, Adena Bernot*, Emily Black, Michael Braunstein, Robert Bruder, Zachary Chorost, Jessica Chu*, Brendan Doherty, Anthony Graffigna, Brittany Groveman, Hebah Hassan, Haseeb Jangda*, Ashley Kim*, Erin O’Kelly*, Jessica Patterson*, Marisa Rios*, Andrew Schloss*, Jordan Shaked*, Farrah Siegler*, Jaclyn Stroud*, John Wanamaker*, Danielle Wasserman and Seungmin Yi.

Forty-two students qualified for the AP Scholar Award by completing three or more AP Exams with grades of 3 or higher. The AP Scholars are: Dara Bahk, Jillian Baker, Crystal Barroca*, Rebecca Besada*, Olivia Braito, Jessie Cao*, Ellie Chen*, Aileen Chowdhury**, Shawn Chubalashvili*, Ethan Cohen, Caroline Connolly*, Jennifer Contreras, Samantha Cumming*, Mia Fabiani, Alexa Georgeton*, Joshua Golbari*, Brian Gong, Julia Haghighi, Morgan Hanel, Lauren Hogg, Deana Hsu, Elizabeth Huhn, Sharon John, Katherine Keller, Willem Kerzner, Erica Kim*, Raimy Klestadt, Benjamin Lee, Sabrina Lee, Christina Mille*, Donna Nazarian, Julie Samuels, Ashley Saparzadeh, Robert Schoen*, Perri Schreiber, Kelsey Shields, Olivia Suppa*, Christopher Vazquez*, Nicholas Vazquez*, Devin Waxman*, Nancy Zhang and Ikra Zulfiqar.

Of this year’s award recipients at Wheatley, fifty-four earned them as juniors (current Class of 2016) and one earned it as a sophomore (current Class of 2017). These members of the Class of 2016 and 2017 have more time during which to complete college-level work and possibly earn another AP Scholar Award.  Student names with one asterisk are from the Class of 2016, two asterisks from the Class of 2017, and no asterisks for our recent graduates from the Class of 2015. Congratulations.

Peru Trip Video

Wheatley senior Christopher Shen, a student who travelled to Peru last spring with students and faculty members, submitted a short video, “Our Trip to Peru,” to a contest sponsored by ACIS, a company that sponsored our travel abroad to Peru, and won third prize along with a gift certificate to Amazon.  Congratulations Christopher! 

Wheatley Student-Artists Artwork at NYSSBA Convention & Education Expo

Congratulations to Wheatley’s four student-artists whose artwork will be displayed at the 96th Annual New York State School Boards Association Conference in New York City this month. 

The student art exhibit that is co-sponsored by NYSATA (New York State Art Teachers Association) and NYSSBA “is intended to highlight achievement in Visual Art across the state.”  School board members and superintendents from across the state attend the conference and will have an opportunity to view the art exhibit at the Sheraton in Manhattan. 

Congratulations to senior Brianna Clarfield, a student in Julia Donovan’s Advanced Photography/Portfolio class, senior Alexandra Giordano, a student in Ms. Donovan’s AP Studio Art-2D Design class, senior Keziah Chung, a student in Nicole Girgenti’s Advanced Portfolio class and sophomore Lauren Chusid, a student in Mrs. Girgenti’s Drawing & Painting I class.

Have a Good Weekend

As always, please email me at or call me at 333-3758 with any questions, suggestions and/or any topics you would like to see in this newsletter.

Best regards, 

Elaine Kanas, Ed.D.

Superintendent of School

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Elaine Kanas

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