Telling Our Story: Old Country Road School

Telling Our Story: Old Country Road School
Posted on 03/01/2021

“I felt as if I finally came home when I began in Hicksville,” said Laura McConnell, Principal of Old Country Road Elementary School. “The staff and families were really open and welcoming. It just felt like family.” One of the school district’s seven elementary schools, Old Country Road School sits just west of the intersection of Route 106 on almost 18 acres of land along its namesake road.  Built in 1951 and expanded in 1956 as Hicksville’s population continued to grow following WW II, the school was opened along with its sister schools – Burns, Dutch, and Fork – to serve the children of families who flocked to Nassau County. 

Sitting low to the ground and spread laterally the way many mid-century schools were designed at the time, the school’s portico has sheltered arriving and departing students for decades. “OCR” currently serves approximately 343 students. Principal McConnell is in her third year at the school. She grew up in Oyster Bay, attending the public schools where she eventually served for 13 years as an elementary teacher.

“I was very excited to begin my career in Hicksville,” explained Mrs. McConnell. “My first goals were to build relationships and get to know the culture of the other buildings.” She strives to sustain the inclusiveness she first felt when arriving at the school. “I really wanted our school to feel like home.”

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Old Country Road Principal Laura McConnell shares her love of literacy with her students and teachers. 

Mrs. McConnell is an avid reader and ties books to all the initiatives at OCR. She regularly reads inspirational books to each class. “If you can be anything in the whole world, please be kind,” shared Mrs. McConnell as she held two books about healing, “After the Fall” by Dan Santat and “How to Heal a Broken Wing” by Bob Graham. Her favorite children’s books? “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats and “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed” by Emily Pearson.

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During physical education class, in-school students follow along to a video as they work out in OCR’s gym while staying socially distant.

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Vocal music teacher Laurie Haddock worked with fourth graders using their Chromebooks to learn the rhythm and notation of an American folk song. 

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In her 25th year teaching music at Old Country Road elementary, Ms. Rachel Krieger is pictured here teaching a group of third grade beginning strings players.

One distinction at OCR is its thriving bilingual program. Currently, OCR has 90 students in bilingual classrooms at the kindergarten through third grade level.  A life-long learner, Principal McConnell is studying Spanish in order to hone her communication skills to further assist her families. About learning the new language, Mrs. McConnell reflects: “I know what I want to say in Spanish, but sometimes I just can’t retrieve the words. I understand how it can be frustrating for our bilingual students as they try to communicate.” The bilingual program is in its fifth year at OCR. “It’s such an amazing program. Prior to COVID, we held Hispanic Heritage Month and a Bilingual Tea at the end of the year during which the students sang songs and recited poems.”

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In a kindergarten bilingual class, OCR Principal Laura McConnell joins in as the students use movement to reinforce learning the letters of the alphabet.

Anthony Lubrano, the district’s current Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction, served as OCR’s principal for 12 years before becoming Assistant Superintendent. He recalls starting the bilingual program with Lisa Estrada, the district’s Supervisor of ENL World Languages and Activities. “We dedicated our energy and resources into providing support to our students so that they would both succeed on assessments and strengthen their confidence and build resilience.” Mr. Lubrano considers the bilingual program to be one of the greatest successes at the school. 

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Former OCR Principal Anthony Lubrano (back row, second from left) is pictured with fifth grade students as they spent two days involved in outdoor activities at Caumsett State Park in 2009. Mr. Lubrano currently serves as the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction. “I do miss being at OCR,” said Mr. Lubrano. “I knew I would never want to be a principal anywhere else. OCR remains my second family.”

Another high point Mr. Lubrano recalls is the creation of a garden at OCR. “Social worker Sue Simon and I shared a common philosophy that kids should spend time outdoors.” 

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OCR students are pictured with one of the raised beds at the school’s “Emerald Gardens.”

“Old Country Road Elementary School was the first in our district to have an outdoor classroom,” explained Ms. Simon. “As recipients of the 2012 Whole Foods School Garden Grant Award, the Emerald Gardens included eight raised beds filled with organic herbs, vegetables and native flowers and trees. During the growing season, the teachers use the gardens for outdoor reading events, and our families and students have enjoyed annual wildlife presentations and year-end garden celebrations. The gardens are sensory rich for children to touch, taste, smell, and listen to the many birds sing as they nest in our gardens. Since that time, other elementary schools have established their own gardens. We look forward to spring and another season of providing students with valuable outdoor learning activities.” 

Erin Guida, current President of Hicksville’s Council of PTAs, began her leadership role as Unit President at OCR. Originally from Ohio, Mrs. Guida met her husband after graduating from design school and starting her career in California. “My husband grew up in Mount Sinai so we knew we would move to Long Island to raise our family. We settled on Hicksville because of the ease of transportation since he had landed a design position in the city. We stay because of the schools.” The Guidas have two children – a son in the middle school and a daughter who attends at OCR. “Once I was a kindergarten parent, I became involved in every PTA committee I could. Eventually, I became OCR’s PTA President. I always tried to find a connection with the people in my children’s lives and build a solid base of friends.”  

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OCR Teaching Assistant Tina Ithier is pictured with her daughter Jillian, a lunch monitor at the school and substitute greeter on the day of this photo.

Hicksville native Tina Ithier has worked at OCR for 22 years. She attended Fork Lane as a child and her daughter works as a lunch monitor at OCR. “I live in the house I grew up in. My kids and grandkids went to Fork Lane and my husband and his siblings went to OCR. Living and working in Hicksville is like being on ‘Cheers’ – everywhere I go, I meet someone I know. As big as it is, it’s still a small world in Hicksville.”

Moving forward, OCR Principal McConnell wants to emphasize focus on her students’ social and emotional health. “The greatest challenge recently has been the pandemic and trying to keep everyone safe and healthy, and to make sure everyone feels heard.” In fact, Mrs. McConnell is a member of the district’s Mental Health & Wellness Coalition. The Coalition is made up of district psychologists, social workers, administrators, teachers and community organizations. It was supported this year by Assistant Superintendent Anthony Lubrano as a way to assist parents and students as they deal with the stressors of the pandemic: https://www.hicksvillepublicschools.org/district/mental_health_coalition 

As a fitting tribute to her dedication to her students and the families at OCR, Mrs. McConnell was recently selected as a 2021 Founders Day Honoree – one of the highest honors the district and the Council of PTAs awards each year. “I am extremely honored to work with such an amazing group of people here in Hicksville,” said Principal McConnell. Congratulations to Mrs. McConnell and fellow OCR honorees - bilingual teacher Suzy Caceres and PTA leaders Karen Floccari and Ana Morrell - and best wishes to everyone at OCR as the school and district move forward to embrace a positive future!  

To read more about the public schools in Hicksville, please visit the district’s “Telling Our Story” series webpage:  https://www.hicksvillepublicschools.org/departments/public_information/__telling_our_story__series