Weeks after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the South Shore of Nassau County, residents continue to pick up the pieces and return to their normal lives. Last week in East Rockaway, students returned to school — although for hundreds of them, it was with a change of scenery.
East Rockaway High School was declared nonoperational due to storm damage, leaving district officials scurrying to find a temporary home for roughly 600 junior and senior high school students. In the days after the storm, district officials determined that their best course of action would be to send students to the nearby Baldwin School District, which closed its Milburn and Shubert elementary schools in June. The Baldwin Board of Education approved a measure opening those schools to East Rockaway students at its Nov. 14 meeting, and the displaced students were bused to Baldwin the following day, after a forced vacation of more than two weeks.
“When we heard 75 percent of our district was unusable, it was devastating,” said Kristin Ochtera, president of the East Rockaway school board, addressing Baldwin trustees at last week’s meeting. “We are grateful. Your help is immeasurable. We look forward to being semi-Baldwin residents.”
Members of the Baldwin Civic Association made welcome signs for the visiting students, and greeted them when they arrived for their first day of classes. “Baldwin has been tremendous,” said East Rockaway High’s new principal, Joseph Spero.
East Rockaway students in grades seven and eight now attend class at Milburn Elementary School, while ninth- through 12th-graders are at the larger and older Shubert school. Desks and technological aids from ERHS, 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 Spero, who was appointed to his position at the beginning of the 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.”