Keeping the kids on Shelter Island

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Shelter Island School Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott has been reaching out to parents whose children study off-Island.

JULIE LANE PHOTO  Shelter Island School Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott has been reaching out to parents whose children study off-Island.

Shelter Island School administrators and teachers are working to close the gap between the number of Island children eligible for classes here and those whose parents opt to send them off-Island to school.

Those pursuing a parochial school education are unlikely to be lured back to their home district because parents favor a Catholic education for their children, according to local educators.

But Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik, Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott and Elementary School Chairman Michael Cox believe that some of those attending classes at Ross or Hayground schools in East Hampton and Bridgehampton, respectively, could be enrolled here if parents had a better understanding of what’s happening in Island classrooms.

Ms. Rylott said about 30 students from Shelter Island are studying at Ross or Hayground and of those, about four families have parents who work at one of the South Fork schools.

That affects seven children who study there rather than here, she said.

Among the enhancements to boost enrollment the staff has set in place this year and the year ahead are more after-school activities for elementary school students and increased communication with parents and the wider community.

These ideas surfaced during a forum earlier this year with the staff, parents and community members.

One reason students go off-Island is the lack of a preschool program, Mr. Skuggevik said.

And when they start preschool off-Island and make friends, students don’t want to transfer to Shelter Island, he added. That’s why the district introduced preschool classes two years ago and improved the program  this year to accommodate every 4-year-old who wanted to enroll in the free program.

“This is a public school in a private school setting,” Mr. Cox said. Having taught in other districts, Mr. Cox said it was only since coming to Shelter Island that he has found a district that has made his career meaningful.

“This is a family,” he said. “This is home.”

After hearing from parents and other community members at the forum, Mr. Cox said,

“We’re on the same page” in terms of what parents and teachers want for students.

Teachers in the elementary classrooms are a close knit group who work together to enhance one another’s efforts, Mr. Cox said. The staff is young and “unbelievably motivated,” he said.

Under his leadership, the elementary school teaching staff is working to give students freedom to explore projects outside the traditional curriculum. Students will be visiting the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, getting involved with projects at Sylvester Manor, learning about the Island’s history at the Historical Society and participating in community projects that expose them to the environment, such as a recent beach cleanup.

Even classroom setups are different. Instead of a lineup of desks, there are comfortable chairs scattered around the room that allow students a chance to learn in a more relaxed atmosphere, he said.

“We walk a balance,” Mr. Skuggevik said. “We’re proud of what we do, but we want to listen” to those with ideas that could improve programs.

He cautioned residents not judge the school based on a single standardized test. In a small district, even one student doing poorly can result in lower overall scores, which is not reflective of educational quality. At the same time, he said scores have improved dramatically in recent years.

The district has excellent, motivated teachers whose goal is to help students develop a lifelong love of learning, Mr. Skuggevik said.

“Our teachers inspire our kids,” he said.

Ms. Rylott agreed. “We have many teachers at various points in their careers who put in countless hours to ensure their students’ needs are being met,” she said.

Parents are welcome at the school and just need to make appointments to visit a classroom or speak to a teacher or administrator, Ms. Rylott said.

Ms. Rylott said she’s been reaching out to parents whose children study off-Island. But not all the contact information she has is current. Parents who haven’t spoken with her directly can call (631) 749 0302 extension 143 with updated contact information.

Ms. Rylott also wants to speak with anyone with ideas about how to strengthen the school’s academic and extra-curricular activities programs, she said.