Dr. Tonie McDonald
Superintendent of Schools
LEADD week is a time when we look to celebrate healthy choices and smart decisions, across our district. As the week progresses, you will receive information about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. At this time, please allow me to share some personal information with you. It is the story of two students - one a Dragon and one a General. I will be using fictitious names to protect their privacy. Both were good students. Both were involved in many activities. Both became addicted to drugs. One died.
John was a student of mine at Division. To say he was bright was an understatement. Whatever he set his mind to, he could do. He had a good family, he was popular and he was even nominated for homecoming king. He was a leader. He started drinking when he was still in High School and progressed to other drugs in college. I learned, just a few years ago, that he had become addicted to heroin. He was in and out of rehab. During one of his sober times he visited me and we talked for a long time. He looked well and it seemed like the fourth rehab would be the one that took.
Jennifer was a student at MacArthur. She went to school with one of my siblings. Like John, she was bright. She got a scholarship to a D1 school for athletics. Jennifer also began drinking in High School. She progressed to Marijuana, then Cocaine. In order to pay for her habit, she stole from her elementary school age nephews. She stole money from the piggy bank of an 8-year-old. Even so, she was quite functional. She landed a great job with a great company. She lasted a year before her job put her in rehab. She was so valuable to the organization that they sent her to a residential rehab facility, costing thousands of dollars. She relapsed. She was fired after she went to rehab a second time on the company's expense. She went a third time.
The third time did it for Jennifer. She has been in recovery for 23 years. She works at it every single day. Those of us who know her and care for her are proud of her. Although she is clean and sober, she has monumental gaps in her memory. She has been in therapy to repair some of the damage she did to herself and at one point had to make amends to her godson for stealing from him. It was a difficult moment for her family, but she was alive.
John did not make it. He overdosed a year and a half ago. Found with him were many letters of encouragement that he had received as he struggled to get hold of his addiction. Mine was among them. No matter how much his family and friends willed him to get better, ultimately heroin grabbed him by the throat and would not let go. Those letters were read at his funeral, filled with Division Avenue graduates who mourned his loss and who loved him dearly. They mourned for the loss of their friend who laughed with them, went on field trips with them and who, on graduation day, seemed to have the most promise for the life ahead.
Alcohol and other drugs affect everyone differently, but in every case, if you ingest drugs, you have given up control of your mind and your body. You think you can control it, but ultimately, it wins and it will change you.
One death to drug abuse is too much. If you are having a problem with addiction, PLEASE let us help. We have staff specially trained to work with you. You are special. You are loved. You are ours. Only your family cares about you more than we do. Just ask. We will be there.
I hope the summer months have provided everyone with some well-deserved relaxation and fun, as well as valuable time with loved ones. During these two months, the district has thoroughly been preparing for the exciting arrival of our students as they enter the first day of school on September 5. Administrators and faculty have used this period to reflect, collaborate, and strengthen their own professional skills, ready to welcome students with open arms with new ideas, lessons, and activities.
Our buildings and grounds department, guided by Mr. Christopher Milano, has worked diligently during the hot summer months to keep our schools in top shape for our incoming students. Thank you to all of our custodians and building staff for your hard work.
Although various educational and recreational programs took place during summer break to keep students engaged academically, mentally and physically, the schools were empty for most of the summer without the students' curiosity and laughter. I look forward to seeing the hallways filled with the smiling faces of our students once again in September, eager to take on the challenges of the new school year and the important lessons ahead.
As a district, you can expect some new changes this year as we have welcomed a number of bright new administrators and faculty members into the Levittown family. I am confident that their experience and insight will help our district grow. We will also continue to reinforce enhanced security in each building with the addition of new security cameras and the implementation of an ID system for visitors. Every visitor will be scanned through a database before gaining entry to our schools, and all secondary school students will be required to use a student ID to enter their building. Seniors who leave the building for lunch will be required to enter and exit through only one set of doors and will be required to use a student ID to reenter the building. With these changes, we continue to make the safety and security of our students and staff the highest priority and take it very seriously, to ensure a successful year.
As with each year, a new school year means new and exciting opportunities. From making new friends to mastering a subject, I wish each and every one of our students the best in the next chapter of their academic career. It's going to be a wonderful year!
Since my last communication with you, we have had an opportunity to meet with our internal stakeholders to discuss our security measures and protocols. I have also had many conversations, both in person, by email and on the phone with parents who have shared with me their thoughts on the alarming rise in school shootings in our country. Although I do not feel comfortable sharing all of our security protocols, I feel that I can share, without compromising the safety of our students and staff, some information about what we have done, continue to do and plan to do to enhance the safety of our students and staff. For more information, please see my Letter to the Community Regarding Our Security Measures.
The sad and tragic loss of young lives in Parkland, Florida has left us all numb. As this event continues to be discussed on the News and on social media, your children may look to you for information and guidance on how to react. Please feel free to use the resources below to help you as you talk with your child. Our hearts and prayers go out to those hurt, either physically or emotionally, by this senseless tragedy.
We are experiencing one of the most disturbing trends we have seen in quite some time. Vaping, which was developed as a way to use tobacco without causing "secondary smoke," has become a vehicle not only for the active ingredients in tobacco, but for the active ingredients in a variety of drugs, including THC and opiates. Vaping, in addition to smoking, is a violation of our Code of Conduct and students caught vaping on school property are subject to discipline. The rise in detentions and suspensions as a result of this trend is troubling, as our students are losing valuable classroom time.
We are very troubled, as I am sure you are, about the uptick in the use of these devices and we will be focusing efforts, more than ever, to educate our students about the dangers associated with these devices. We hope that these efforts will lead to open discussion of this issue, which has plagued districts across Long Island and our nation.
If you believe your student is involved in vaping, smoking or any kind of drug use, kindly contact your school's social worker directly for help.
Tonie McDonald, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Schools
Our summer has drawn to a close, and we are at the beginning of a new school year. Everything's new, possibly even your school. I hope you take the time to get involved in clubs, sports and all of the wonderful and exciting things our district has to offer.
As the year begins, we will be working to collect items to bring to the people devastated by Hurricane Harvey. We hope that you will be involved in that initiative. We cannot control the weather, but we can help those who have been affected in such extraordinary ways. If you are interested, please inquire at your school about how you can help.
I look forward to seeing you at our schools.
Tonie McDonald, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Schools
Alliance To Save Public Education
I am proud to be among group of superintendents from Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties who gathered at South Side High School in Rockville Centre to discuss a legislative proposal to establish a special commission that would create a new teacher
We first came together in late February to draft and sign a letter that urged legislators to separate education reform from the state budget process. To date, the letter has 150 signatures, representing support from 13 percent of the school districts in New York State, which span a wide range of demographics - poor and wealthy, big and small, urban, rural and suburban, upstate and downstate. I am extremely proud that our Levittown Board of Education was the first Board to unanimously endorse this letter.
We are in favor of testing that values education and works for students, and believe that if the state is willing to create a commission to study the NYS teacher evaluation system, it should include relevant stakeholders as well as specialists in the field of education.
The letter drafted by the committee is linked here.