Jericho students starting classes Wednesday, the first in Long Island's public schools to do so, were greeted by principals, teachers and extra security precautions.
District officials said Nassau County police officers drove by each of the system's five schools in the morning and also stopped in briefly to say hello. It marked the first time that police visited every school on Jericho's opening day, though patrol officers during the past academic year also drove through campuses on several occasions, officials said.
"The district really appreciates the police presence as well as the relationships we have formed with local officers," said Denise Nash, a Jericho representative.
Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, the Nassau police spokesman, said the visits were to make introductions and promote safety.
Schools throughout the two-county region and nation are on heightened alert, reflecting concerns for students' safety after mass shootings this year in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas.
At Jericho's Robert Seaman Elementary School, a Nassau police officer joined administrators and other staff at the building's entrance at about 8 a.m, as yellow buses rolled in and students disembarked. Nor was this the only precaution.
The school's entry vestibule was reinforced months ago with upgraded locking mechanisms — as has been done in dozens of schools across Long Island in recent months. In addition, Seaman’s classroom doors have been equipped with swipe-card locks.
“I think we have all the right things in place, without frightening the children,” said Ivy Sherman, the school's principal.
Wednesday marked the launch of the Island's school season with the return to class of Jericho's 3,000-plus students. The district, which operates on a 186-day calendar—six days more than the state requires — typically is the first in Nassau and Suffolk counties to open each year.
The big rush comes after Labor Day, with 47 districts starting classes on Sept. 4, another 64 districts on Sept. 5 and a dozen on Sept. 6.
Several parents arriving at Seaman Elementary with their children said they were impressed with the school’s welcoming atmosphere.
Among them was Anna Bakalis of Brookville, who had two young sons starting classes.
“We were looking for a better neighborhood, a better school, and we found it,” said Bakalis, whose family moved to the Island from Brooklyn last year. “The teachers go above and beyond.”
Sasha Tehrani, a neighbor of Bakalis who came to the school with his wife and 6-year-old son, noted that Jericho consistently ranks as one of the best public systems in the country.
"It's great to be in this district," Tehrani said.
This year, Jericho jumps off in the No. 1 position in more ways than one. Earlier this month, the district, which straddles the border of Oyster Bay and North Hempstead towns, was ranked tops in the nation among U.S. public school systems by Niche, an online rating service based in Pittsburgh. The district also has scored highly in past reviews by The Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report.
Kelly Wood, 37, who started work this week as an elementary math specialist in Jericho, said she's proud to be working in a system with such a "stellar reputation." Wood previously taught in New Hampshire, and she made multiple trips to the Island for job interviews earlier this year.
Wood's screening process in the district started with two administrators and a teacher, followed by a more intensive session with a half-dozen administrators, teachers and parents. She then gave a demonstration lesson to a group of elementary students, before a final meeting with two assistant superintendents.
It was at that meeting, Wood recalled, that she was asked the best question of all: "So how would you like to work in Jericho?"
"Just the name alone says so much," she said.
Wood is assigned to the district's George Jackson Elementary School, where she'll be working with teachers and students in small groups.
Jericho this year is adding extra religious holidays to its school calendar, reflecting its growing diversity. At least a dozen other systems in Nassau and Suffolk counties have taken similar steps.
Jericho classes will close Nov. 7 for Diwali, the Hindu "Festival of Lights"; Feb. 5 for Lunar New Year; and June 4 for Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim feast day marking the end of Ramadan. Jericho's superintendent, Henry Grishman, said the district will maintain its extended days of class time despite added holidays.
"More is better," Grishman said.
Kicking off the school year
Classes start after Labor Day for most students in Long Island's 124 public school districts, as well as those in private and parochial schools.
1 district: Wednesday
47 districts: Sept. 4
64 districts: Sept. 5
12 districts: Sept. 6