Decision Reached, Huntington Looks Forward
Now that the Huntington School Board has decided to reorganize the district’s elementary grade level students for 2010/11, spreading the youngsters among four K-4 schools and designating Woodhull as a fifth and sixth grade building, Superintendent John J. Finello is looking ahead to the new school year.
For the first time since it opened in September 1969, Jack Abrams School, which was originally named Huntington Elementary School, will not be hosting classes on the first day of school. Mr. Finello began his teaching career at Huntington El in September 1972 so the building contains years of memories for him.
The district is in a period of adjustment. “Our goal is to make whatever changes are needed in the smoothest possible fashion,” Mr. Finello said Incoming fourth graders will be returning to the same primary school they attended as third graders. All fifth and sixth graders will be coming together under one roof at Woodhull.
There are strongly held opinions on both sides of the issue about whether or not to continue educating elementary students at Jack Abrams School. “Now that the decision has been made, all of our teachers and administrators are working to make sure students have a wonderful experience this coming year,” Mr. Finello said
The superintendent attended school in Huntington from kindergarten through high school, graduating in June 1968. Mr. Finello returned to teach here after earning an undergraduate degree at St. John’s University and is nearing the end of his fourth decade as a teacher and administrator in the district.
The long tenure has allowed Mr. Finello to have a box seat on numerous tumultuous decisions and events through the years. Almost immediately after starting work here, he saw trustees vote to close Village Green and Woodhull elementary schools and later shut down R.L. Simpson and Robert K. Toaz junior high schools and Nathan Hale Elementary School. Just before he kicked off his Huntington career, trustees decided to close Woodbury Avenue School and Lincoln Elementary School.
“Each of these schools was beloved by parents and students,” Mr. Finello said. “There were meetings that went to 1 or 2 a.m. But, after the decisions were made and everyone spoke their mind, the community rallied to make sure students continued to enjoy an exceptional education. That’s what we intend to do now.”
To be clear, trustees have not voted to close Jack Abrams School, but are merely reconfiguring on the elementary grade level. District offices will still be located at Jack Abrams School and officials have said other educational programs could be located there at some point in the future.
Administrators are working out the details related to shuffling some teachers and support staff to new building assignments, developing creative and efficient schedules to handle increased building enrollments and freeing up needed classrooms.
Joan Fretz, the district’s director of fine and performing arts, is working on plans to deliver art and music instruction in the five elementary school buildings. Fourth graders will be enrolled at Jefferson, Flower Hill, Southdown and Washington schools for the first time in many years and they will be receiving instrumental music lessons.
“We will all need to pitch in and help make this work,” Mr. Finello said. “Huntington has a very professional staff and we’re confident everyone will rise to the occasion and provide a great education for every student.”
The district hopes the town and county follows through on their stated intention to make the Huntington Station community safer. In the meantime, officials are working on various ideas for programs and services that could be based at Jack Abrams School, including a regular school day alternative high school program.
The summer continues to be a busy time. The district has been interviewing candidates for several administrative openings, including district directors of math, science and guidance. Numerous buildings and grounds projects are underway in seven buildings. Supplies, equipment and teacher materials are being moved between buildings following the decision to reconfigure.
There are many challenges lying ahead apart from issues involving Jack Abrams School. State finances are precarious and the state budget is said to already be significantly out of balance, both of which could negatively affect state aid, assessed property values are lower than last year, putting upward pressure on tax rates, federal stimulus funds that flowed to the district will run out at the end of the school year and the two state retirement systems are expected to significantly increase their contribution rates.
There is still plenty of passion in the community when it comes to the decision to move elementary students out of Jack Abrams School for 2010/11. But, Mr. Finello said he hopes “everyone will rally and band together over the next month and make the new school year a great one.”