Dr. Judith LaRocca will become the Acting Superintendent of Schools for Valley Stream School District 13 on January 15. Outgoing Superintendent Dr. Constance Evelyn will step down after a six-year term on January 14.
LaRocca, now Deputy District Superintendent for Instruction, will oversee the learning experience of approximately 2,000 children in the four elementary schools in the district during a year stymied by constant change, uncertainty and hardship. caused by a global coronavirus pandemic – with no end in sight.
LaRocca made her education debut as a college math teacher for the Massapequa school district in 1996. In 2003, she took on her first administrative role as a staff developer and shared data expert for the Eastern. Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services, during which time she graduated in School District Administration from Stony Brook University. In 2007, she was appointed Director of Curriculum, Education and Technology for the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park Union Free School District, where she oversaw curriculum, testing, professional development, data management and technology infrastructure.
Selected by Evelyn for the position of Assistant Superintendent, LaRocca has held the position since 2016. She has continued to enjoy a close partnership with Evelyn over the past five years and was widely seen as her logical successor. LaRocca is set to continue the vaunted progress of its predecessor into the future, but questions arise as to what will happen during the pandemic.
Regarding Covid-19, teachers and students continue to experience positive cases of the virus as an ongoing reality. In the past two weeks, 21 students and six district staff have tested positive for the coronavirus. One class was also forced to quarantine itself.
“We have worked closely with the Nassau County Department of Health” to implement a “layered prevention strategy … which includes mask wear, social distancing, hand washing and monitoring. sick students, ”LaRocca said.
Improving indoor air quality was the last goal, according to LaRocca, serving as a powerful deterrent against the transmission of the virus. The district installed new Uni filter air vents and air purifier filtration systems at all four schools, using HEPA filters designed to remove virtually all coronavirus particles in the air.
“All of our indoor air quality was up to standard, but before Covid people weren’t thinking about indoor air quality at the level that would kill viruses,” LaRocca said. “We certainly lived up to the code… and the new systems provide an additional layer of protection. She declined to say whether the filtration systems were suitable to filter the virus at the start of the school year in September.
When asked if she would use her new position to encourage parents to immunize their children, as recommended by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she chose to tread cautiously on what she saw as a delicate question. “I’m not sure that’s something I really want to talk about. I don’t want to comment on things that may polarize some people, ”she said.
While the state’s Department of Education guidelines for reopening schools included optional provisions for blended or distance learning for families with special needs, LaRocca, following the lead of his predecessor and many districts, will continue full-time in-person learning for students. However, in the event of a major district-wide epidemic, “all of our schools are fully equipped to enter a full distance learning environment within 24 hours, so all of our teachers and classes are distance ready.” , LaRocca said.
Following recent demands from the Department of Education, District 13 has also made progress in promoting equity, diversity and inclusion in its schools, the new acting superintendent said.
LaRocca has been credited with leading the charge in both recruiting diversity and establishing a culturally appropriate curriculum. LaRocca used the culturally responsive and sustainable education framework, as defined by the state, to shape the curriculum and promote an awareness and appreciation of distinct racial, linguistic and cultural identities among students.
LaRocca affirmed the district’s continued commitment to hire a diverse faculty that reflects and represents all students. District 13 has seen a slight increase in the number of teachers of color in schools in the district – from 5 to 19 over the past seven years – with an average of two new minority teachers per year. In 2018-2019, among the 176 professional staff members of the four elementary schools, 12 of them were from minorities.
According to a 2015-16 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, in public primary and secondary schools, on average, 19% of teachers were of color. And schools with greater racial and ethnic diversity in their student populations also tended to have much more racial and ethnic diversity among teachers.
District 13 is a solid majority district. According to 2019 demographics from US News & World Report, about 30% of students in the district are Hispanic, 22% are Asian, and 22% are black. But its teaching staff remains predominantly white.
Research suggests Latino and Black students whose teachers match their race or ethnicity showed improvement in a multitude of academic scores, test scores, and higher graduation rates on fewer suspensions and rates of abandonment.
When reviewing diversity hiring policies and practices, LaRocca noted that teaching is a “competitive field” and noted the use of several metrics to assess the quality of a candidate’s application. , including character attributes. She noted that grade point average, test scores, and length of experience are imperfect predictors of a teacher’s ability and potential performance, which can often prevent promising candidates of color from gaining a foothold in the field. the door.
La Rocca, however, has not confirmed whether a long-term, strategic diversity hiring plan is or will be in place to recruit new teachers of color and retain those already in the district for the long term. Instead, she cited the changes in staff culture and already established supports that all teachers have put in place.
“First, there are the practices we always adopt to retain any teacher, including strong professional development, summer learning, and first year mentoring programs… but also the importance of having a sense of ownership. ‘belonging,’ LaRocca said.
As for his vision for the district, LaRocca said his priorities are to continue to build on the capital improvements made possible by the District 13’s $ 35 million bond adopted in 2015, which led to the updating and modernization of district facilities.