Superintendent’s Corner
Dr. Judith A. LaRocca
Dr. Judith LaRocca

Phone: (516) 568-6100

Strategic Plan
Notes from Dr. LaRocca

District Initiatives

Classroom Redesign

Any Sci-fi movie or television show from the 20th century typically depicted futuristic worlds as very grey, uniform, and full of technology beyond our wildest imaginations. Fast forward to 2019, and fortunately, only the last of those three descriptions has materialized. We live in a world that contains remarkable technology, and the future is very colorful and imaginative. When it comes to education, the Valley Stream Union Free School District 13 strives to be a forward-thinking district by implementing modern technologies in the classroom. In addition to technology, the definition of a futuristic education includes having a flexible mindset in exploring methods of teaching.

Quite literally, the District has constructed flexible classrooms. Countless research has shown there are benefits to teaching in different ways other than rows of desks and a teacher lecturing. Our minds—especially those of children—respond well to a changing environment where their brains are constantly stimulated. In the District, eight rooms—two in each school—have received major makeovers. New classroom equipment has been provided to teachers that submitted proposals, and the results are futuristic classrooms that make even an adult want to go back to school.

In developing the flexible classrooms, the District consulted those who would be using the classrooms—students and teachers. Together, these groups combed through catalogs and researched classroom ideas for inspiration. Children had a voice in the process, and specific plans were designed so that individual needs were met. The District’s goal has been to create “responsive classroom” environments.

What does an actual flexible, 21st century classroom look like? The eight new classrooms feature chairs that have allowed for students of various heights to be comfortable, including wobble chairs (pictured in green), which allow students to improve their posture. The tables in the room are of various heights and sizes for different activities. There’s even tables that can be separated into induvial desks or miniature tables. Students are able to have collaborative conversations to enrich their learning. Social and emotional growth is also enhanced through this type of instruction. As for technology, the rooms are well-lit, feature Smart Boards and are wired for scalability as the technology needs of the future continue to increase.

The furniture and layout of the classrooms aren’t the only flexible aspects of the classrooms. The spaces foster independence and strengthen decision making. Students are allowed to choose the types of seats they want—and deal with the consequences of their decisions. If for example, a student chooses to sit in one of the sofa-style seats, that’s fine. But often the young student will soon learn that the sofa-seat is not conducive for writing assignments. The student then, independently, can decide on a better seat arrangement, and this type of autonomy and trust can be empowering for a young child. Students can discover what works for them. Another benefit of flexible classrooms is they allow for parallel teaching—multiple teachers working with separate groups simultaneously. This type of individualized, focused instruction is beneficial for students, particularly young ones.

This is the 21st-century those sci-fi movies couldn’t accurately predict. Flexible classrooms mean digital instruction—taking courses online with programs such as Skype or even programs designed around virtual reality or augmented reality. Flexible classrooms also mean encouraging socialization among students—a forward-thinking concept even if it isn’t necessarily futuristic in the traditional sense of the word. When administrators keep a flexible mindset in exploring opportunities for education and instruction, the opportunities for students are boundless.

Energy Performance Contract
In January 2017, the Valley Stream UFSD 13 entered into an energy performance contract with Honeywell Building Solutions. Honeywell, an American company with global reach, is a market leader in designing, installing and integrating energy efficient systems that increase operational efficiency while significantly cutting energy costs. An additional benefit of the systems provided by Honeywell is that they lower an organization’s carbon footprint.

The energy performance contract provided the district with a unique method of obtaining the latest energy-saving technology without having to frontload or bond the costs of those energy-saving systems. Honeywell analyzed the district’s energy costs and did a systematic evaluation of energy usage across the district to determine where the greatest savings could be realized. The result of that analysis identified eight energy conservation measures that offered the greatest energy cost savings for the district. Those eight measures are listed below.

  • LED Lighting Upgrades Districtwide
  • Air Handling Replacement in Howell’s Gymnasium
  • Hot Water Heater Replacement in Dever
  • Hot Water Pumps and Motor Replacement in Wheeler
  • Pipe Insulation Installation in Wheeler
  • Building Energy Management Systems Installed Districtwide
  • Desk Computer Power Management Systems Installed Districtwide
  • Rooftop Solar Panels Installed at Dever, Howell and Willow

LED lighting districtwide

Rooftop solar panel installation
Hot water pump and motor replacement at Wheeler
Honeywell frontloaded the costs of purchasing and installing all the systems. Payment to Honeywell – over a 15-year period – is offset by the annual energy cost savings the district is now realizing. After the 15 years, the district begins to capture significant energy savings and generate positive cash flow as most of these systems have life spans beyond the 15-year payment period.

Installation of all eight energy conservation measures were completed as of this past summer, August 2019.

Social Emotional Learning

Emotions matter and impact students’ engagement and ability to learn. Valley Stream Union Free School District Thirteen acknowledges the importance of social emotional learning (SEL) and recognizes the importance of understanding the role that emotions play in our daily life and within the school community. Social and emotional intelligence is essential to effective teaching and learning, sound decision making, physical and mental health and success in school and beyond.

Students and adults greatly benefit from tools that help them recognize, understand, and manage emotions.

One such program we utilize is The RULER Program is a system-wide approach that involves all stakeholders and provides a common language with the goal of having healthier, more productive problem solvers and learners.

“RULER can help you understand yourself better. If you have a lot of feelings on your chest you can write them down during and revive yourself.”
-4th Grade Student

Valley Stream UFSD 13 has adopted the RULER philosophy, which is an evidence-based approach for social emotional learning. RULER—which is an acronym that stands for Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating emotions—helps students to identify their feelings using a mood meter and work together to build a positive culture and climate in classrooms. RULER provides students with tools that help them deal with challenging feelings by reacting in less impulsive ways. Teachers incorporate aspects of RULER into their daily lessons to help support students’ abilities to integrate thinking, feeling, and behaving in a fashion that promotes healthy outcomes.

Valley Stream 13 Newsletters