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State of the Schools: Byrne Speaks

School boss Eric Byrne welcomed back Rye City School District families with his first Friday email for the school year. Byrne covers critical thinking, mental health and AI, among other topics.

(PHOTO: Rye City School District Superintendent Dr. Eric Byrne at the official Rye City School District weather station.)
(PHOTO: Rye City School District Superintendent Dr. Eric Byrne at the official Rye City School District weather station.)

Read it:

Dear Rye Community,

I hope you have had a terrific summer. I am sure you have missed my Friday Community Updates, but no need to worry, I am back and will be in your inbox every Friday afternoon this school year!

We are looking forward to welcoming everyone back to school. Our first day of school for students is Wednesday, September 6. Faculty and staff will begin preparing for the school year at a Superintendent’s Conference Day on Tuesday, September 5.

Our goal as a school district, as stated in the Rye Commitment, is to provide all the necessary support for our students to “become socially responsible, caring citizens who can think critically, communicate effectively, collaborate and creatively solve problems in a diverse global environment.”

Over the past few years, we have strategically added programs, supports, and pathways that enable students to pursue their interests, learn about themselves, and begin to define their futures after graduation. Our new programs are responsive to our students’ needs, interests, and the changing world beyond Rye. We are proud of our efforts in improving literacy and math instruction, our expanded life skills programs, exciting new pathways to graduation at RHS, increased social-emotional learning programming, and mental health supports.

It’s clear that the world is changing and our graduates need different skills than they did in the past, including the ability to think critically, collaborate with others, communicate effectively, and problem-solve. Preparing our students for life and success beyond Rye has been at the forefront of our work and will continue to be a high priority for the 2023-2024 school year.

Critical Thinking

Society is facing complex challenges that cannot be solved without critical thinking. Finding ways to imbue critical thinking into everyday teaching is the District’s top focus for the 2023-2024 school year. Two professional development classes offered over the summer, “Building Thinking Classrooms” and “Next Level Classroom Instruction” provided teachers with practical tips for incorporating critical thinking exercises in the classroom. For the remainder of the year, the majority of our in-house professional development at Superintendent’s Conference Days and faculty meetings will center around how to develop critical thinking skills through classroom instruction.

Professional Learning

Almost 100 of our faculty and staff have taken advantage of professional learning opportunities over the summer. Forty-two teachers and administrators attended the second annual two-day SEL (Social Emotional Learning) Institute in late June to learn how to foster student growth while prioritizing student well-being. The focus this year was on using writing as a means for reflection and using literature and read-alouds to promote empathy. Teachers left with a toolbox of practical ideas and strategies to use with students. For the second year, a group of elementary school teachers began a year-long course focused on incorporating grammar into the classroom. A group of K-2 teachers took a course on the new writing units of study which incorporate phonics, decoding, spelling, and grammar. Thirteen K-8 teachers took a class on building thinking classrooms that provide strategies for promoting critical thinking as part of daily classroom instruction. Another group of teachers took a class on how to use the new Promethean boards.

Student Mental Health

The mental health of students continues to be a driving concern. The COVID pandemic resulted in increased depression and anxiety among school-aged children, and its effects are still being felt. The District is in year three of a partnership with Effective School Solution (ESS). ESS provides two clinicians who support students with mild to moderate mental health challenges. The District is in the process of opening a mental health clinic in conjunction with Westchester Jewish Community Services. The clinic will offer school district families expanded access to mental health, trauma, and substance use treatment for children, adolescents, adults, and families. Through the support of County Legislator Catherine Parker and County Executive George Latimer, funding was secured to create the mental health clinic.  We received approval from the New York State Office of Mental Health over the summer and anticipate an early fall opening with the clinic operating three days per week.

Construction Update

You may have noticed some construction taking place at school buildings over the summer. In addition to routine cleaning, painting, and maintenance the District has been busy making some important upgrades.

At Rye High School, we’ve been working with Con Edison to complete installation of a high-pressure gas system. The High School cafeteria has new flooring and a fresh paint job. The main corridor of the school also received a much-needed facelift with new flooring and paint. Many classrooms and hallways are freshly painted. At Rye Middle School, we’ve removed all the carpeting in the 6th-grade wing, replacing it with new flooring that can stand up to many middle school feet. The RMS hallway has a new ceiling and lighting, and the RMS MPR staircase has been revamped to bring it up to fire code.

At every school, the District has been busy installing new interactive Promethean board display panels in classrooms. Promethean boards are interactive whiteboards that allow teachers to project images from a computer, tablet, or external camera. A big “thank you” to the Rye Fund for Education for providing the funding for 28 boards. There are now three at Midland, three at Milton, five at Osborn, and 10 at the High School/Middle School. Twenty more are on order and will be installed as they arrive. There is also lots of new flexible furniture around the District. Look out for it at Back to School night(s).

Over 8,000 square feet of flooring was replaced at Milton and Osborn Schools, and Midland classrooms received a fresh coat of paint.

Website Upgrade

The District’s technology department has been at work creating a new RCSD website, due to launch in early October. The website will feature many upgrades and will be small-screen friendly, meaning that everything you see on a desktop or laptop computer will be visible on phones, tablets, etc. There will be no more need for an app as everything will be viewable on every device. More information will follow as we prepare to launch the new site. For now, everything you need is on the existing site.

Security

Safety and security remain top of mind at the RCSD.  Attached please find a helpful safety guide for parents and guardians.

We are continuing to upgrade the District’s security hardware. We are currently installing new PA (public address) systems at the three elementary schools and adding SALTO electronic smart door locksets to all classroom doors. Curiously, there is a lingering pandemic-related door deficit. The District has been waiting to receive new classroom doors for several years now. Midland’s door installation and SALTO hardware installation are complete. Osborn’s is in process, with 14 doors that arrived in mid-August. Milton’s doors have been on order and we are awaiting delivery. Osborn’s new Public Address system is complete, while Midland and Milton’s are installed and undergoing testing. All RHS students have picture ID cards and we are planning to expand this to RMS students as well. Once school is in session, we will provide RHS and RMS students with an app so they can use their phone as an ID. Beginning in mid-September all RHS and RMS students will be expected to show ID when entering the schools. Look for more information on this coming in September.

The Rye Police Department held a three-day tactical training session at the Rye High School/Middle School campus during the second week of August. These drills give our police officers the invaluable opportunity to familiarize themselves with the school building layout. We are working with our Rye PD partners on scheduling similar drills at the elementary schools in the future. We are grateful for the Rye PD’s partnership as we work to keep our students, faculty, and staff safe.

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Artificial Intelligence is much in the news these days. Its effects are being felt everywhere, from Hollywood to academia, and our schools are no exception. As is the case with most technology, there are good and bad sides to AI. AI can be a good teacher tool. It can be used to find examples and succinctly summarize a concept. It can be used to provide an outline for students who struggle with classroom note-taking. The District has been working with department coordinators (heads) to learn about AI and how to talk to students about what it is and when to use it. With any new technology, there is so much unknown and we need to be thoughtful about the risks associated with such an emerging application that has not been researched thoroughly.

Alternatively, AI tools can be used to complete writing assignments, and potentially, to cheat. While AI writing is becoming more sophisticated, teachers are able to differentiate between a student’s usual writing and an assignment completed with the help of AI. In addition, teachers also have a number of tools (please forgive me for not being transparent about what those are) to detect the use of AI in student writing. Nonetheless, it is clear that our teachers will need to adjust their assignments, and they will also need to explicitly tell students whether the use of AI to complete a particular task is acceptable or not. In addition, the High School and Middle School Academic Integrity Policy has been updated to provide guidelines around the use of AI.

Changing College Admissions Landscape

Even if your children are many moons away from the college application process, you have probably seen a copious amount of media coverage about the very fluid college admissions process. While once good grades, strong ACT, SAT, and AP scores, and being from a town like Rye, were usually enough to ensure admission to a competitive school, that may no longer be a certainty. Rye High School is teaming up with Rye Country Day School to bring renowned author and speaker Jeff Selingo to Rye to help shed some light on the current college admissions landscape on Wednesday, November 29, at 7:00 p.m. at Rye Country Day School. Author of “Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside the College Admissions Process,” (Scribner, 2020) Selingo will help parents and students understand how college admissions decisions are made and how to honestly assess their strengths and match with the schools that will ultimately best serve their interests.

The RHS Administrative Team and School Counseling Department have been working on a presentation for early this fall about the college admissions process specific to Rye High School. It will provide parents with an inside look at the changing college application and admissions landscape, an overview of RHS admission trends, and insight into what the RHS school counseling department does to provide support through the process.  Look for more information on this in the fall.

Fall Sports and Extracurriculars

The fall sports season is already underway. The football team reported for practice on August 19 and all other high school fall sports kicked off on August 21. Tryouts for fall sports took place this week with teams being chosen and rosters completed today. At RMS, modified sports begin on September 7. Extracurricular activities and clubs generally begin a few weeks after the start of school to give students a chance to settle into their schedules.

The Game

Due to the reclassification of both the Rye and Harrison varsity football teams, the 96th annual Rye-Harrison football game must be played outside of the regular season in order for the teams to meet. The Game takes place on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, Saturday, September 2, at 1:30 p.m. The Game will be played away at Harrison this year; alternating fields between Rye and Harrison is part of the tradition.

We recognize that this is not ideal timing for those families who plan to be away for Labor Day. Unfortunately, this is the only date the matchup could occur. Both the Rye and Harrison varsity football teams were re-classified by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) this year. Classifications are determined by the size of a school population. Rye High School has been reclassified as a Class B school and Harrison is a Class A school for the purposes of football. This means that the teams would not meet during the course of the regular season. To continue the tradition of the Rye-Harrison Game, the teams must play outside the regular season. The only date that worked for both teams is Saturday, September 2. We hope you will be able to join us in person or watch the matchup on Local Live. Go Garnets!

Enjoy the remainder of the summer!

Sincerely,
Eric Byrne, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

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