Weeks after Hurricane Sandy damaged much of the South Shore of Nassau County, residents are continuing to pick up the pieces and return to their normal lives. The East Rockaway community took a big step in the road to recovery last week when students went back to school — although for hundreds of students, it was with a change of scenery.
The high school building in East Rockaway was deemed nonoperational due to damage caused by the storm, leaving district officials scurrying to find a temporary home for the roughly 600 junior and senior high school students. In the days following Sandy, it was determined that the district’s best course of action would be to send its students to the nearby Baldwin School District, which closed two of its elementary schools in June. The Baldwin Board of Education approved the measure at its Nov. 14 meeting, and students from East Rockaway were bused to Baldwin the following day after a more than two week hiatus.
“When we heard 75 percent of our district was unusable, it was devastating,” said Kristin Ochtera, president of East Rockaway Board of Education, addressing members of the Baldwin school board. “We are grateful. Your help is immeasurable. We look forward to being semi-Baldwin residents.”
East Rockaway students in grades seven and eight are now attending class at Milburn Elementary School, while ninth through 12 graders are at the larger and older Shubert school. The desks and technological materials from East Rockaway High School, which were not damaged, were moved to Baldwin to make students feel more at home.
“It’s amazing to think you can take a school and split it in half and get it to work but we did,” said East Rockaway Principal Joseph Spero, who was just appointed to his position at the beginning of this semester. “We had people working around the clock — our custodial staff, the moving company, our administration, our teachers. Everybody rolled up their sleeves and worked until they dropped to get this going.”