January 21, 2022

Dear Hastings Families and Staff,


As a teacher said to me this morning, “I can’t believe it’s almost February.” Frigid temperatures and biting winds remind us that winter is here, and with it occasional adjustments to our school days (some are easy calls, many are not). We are thorough in anticipating storms and sorting out the best schooling decision — even then the result may be deemed questionable. Rest assured, safety always comes first. While I draw on multiple sources for input and guidance, I own the final decisions.

Today’s update extends the news from last week on research brilliance, brings to life guest reading at Hillside, features progress on major capital projects, and closes with a note on COVID-19. The pace is intended to be brisk, and inspirational.

More Research Brilliance...Onward to Higher Education

Last Friday, I featured Oliver Fuchs ‘22 for his selection as one of 300 young scholars in the 2022 Regeneron Science Talent Search for his original research as part of the Science Research Program. We learned this week that the impact of the Science Research Program is reaching into higher education and peer-reviewed journals. Adam Oppenheimer, Class of 2021, was listed as an author on the article titled, "Variability and Spectral Characteristics of Three Flaring Gamma-Ray Quasars Observed by VERITAS and Fermi-LAT" in the January 2022 edition of The Astrophysical Journal. He is currently a freshman at The University of Chicago. Teacher Melissa Shandroff noted with pride that the “two superscripts next to Adam's name in the article list Hastings High School and The University of Chicago — it is rare to see a high school cited.”

Many may recall that Adam advanced last year as a Hastings senior to the national level of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium with his project entitled, "An Investigation of Blazar Jet Variability through an Analysis of Ton 599." Adam's mentor was Hastings resident and science research supporter, Reshmi Mukherjee of Barnard College, Columbia University.

Digging into Stories

I continue my guest readings at Hillside. Today I was in four classrooms (K, 2, 3 and 4) reading and discussing four separate books selected by the teacher teams in each grade. I will make it to each Hillside classroom by the time it is warm again (May?). These visits give me a rare chance to work with students and teachers. I walk away from each classroom energized by our students' clear-eyed, spirited and creative attention to the book, questions and discussion. I also walk away each time with deeper appreciation (awe, even) for what Hillside teachers do every minute (literally) to guide our youngest learners to be inquisitive, engaged and respectful. Each room is a mini-community of learners, working together, in this case, on the content, craft and fun of well-written and drawn stories.


 Capital Projects – A Big Boost

The Board of Education (BOE) receives regular reports from Maureen Caraballo on the progress with the three major capital projects currently underway: the Hillside Cafetorium and Classroom expansion; the Farragut Auditorium remodeling, and the Farragut Music Suite construction. Photos are worth 1,000 words; in lieu of a narrative, I share a link to the pictorial report from the January 10, 2022 BOE Meeting. Thanks to the work of Maureen and team, the three projects are on pace for high quality, timely and within budget completion. Each project will be a big boost to student opportunities and programming.

COVID-19 Note

This week included a major update on COVID-19 procedures (1.19.22). I hope that families and staff have taken a moment to review the update. In the least, it underscores the importance of vaccines and boosters to ensuring students and staff can be in school and participate fully with extracurriculars and athletics. These are directives from the NYSDOH and WCDOH, and are endorsed strongly by our Medical Directors. I appreciate all efforts to take what is required seriously.

The High School Student Union, in an early Wednesday morning meeting this week, asked me to emphasize the importance of “masking-up:” nose and mouth fully covered, and with the correct type of masks. I told them I would redouble my efforts to promote mask use. In turn, I asked the student leaders to do the same, noting that “peer-to-peer” leadership would mean more than what I might say. We “got to yes” on the mutual task of promoting masks.

Lastly, while we must continue to be vigilant about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, the administration is optimistic that we will not have to shift to temporary remote learning due to staffing issues (recall this has been the lead concern regionally and nationally for maintaining in-person schooling). We need to understand this is not definite (nothing is with COVID-19), but this hopeful news is due to the extraordinary efforts of Hastings staff and faculty to keep themselves healthy and be here for students. Personal sacrifices are being made, more than many realize. Whenever possible, please extend appreciation to our staff members. They deserve it.

Be well.

William S. McKersie, Ph.D. 

Superintendent of Schools