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Sep 10, 2018 12:20 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

From Pre-K To 12th Grade, East Hampton Kicks Off A New School Year

East Hampton High School students on their first day of school.   JAMES STEWART
Sep 10, 2018 3:54 PM

The vibrantly colored backpacks seemed almost larger than the kids themselves as students filled the entry hall at John Marshall Elementary in East Hampton last Thursday, September 6, the second day of school.

Precisely following the line leader, one by one, and clutching cartoon-character lunch boxes, the children proceeded to their classrooms to start the new school year.

At about 7 years old, those children seemed small enough, but Elizabeth Doyle, the principal, said she is excited to see the addition of 63 prekindergarten students to the elementary school this year. In previous years, East Hampton’s preschoolers attended the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, a not-for-profit educational facility that sits nearby on Gingerbread Lane and to which the district sent students on a tuition basis.

According to Ms. Doyle, who is in her sixth year at John Marshall, student enrollment has decreased significantly, and with that decrease in numbers for kindergartners through fifth graders, ample space for the prekindergarten class has opened up.

“In my first year here, we had 643 students, and last year we ended with 507,” she said. “It’s scary to lose kids, because then we have to start cutting staff, and we don’t want to put anyone in that position.”

With the new prekindergarten students in the building, the district was not only able to save jobs, but hire a new pre-K teacher, five additional teaching assistants and a paraprofessional.

“I’ve been pushing for this for a while,” added Ms. Doyle. “The district felt like it was the right time. Since we have smaller class sizes now, there is room for the pre-K students.”

“We had a great relationship with Eleanor Whitmore,” she said, “But now the pre-K students will be taught by our highly certified teachers hired by the East Hampton School District.” With students entering John Marshall Elementary School at the pre-K level, they will be accustomed to the district’s curriculum, said Ms. Doyle, who referred to herself as a big believer in what she called early intervention.

“There is so much research to support that what happens in those early primary school years sets the stage for the rest of the child’s educational career,” she said.

Ms. Doyle credits the decreasing enrollment to the lack of affordable housing in East Hampton.

“The majority of kids leaving has to do with the families not being able to afford living here,” she said.

Project MOST, an outside not-for-profit organization, uses the John Marshall Elementary School space for after-school programming from 3 to 6 p.m., and it will now be accepting the new pre-K students this year, which they didn’t before.

“It’s a nice option for working families,” added Ms. Doyle.

Also new at the elementary school this year is the implementation of a new math program, which was piloted with last year’s kindergarten class, called “Math in Focus.”

“The teachers loved it, and felt it to be much more beneficial for the students,” said Ms. Doyle. The program is aimed to focus on understanding the underlying concepts behind math, and not just routine problem-solving. Russell Morgan, the assistant principal, worked with Math in Focus at his former school in New York City, and saw great results, according to Ms. Doyle.

“Mr. Morgan was in a school for students with learning-based disabilities, and his school outperformed other schools around them,” she said.

On Wednesday a play structure will be added to the green outside the preschoolers’ classrooms. Ms. Doyle described it as small and safely enclosed.

East Hampton Middle School and East Hampton High School have also had some renovations, added programs, upgraded technology and started the process of renovating a sports field.

“We’re off and jogging,” said Charles Soriano, principal of the East Hampton Middle School, on the first day of school via email.

“Briefly, a student shared with me as he jumped off the bus that he wasn’t really in the ‘mindset’ YET for school … too funny” Mr. Soriano said. “Students are now, ready or not, in their second-period classes, and I think they’ve very quickly slid into the first-day schedule.”

The middle school this year has 103 incoming sixth graders, and 11 incoming seventh graders from the Amagansett School, which stops at sixth grade. The middle school cafeteria is undergoing renovations that are expected to be completed by summer 2019.

At the high school, Principal Adam Fine, who is going into his ninth year, introduced the second part of a new AP research program that offers college level courses, and college credits.

East Hampton High School no longer offers 10th-grade English Honors, but an AP seminar instead.

“We have the most enrollment in that class out of every school on Long Island,” boasted Mr. Fine on Friday afternoon as he sat behind his desk with freshly polished floors in his office. “It’s absolutely phenomenal for the kids. Our numbers are huge in all of the AP programs.”

Along with the new programs, the high school has upgraded email systems, added high-tech projection boards in classrooms—and given each student a Chromebook laptop. This year, grades five through 12 have Chromebooks in the East Hampton School District.

“I’d say 90 percent of our teachers are on Google Classroom,” said Mr. Fine. Google Classroom allows students to go online and view homework assignments, submit written papers, and hand in projects.

“It uses less paper,” Mr. Fine added.

The softball and baseball fields are getting artificial turf, a project that is expected to be completed near the end of December.

“It was costly trying to maintain the fields while they were constantly flooding,” Mr. Fine said, referring to storms last spring.

“We have a great group this year,” he said with a smile. “The juniors and seniors are leading by example, and everyone has great energy and school spirit.”

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