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Island Park last district back to school after Sandy

A banner welcoming students back again greeted the

A banner welcoming students back again greeted the middle and elementary school students now being housed at Lincoln Orens Middle School. (Nov. 14, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

All 124 of Long Island's school districts were operating Wednesday for the first time in more than two weeks, with students' return to classrooms in storm-battered Island Park.

Superstorm Sandy's strike on Oct. 29 closed districts for unprecedented periods of up to 12 working days across Nassau and Suffolk counties, damaging an estimated 100 schools and disrupting classes for more than 450,000 students.

Across the worst-hit areas of southern Nassau, the East Rockaway, Island Park and Long Beach districts all held classes in limited numbers of schools Wednesday, while other buildings are under repair.

Island Park -- the last district to reopen -- gathered about 550 students in grades K-8 at its Lincoln Orens Middle School. Meanwhile, work crews continued removing sandy muck from the district's other building, the Francis X. Hegarty Elementary School, which was inundated by 4 feet of saltwater at the storm's peak.

Local high school students attend classes in other districts or in private schools.

"We're getting back on our feet," said Matt Paccione, 26, a newly elected school board trustee and community liaison for Assemb. Brian Curran (R-Lynbrook). "We're Island Parkers, and we may get down a little. But we'll come back stronger."

With traffic lights still out, the Island Park students had no buses. Early gym and chorus classes were canceled, as were parent-teacher conferences.

On the brighter side, a sign inside the Orens school entrance proclaimed: "Welcome back! Together -- again -- we are better." The school served free breakfast and lunch for all youngsters who showed up, and that wasn't all that was free.

"They gave me extra supplies, because of the ones I lost," said Dylan Donovan, 12, a seventh-grader.

Cheryl Pal, 58, a longtime music teacher in the district, explained that backpacks, notebooks and other school supplies distributed Wednesday were all donations -- many from out-of-state. Pal added that student turnout was heartening, because a neighborhood survey conducted last week in Island Park found just 178 youngsters of school age remaining there.

"We were astounded," said Pal, who with other teachers and firefighters had hosted a Saturday barbecue aimed at bringing local residents together.

Elsewhere on the Island, educational leaders are assessing Sandy's impact on school calendars. Most districts lost six to 10 days of classes, and no district lost fewer than two days.

Administrators said that making up for missed classes is a major priority, especially now that state law requires teachers to be evaluated in part on the test performance of their students.

"It's a high-stakes issue," said Gary Bixhorn, chief operating officer of the regional Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

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