Heavy rain and overcast skies greeted teachers and students returning to school this week. Overnight, there was an abrupt change from the idyllic days of summer to the new demands, and earlier bedtimes, of the oncoming fall. At the South Fork’s public schools, where teachers reported for duty on Tuesday and students returned yesterday, new faces and high expectations ruled the day.
During a breakfast Tuesday morning for teachers and administrators, Richard Burns, the East Hampton School District’s superintendent, waxed philosophical.
He first spoke about the impermanence of life. “It also holds true for students in our classes,” said Mr. Burns. “The time we have with them is so brief.” Time and again, he emphasized the power of the classroom to transform young minds. “Let’s all agree that we can make a difference in the lives of students,” Mr. Burns said. “Let’s all unite with a promise that we will give our best to our children every day.”
At that evening’s East Hampton School Board meeting, Mr. Burns ticked off the numbers of enrolled students to date; more will trickle in over the coming days and weeks. Between the elementary, middle, and high school, the district will accommodate nearly 1,900 students. The high school, as of Tuesday night, had registered 919 students, an increase of 22 over the previous year.
At the East Hampton Middle School, 347 students were registered for the first day of classes, 8 more than last year. At John M. Marshall Elementary School, on the other hand, enrollment was down by four, with 622 students set to begin.
In addition to announcing Robert Tymann as the district’s new assistant superintendent, Mr. Burns introduced each of the three principals to highlight staffing changes that had occurred over the summer.
Gina Kraus, in her first full year as principal of John M. Marshall, expressed excitement that Keith Malsky, formerly the middle school principal, was now associate principal. While Daniel Hartnett will return to his former post as the district’s bilingual social worker, he will now work out of the elementary school for ease of access to parents and students in need of his services.
In other staffing news, Diane Curtin will work full-time at the elementary school, Kristina Rozzi is back to teaching kindergarten, and Taryn Brennan will now teach second grade. Amy Christensen and Jonathan Bowe have joined the staff as leave replacements in the first and fourth grade, respectively. Finally, Barbara Bock and Barbara Murray will work as paraprofessionals.
Ms. Kraus said her building was at capacity, with five classes in each grade. Kindergarten classes range in size from 18 to 20 students, but the fifth grade has swelled to around 24 to 25 students per class. In addition to implementing a new math curriculum, her teachers are simultaneously transitioning to a new “balanced literacy” program.
Charles Soriano, the principal of the Middle School, announced that John Ryan would return as a sixth-grade teacher and Christine Sullivan as a paraprofessional. Sherri Ross, he said, will now report to the main office. Dr. Soriano was enthusiastic about the appointment of Phillip Pratt, who will serve as assistant principal for both the high school and middle school.
Finally, after praising the hard-working custodial staff of East Hampton High School, its principal, Adam Fine, announced two new appointments: Heather Dodge to the foreign language department and Sheila Batiste to the art department. Bridget LeRoy will be the district’s new public relations consultant and Anthony Hayes the district-wide nighttime custodian.
Mr. Fine described his core academic classes as “bursting at the seams,” with up to 27 students per class. While AP Statistics attracted just a handful of students and is therefore being canceled, 31 students are set to begin AP Calculus. Among his goals for the year, Mr. Fine said he aimed to make every student “college- and career-ready.”
Eric Casale, principal of the Springs School, similarly expressed excitement and optimism about the upcoming year.
“We want every child to leave here in June at a much higher level than when they entered,” he said. “We want our kids to leave here as critical leaders.”
Enrollment at Springs is 629 to date, about a dozen more students than were enrolled at this time last year. But with several others still finalizing their registration, Mr. Casale predicted the number might eventually top 640.
Mr. Casale, who is in his eighth year at Springs, described a shifting demographic in recent years as more Spanish-speaking students have enrolled. “It was 36 percent when I got here and now it’s at 49 percent, with the younger grades a little bit higher,” he said. As in East Hampton, the average class size has increased.
Because of budget constraints, only three new staff members will join the school this year. Besides Dominic Mucci as its new superintendent and Katherine Byrnes as its new assistant principal, Springs added one teaching assistant, and only to fill an existing vacancy.
Back in East Hampton, overseeing a smaller district is partly what attracted Mr. Tymann to his new role as assistant superintendent. For the past three years, he was the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Lindenhurst School District, which has nearly 7,000 students. He pointed to the new common-core curriculum and a new state-mandated evaluation system for teachers and administrators as challenges in the year ahead.
Early Tuesday morning, Mr. Tymann jotted down a remark that his boss, Mr. Burns, had made to teachers and administrators, saying he hoped it might provide inspiration. It was an excerpted quote from John Maynard Keynes: “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.”
“It really sums up where education is at today,” reflected Mr. Tymann. “We have a ton of work to do and a lot of change that the state is requiring. But if we do it right, it will be a very good thing for the students.”