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Long IslandEducation

Back-to-school on LI: Most students start class within 3 days after Labor Day

The "first days" of instruction are in a tighter time frame this year across the Island's 124 public school districts. One system will begin class on Aug. 29 and the others kick off on Sept. 4, 5 or 6.

West Hempstead schools Superintendent Dan Rehman at the

West Hempstead schools Superintendent Dan Rehman at the Chestnut Street School, where workers are clearing and cleaning a classroom on Monday in preparation for back-to-school. Photo Credit: Uli Seit

Most students in Long Island's public schools will kick off the 2018-19 academic year on one of the three days following Labor Day, with 111 of 124 districts across Nassau and Suffolk counties holding the first day of class on Sept. 4 or Sept. 5 and 12 systems on Sept. 6.

One district — Jericho — is slated to hold its first instructional day during the last week of August. Teachers and staff will report on Aug. 28 for a conference day, and students will begin classes the next day, a Wednesday, and continue through that Friday. The district is closed for Labor Day on Monday, Sept. 3.

The staggered nature of students' back-to-school days is typical for the Island, driven by when Labor Day falls and whether teachers unions in individual districts adhere to contracts specifying that classes begin after the holiday.

This year's opening days are in a relatively compact time frame. Last year, for example, there were seven different "first days" spread over a 10-day span.

Of the Island's public school systems, Jericho usually schedules the longest year, with a 186-day academic calendar. Most public schools set calendars that fall between the state-mandated minimum of 180 days of classroom instruction and 184 days. The number of days of instruction above 180 is a matter of district choice.

Officials in the Jericho district noted the value of the extra time.

“We negotiated [with teachers] for a longer calendar about 15 years ago, under the notion that more is better,” said Henry L. Grishman, superintendent of the 3,100-student system.

“I believe philosophically that a longer school day is better for kids and a longer school year is better for kids,” he said.

After Labor Day, classes start in 47 districts on Sept. 4, 64 districts on Sept. 5 and 12 districts on Sept. 6. One district — William Floyd, based in Mastic Beach — splits start dates for students between Sept. 5 and 6.

In addition to the Jericho district, administrators, teachers and staff in 55 districts are slated to report for conference days or staff development days in the last week of August.

Opening days in private and parochial schools vary as well. Many schools under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Rockville Centre's Department of Education begin classes on Sept. 5 or 6.

Some have tailored their start. For example, Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, which serves grades 6 through 12, will hold a day of orientation for new students in grades six, seven and nine on Aug. 29, widen that to include all students in those grades on Aug. 30 and 31, and have the first day of class for students in all grades on Sept. 4.

Later in September, public schools are closed for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 10 and 11 and Yom Kippur on Sept. 19.

The Hicksville district is among those that will be closed Nov. 7 during observance of Diwali, a key Hindu holiday known as the “Festival of Lights” that was built into the school calendar for the first time last year.

Marianne Litzman, the district's superintendent, said the district has 180 instructional days and its 5,300-plus students will report Sept. 4 for the first day of classes.

“It is a very hopeful and exciting time,” she said. “Students are eager from the summer to come back and see all of their friends and … there is a lot of energy in the air."

Students in the William Floyd district start over two days, with kindergartners through ninth-graders beginning class on Sept. 5 and those in the 10th through 12th grades starting school the next day. With that approach, school officials said, freshmen have a day of introduction to the high school before the older students also are in the building.

As the first day of high school can sometimes feel overwhelming for students, “we believe that this one day helps to ease the transition from middle school to high school,” district spokesman James Montalto said.

For West Hempstead Superintendent Dan Rehman, the Sept. 5 opening day in the 2,000-student district's five schools will mark his first year as the top administrator in the system. He was recently named superintendent and aims to go from school to school at the various times students arrive.

He said he definitely will be at the Chestnut Street School — the district’s Kindergarten Center — where a ritual on the first day of school is the taking of photos of teachers, staff, and the new students with their families.

“Opening day does set the tone for the year,” Rehman said.

Kenneth Bossert, superintendent of the Elwood district and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, noted the importance of districts' conference days before the start of school, when all staff and employees report to work. In Elwood, the conference day is Sept. 4 and students return on Sept. 5.

Bossert said the district likes to bring the entire faculty, staff and Board of Education together to prepare for the new school year.

Each year has a different theme, and this year’s is “mindfulness,” with school leaders looking at ways to incorporate that philosophy into the curriculum.

He said the first day is one of the most exciting days of the school year.

“I would have to say the students don’t sleep the night before and neither do the teachers … or the superintendent,” Bossert said. “It is a pleasant mix of both excitement and anxiety.”

With Bart Jones

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