Some topics educators are faced with in 2024 are AI, the role the regents exams play and the deadline to decide how and where districts are spending the federal COVID pandemic recovery money. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Newsday Staff

Long Island educators are already preparing for next school year, focusing on the loss of federal COVID-19 relief money, keeping pace with artificial intelligence, and providing services to manage students' emotional health and learning loss from the pandemic.

District superintendents are crafting budget proposals for the 2024-25 school year, which begins in September. School boards have until early May to adopt budgets. The public vote on them and school board elections occurs May 21.

On the state level, Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to discuss education priorities in her State of the State address Tuesday. The State Legislature has until March 31 to adopt a budget.

Looking ahead, educators say they see more emphasis on teaching students the practical skills they will need in life, such as financial management and emotional intelligence, meaning a young person's abilities to understand and manage their emotions as they relate to themselves and others.

The Island's 124 districts, 476,000 students and 35,800 teachers are in the middle of a school year in which schools are still flush with federal COVID money and students continue to settle back into academic routines disrupted by the pandemic. 

Here are some of the top upcoming education issues.

The federal infusion of some $500 million to Long Island schools — allocated by Congress as part of three relief packages in 2020 and 2021 — will dry up this year. School districts must earmark their money by Sept. 30.

Districts have spent the pandemic-recovery money for initiatives ranging from math tutoring to psychological counseling to installation of air ventilation systems.

The funding loss will have varying effects, depending on how districts invested the money. But the fiscal cliff, as some planners call it, could result in tax increases, staffing losses and budget cuts.

Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socioeconomic Policy, said he does not expect any increase in state aid to make up for the loss of these federal funds.

"This is going to be a dicey [next] year," Cantor said. "Without that money, school boards are going to have to cut programs or staff."

The Middle Country district in Brookhaven Town used $1.5 million in federal aid to hire a dozen teachers to reduce class size at the elementary level, so the loss is "going to affect us pretty seriously," Superintendent Roberta Gerold said.

"I'm hoping we don't have to reduce programs," said Gerold of the district, which has about 9,500 students.

Without the additional teachers, class sizes would have reached 24 to 26 students at the elementary level. Their addition resulted in class sizes between 22 to 25, she said.

In the Plainview-Old Bethpage district, Superintendent Mary O'Meara said officials used $4.8 million in aid to hire 48 teachers and online instructors for the 1,000 students who remained at home and learned remotely during the 2020-21 school year. 

The district also spent $760,000 to run the summer enrichment program for K-8 students in 2021 along with additional support for an increase in preschool students who required special education services, she said.

"We're not expecting additional state aid. I think we will have to increase taxes within the [levy] limit or make cuts," she said.

Bob Vecchio, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, said he does not expect the funding stop to greatly affect the Island as a whole.

"Most schools invested in short-term expenditures, not long-term, so I don't think we'll see a huge financial cliff," Vecchio said.

Island school leaders say they have gone through a paradigm shift regarding A.I. this past year, from thinking it will be a digital cheating machine to believing it can help teachers teach and students learn.

Officials are still figuring out the best ways to enhance education with A.I., and there's still confusion and some fear regarding its use.

ChatGPT — which was launched in late 2022 and can produce an essay, solve a math problem or write computer code from a single written prompt — remains a charged subject.

"Our teachers are nervous. We're nervous, but we're gearing up," Gerold said. "We're figuring out the best way to use it to inform instruction and do it in a way that's responsible."

Elsewhere, Gerold said she's increasingly concerned about students, particularly those in middle school, misusing social media, whether it's posting inappropriate pictures or comments.

"I don't think they understand the long-term impact," she said. "In middle school, they're less able to handle stuff. They're at a crossroads in their lives."

Long Island educators said they’re seeing more and more students who can’t keep their hands off their cellphones during class. The problem, they add, worsened after students returned from the COVID pandemic, when kids learned remotely and relied on their phones to connect to the outside world.

Some Island districts are either adopting or considering policies to restrict the use of cellphones in school.

State education officials are looking into reducing the role of Regents exams in graduation requirements, though no formal action is expected this year, said Roger Tilles, Long Island’s representative to the state Board of Regents.

An advisory commission recommended in November to reduce the role of the century-old, three-hour tests, augmenting them with newly created "performance-based" assessments. The plan has won endorsements from groups representing schoolteachers, superintendents and school board trustees, while others have denounced it as a threat to academic standards.

"I don't think that we'll see any major changes this year. It will take at least a year to sift through the recommendations in the report," Tilles said. He added, "I think we'll see drastic change in both the content and the way the test is given."

Tilles said he expects the Regents tests would remain in place but there would likely be "some kind of performance or project" factored in.

He's eager to see more education on the skills students need in the real world, including financial literacy, critical thinking, problem solving and the ability to sift through media accounts to determine the most accurate news sources, he said.

Under current rules, students generally must pass four or five Regents exams in order to receive diplomas. 

Districts saw the number of reported computer hacks and other cyber incidents more than double in 2022 — to 23 — compared with the prior year, according to the latest state data reviewed by Newsday. Comparable statistics are not available for 2023.

About half of the problems came from worker mistakes such as opening a link with a virus, exposing students' disabilities, psychological evaluations or placements in special education.

Across the country, schools remain a popular target for cybercriminals, and Island schools continue to shield their systems.

The Uniondale district, like many on Long Island, continues to train employees on the dangers of links that look safe but hold malicious viruses, Superintendent Monique Darrisaw-Akil said. 

"The most important thing is teaching users what to click and what not to click," said Darrisaw-Akil, adding that the district also employs two-step authentication for users, making them use a password as well as respond to a text with a code sent to their cellphone.

School shootings and security in general remain a top concern for administrators. There were 37 school shootings with injuries or deaths last year. There were 51 in 2022 and 35 in 2021, according to Education Week, a news service that covers public education.

On Thursday, a Perry High School student in Iowa shot and killed a sixth grader and wounded four other students and a school administrator before killing himself, officials said.

In Westbury, school officials are revamping their security cameras with those offering higher definition, as well as adding some in areas that had not been monitored, Superintendent Tahira DuPree Chase said.

In addition, the district recently hired a supervisor of school security, she said.

The Port Washington district shared the results of a security audit with the public in the fall and is looking to hire three additional security guards, add a (donated) security vehicle and replace and add security cameras, Superintendent Michael Hynes said. The costs should total $350,000, he said.

Nearly four years after COVID-19 scrambled school life, educators are still grappling with the social and emotional damage and education lost to months of remote and hybrid learning, educators say.

The Westbury district is among those that has opened "wellness spaces" where students and staff can go to get some respite. Each school designed its own space in Westbury, so some have a little water fountain or a massage chair with calming music, Chase said.

"We are still recovering from the pandemic, catching up academically and with social and emotional learning," Chase said. 

The district added a psychotherapist consultant, who is assessing the district's social and emotional needs and training staff on them, she said.

To address learning loss, the district provided Saturday classes that students at the elementary and middle school level can sign up for, including math, English, science and the performing arts.

"We started it last year. It became so popular I had to open more classes," Chase said.

In the Riverhead district, where 80% of students speak Spanish, administrators are working with them in a committee dedicated to enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion, said Emily Sanz, director of DEI, English as a new language and other special programs. 

"These are critical issues in Riverhead," she said. "We want to prepare our students for a globalized world."

More Island districts can offer free meals to all students this year, thanks to an influx of more than $134.6 million in state funding for breakfast and lunch programs statewide.

During the pandemic, schools across the nation offered meals to all students — regardless of income — under changes made by the federal government. But that program ended at the start of 2022-23.

Beginning this month, all students in the Lindenhurst district are eligible to receive a free breakfast and lunch, officials said. 

Long Island educators are already preparing for next school year, focusing on the loss of federal COVID-19 relief money, keeping pace with artificial intelligence, and providing services to manage students' emotional health and learning loss from the pandemic.

District superintendents are crafting budget proposals for the 2024-25 school year, which begins in September. School boards have until early May to adopt budgets. The public vote on them and school board elections occurs May 21.

On the state level, Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to discuss education priorities in her State of the State address Tuesday. The State Legislature has until March 31 to adopt a budget.

Looking ahead, educators say they see more emphasis on teaching students the practical skills they will need in life, such as financial management and emotional intelligence, meaning a young person's abilities to understand and manage their emotions as they relate to themselves and others.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Long Island educators are already preparing for next school year, focusing on the loss of federal COVID-19 relief money, keeping pace with artificial intelligence, and providing services to manage students' emotional health and learning loss from the pandemic.
  • District superintendents are crafting budget proposals for the 2024-25 school year, which begins in September.
  • School boards have until early May to adopt budgets. The public vote on these budgets and school board elections occurs May 21.

The Island's 124 districts, 476,000 students and 35,800 teachers are in the middle of a school year in which schools are still flush with federal COVID money and students continue to settle back into academic routines disrupted by the pandemic. 

Here are some of the top upcoming education issues.

The loss of federal pandemic funding is "going to affect...

The loss of federal pandemic funding is "going to affect us pretty seriously," Middle Country schools Superintendent Roberta Gerold said.  Credit: Newsday /Newsday Staff

Loss of federal pandemic aid

The federal infusion of some $500 million to Long Island schools — allocated by Congress as part of three relief packages in 2020 and 2021 — will dry up this year. School districts must earmark their money by Sept. 30.

Districts have spent the pandemic-recovery money for initiatives ranging from math tutoring to psychological counseling to installation of air ventilation systems.

The funding loss will have varying effects, depending on how districts invested the money. But the fiscal cliff, as some planners call it, could result in tax increases, staffing losses and budget cuts.

Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socioeconomic Policy, said he does not expect any increase in state aid to make up for the loss of these federal funds.

"This is going to be a dicey [next] year," Cantor said. "Without that money, school boards are going to have to cut programs or staff."

The Middle Country district in Brookhaven Town used $1.5 million in federal aid to hire a dozen teachers to reduce class size at the elementary level, so the loss is "going to affect us pretty seriously," Superintendent Roberta Gerold said.

"I'm hoping we don't have to reduce programs," said Gerold of the district, which has about 9,500 students.

Without the additional teachers, class sizes would have reached 24 to 26 students at the elementary level. Their addition resulted in class sizes between 22 to 25, she said.

In the Plainview-Old Bethpage district, Superintendent Mary O'Meara said officials used $4.8 million in aid to hire 48 teachers and online instructors for the 1,000 students who remained at home and learned remotely during the 2020-21 school year. 

The district also spent $760,000 to run the summer enrichment program for K-8 students in 2021 along with additional support for an increase in preschool students who required special education services, she said.

"We're not expecting additional state aid. I think we will have to increase taxes within the [levy] limit or make cuts," she said.

Bob Vecchio, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, said he does not expect the funding stop to greatly affect the Island as a whole.

"Most schools invested in short-term expenditures, not long-term, so I don't think we'll see a huge financial cliff," Vecchio said.

Educators' attitudes toward the use of AI continue to evolve. A...

Educators' attitudes toward the use of AI continue to evolve. A student tries out a virtual reality headset in a Molloy University class last month.  Credit: Jeff Bachner

Artificial Intelligence

Island school leaders say they have gone through a paradigm shift regarding A.I. this past year, from thinking it will be a digital cheating machine to believing it can help teachers teach and students learn.

Officials are still figuring out the best ways to enhance education with A.I., and there's still confusion and some fear regarding its use.

ChatGPT — which was launched in late 2022 and can produce an essay, solve a math problem or write computer code from a single written prompt — remains a charged subject.

"Our teachers are nervous. We're nervous, but we're gearing up," Gerold said. "We're figuring out the best way to use it to inform instruction and do it in a way that's responsible."

Elsewhere, Gerold said she's increasingly concerned about students, particularly those in middle school, misusing social media, whether it's posting inappropriate pictures or comments.

"I don't think they understand the long-term impact," she said. "In middle school, they're less able to handle stuff. They're at a crossroads in their lives."

Long Island educators said they’re seeing more and more students who can’t keep their hands off their cellphones during class. The problem, they add, worsened after students returned from the COVID pandemic, when kids learned remotely and relied on their phones to connect to the outside world.

Some Island districts are either adopting or considering policies to restrict the use of cellphones in school.

Newly created "performance-based" assessments eventually could augment Regents exams.

Newly created "performance-based" assessments eventually could augment Regents exams. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Regents exams / graduation requirements

State education officials are looking into reducing the role of Regents exams in graduation requirements, though no formal action is expected this year, said Roger Tilles, Long Island’s representative to the state Board of Regents.

An advisory commission recommended in November to reduce the role of the century-old, three-hour tests, augmenting them with newly created "performance-based" assessments. The plan has won endorsements from groups representing schoolteachers, superintendents and school board trustees, while others have denounced it as a threat to academic standards.

"I don't think that we'll see any major changes this year. It will take at least a year to sift through the recommendations in the report," Tilles said. He added, "I think we'll see drastic change in both the content and the way the test is given."

Tilles said he expects the Regents tests would remain in place but there would likely be "some kind of performance or project" factored in.

He's eager to see more education on the skills students need in the real world, including financial literacy, critical thinking, problem solving and the ability to sift through media accounts to determine the most accurate news sources, he said.

Under current rules, students generally must pass four or five Regents exams in order to receive diplomas. 

School security remains a top concern for administrators. Above, a police...

School security remains a top concern for administrators. Above, a police presence at Walt Whitman High School last fall, as districts across Long Island elevated security after Hamas called for worldwide protests.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

Security and cybersecurity

Districts saw the number of reported computer hacks and other cyber incidents more than double in 2022 — to 23 — compared with the prior year, according to the latest state data reviewed by Newsday. Comparable statistics are not available for 2023.

About half of the problems came from worker mistakes such as opening a link with a virus, exposing students' disabilities, psychological evaluations or placements in special education.

Across the country, schools remain a popular target for cybercriminals, and Island schools continue to shield their systems.

The Uniondale district, like many on Long Island, continues to train employees on the dangers of links that look safe but hold malicious viruses, Superintendent Monique Darrisaw-Akil said. 

"The most important thing is teaching users what to click and what not to click," said Darrisaw-Akil, adding that the district also employs two-step authentication for users, making them use a password as well as respond to a text with a code sent to their cellphone.

School shootings and security in general remain a top concern for administrators. There were 37 school shootings with injuries or deaths last year. There were 51 in 2022 and 35 in 2021, according to Education Week, a news service that covers public education.

On Thursday, a Perry High School student in Iowa shot and killed a sixth grader and wounded four other students and a school administrator before killing himself, officials said.

In Westbury, school officials are revamping their security cameras with those offering higher definition, as well as adding some in areas that had not been monitored, Superintendent Tahira DuPree Chase said.

In addition, the district recently hired a supervisor of school security, she said.

The Port Washington district shared the results of a security audit with the public in the fall and is looking to hire three additional security guards, add a (donated) security vehicle and replace and add security cameras, Superintendent Michael Hynes said. The costs should total $350,000, he said.

Educators are still catching up with learning loss and disruptions...

Educators are still catching up with learning loss and disruptions caused by the pandemic.

  Credit: Craig Ruttle

Emotional needs / learning loss

Nearly four years after COVID-19 scrambled school life, educators are still grappling with the social and emotional damage and education lost to months of remote and hybrid learning, educators say.

The Westbury district is among those that has opened "wellness spaces" where students and staff can go to get some respite. Each school designed its own space in Westbury, so some have a little water fountain or a massage chair with calming music, Chase said.

"We are still recovering from the pandemic, catching up academically and with social and emotional learning," Chase said. 

The district added a psychotherapist consultant, who is assessing the district's social and emotional needs and training staff on them, she said.

To address learning loss, the district provided Saturday classes that students at the elementary and middle school level can sign up for, including math, English, science and the performing arts.

"We started it last year. It became so popular I had to open more classes," Chase said.

In the Riverhead district, where 80% of students speak Spanish, administrators are working with them in a committee dedicated to enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion, said Emily Sanz, director of DEI, English as a new language and other special programs. 

"These are critical issues in Riverhead," she said. "We want to prepare our students for a globalized world."

Jillian LaGreco, left, and Gina Miller prep and serve free...

Jillian LaGreco, left, and Gina Miller prep and serve free meals to students at the Albany Avenue School in the Lindenhurst district on Thursday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Free meals

More Island districts can offer free meals to all students this year, thanks to an influx of more than $134.6 million in state funding for breakfast and lunch programs statewide.

During the pandemic, schools across the nation offered meals to all students — regardless of income — under changes made by the federal government. But that program ended at the start of 2022-23.

Beginning this month, all students in the Lindenhurst district are eligible to receive a free breakfast and lunch, officials said. 

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