MAHOPAC, N.Y. - It’s back to school for Mahopac kids on Wednesday, Sept. 5, and when the doors open, students will discover both physical changes to their buildings as well as new hours, curriculum modifications and more security officers.

The first thing students at the middle school and high school will notice as their buses pull up is the new signs in front of each building.

“As you drive by the middle school and high school, you will notice that both [old] signs in front have been removed [to make way for] electronic messaging boards,” said Superintendent Anthony DiCarlo. “The custom-made boards should be shipped the first week of September and installed the week of Sept. 10. Also, inside [the schools], by working with the PTOs in our districts we will have messaging signs in the lobbies and cafeterias in the middle school and high school that will update kids about events that are going on.”

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DiCarlo also noted that the high school lobby has been updated.

“[High school principal] Dr. [Mathew] Lawrence and his staff and the students have really looked at making that lobby [represent] who we are as Mahopac—what we consider to be the pillars of education,” DiCarlo said.

Seniors at the high school will have a new lounge designed just for them.

“The students said they have the book nooks, but they weren’t working all that well,” DiCarlo said. “Some were in the hallways near classrooms and it was difficult to see where kids were because some were in corners and crannies. The determination was to do away with the book nooks and have a senior lounge. It’s downstairs in Room 30. It’s a big open room with couches, tabletops—a café setting where they can put out their laptops and tablets and do some work if they want to and talk to each other. That was done through a partnership with the students and the administration.”

Other changes at the high school include new high-efficiency lamps at the turf field installed in time for the upcoming season. Additionally, the parking lot near tennis courts will be easier to enter and leave since workers cut an opening in the sidewalk to allow traffic flow in and out of the lot in an orderly and safe manner. Additionally, DiCarlo said, parking along the curb in front of the high school will no longer be permitted for security and safety reasons. More handicap parking spots have been added.

The stage floor in the high school auditorium is being refurbished and should be completed by the first day of school, and the hallway near the old gym now boasts new wooden doors.

The middle school water tank has been cleaned.

“That should have an impact on the water available at the middle school,” DiCarlo said. “It is the cleanest it has been in years. We are looking into [a better] cleaning cycle/schedules moving forward.”

Additionally, with help from the town’s highway department, potholes in the middle school parking lot have been repaired. Inside the building, principal Tom Cozzocrea’s office has been expanded and soundproofed to better facilitate parent/student meetings.

At Austin Road Elementary, the district is developing a sensory room because they have a number of students there who have sensory needs.

“We put a room there so that during the course of the day students can go in there,” DiCarlo said. “It’s in the process of being completed.”

The Fulmar Road Elementary library HVAC system has been fully updated and the library has a fresh coat of paint.

“We start the summer work process at the end of winter,” DiCarlo said. “We do a lot of stuff internally with our wonderful staff, so we don’t have to go out and get contractors. The talent we have here is unbelievable—the building of shelves and the building of cabinets and bookcases and then fitting them into the schools. They look like they were done by companies that charge tens of thousands of dollars and here we have men and women who are doing it internally and who love doing it. That goes a long way. That’s what makes Mahopac the community that it is.”

And, as DiCarlo promised earlier this spring in the wake of the Parkland, Fla. shootings, security has been increased with additional SPOs (school patrol officers).

“An SRO (school resource officer) can go in and do social awareness and work with the kids, even teach classes. But an SPO is more in the front and the perimeter and walking around— more of a security officer,” DiCarlo explained.

An additional SPO has been added at the middle school for the night shift (3-9 p.m.), so there is continual coverage. An SPO has been added to the Falls School for the first time, and another SPO has been added to the high school for the day shift.

Some new administrators will also greet the students on the first day of school. Mahopac Middle School has two new assistant principals, Pat Keevins and Allyson Fallman.

“We are excited about this,” DiCarlo said. “Allyson was at Fulmar Road for many years, so she knows the district and the kids. Pat Keevins’ father was the athletic director and a longtime coach years ago. I think we are assembling a really dynamic team.”

Other new hires include Mathew Calabro as a new assistant principal at the high school and Mike Tromblee has been named assistant superintendent for curriculum and professional development, replacing Dr. Adam Pease.

Academically, DiCarlo notes that the high school offers a “cadre of different programs.”

“Not only the AP track for kids who are looking for that rigor, we also offer a lot of college-credit classes,” he said. He noted that 1,079 AP/college-level classes have been signed up for this year, a district record, as the district “continues to raise the bar.”

“We are also fine-tuning what we do K-5; the math curriculum will be tiered across the grade levels,” the superintendent said. “We have done a lot of work with STEM education, transitioning kids from the middle school into the high school. We now have exploratory foreign language in the seventh grade for the first time.”

Probably one thing the students and parents will notice the most is that this school year will feature nine periods instead of eight at the high school and middle school, which will enable students to choose more electives.

“We are really looking at what kids need to be exposed to in order to be successful after they get out of high school,” DiCarlo said. “A lot of it is computer science, technology, engineering—all those things are so important now. These AP kids never get lunch; now they can. Now they can take band and chorus, or maybe an engineering class that they couldn’t fit in before. Same for the special ed kids; now they can take a chorus or band class if they want.”

Of course, nine periods also means that the school day will be about 30 minutes longer.

“The state Education Department has mandated hours, not days, so you now have to have 990 hours and we were not in compliance” DiCarlo explained. “But one of the benefits [of the new hours] is that we no longer have an 11-year-old in sixth grade riding on the same bus with an 18-year-old senior. That’s huge. The middle school now just has middle schoolers coming to school in the morning and leaving together, and the high school just has high schoolers riding together.  It’s been an issue here for years and years and this will make the runs cleaner and easier.”