Children in the Uniondale school district headed back to class for the first day of the new academic year on Tuesday.
“We’re excited about all the great things this new school year has in store for us,” Superintendent Monique Darrisaw-Akil said.
For many young students, like Alisha Fenner’s children, a second-grader and a kindergartner, it was the first in-person first day since the pandemic. Parents and guardians watched with mixed emotions as they said goodbye to their kids, grateful for the return to a sense of normalcy and hoping for a bright academic future for them. “It was bittersweet,” Fenner told the Herald, “but they’re really excited to start school.”
The district has undergone some major changes and renovations, with much of the construction still being completed. But Linda Rocco, a sixth- and seventh-grade math teacher at Turtle Hook Middle School, said that, despite the ongoing makeover, she was impressed with the fast-moving effort to get everything ready for Day One. “It went off without a hitch,” Rocco said, excitedly adding that the first day back in class was “absolutely fabulous.”
There are a new track and field, bleachers, tennis court and an extension of the parking lot at the high school, and upgrades of the gyms, libraries, restrooms, cafeterias and irrigation systems at the elementary schools. Other districtwide improvements include new heating systems, freshly painted walls, classroom and electrical safety upgrades, improvements to fire alarms, and new security vestibules and door-locking systems. The district is also streamlining communications among students, parents and administrators with a new app, Uniondale UUFSD, NY.
“Last week there was a lot of construction still going on, and we were all wondering how we were even going to get in this building,” Rocco said, “but they worked hard to get us in here and pulled this off.”
She also said she was looking forward to what this year has in store for her students. “I want all of my kids to reach their potential,” Rocco said. “There are no limits on these kids — they can do anything they set their mind to with the right support, and we have a ton of that here for them in Uniondale.”
Fenner also weighed in on the new upgrades, saying she was excited to see the finished products and happy that her children get to go to a school with updated facilities and a good support system.
The district, which, according to its website, is committed to “empowering every Uniondale scholar to be responsible, resilient, and prepared for leadership, college, and careers,” had the second-largest senior class in the district’s history in June, with 470 seniors — behind only 2004’s record of 505.
Fifty-seven percent of the most recent graduates earned Regents diplomas, and 37 percent were awarded Advanced Regents diplomas. Not only are 84 percent of last year’s seniors attending college this semester, but 44 percent are at four-year universities — the highest percentage from Uniondale in years. District administrators say they are working to improve on those numbers, and have high hopes for this academic year.
“Our teachers, administrators and staff have been planning all summer to launch new curriculum initiatives and exciting new courses,” Darrisaw-Akil said, “and thanks to the support of the community, we are in the process of enhancing our school buildings and athletic fields, and we are ready for a year of limitless possibilities for our scholars.”
The district is now offering students a total of 21 Advanced Placement courses. “This is really important,” Darrisaw-Akil said in July, when the AP schedule was announced. “The data across New York state shows that students of color have less access to AP courses in comparison to other students, and we know that Advanced Placement achievement is one of the gateways to getting into more elite colleges.”
The Uniondale district, which is 60 percent Hispanic and almost 40 percent Black, is continuing to focus on offering it students additional resources to help ensure their success, in an effort to go above and beyond what other districts might do.
“Our school district never sleeps,” Darrisaw-Akil said.