By Rita J. Egan
As Ward Melville High School seniors graduate this June, they won’t be the only ones moving on to new endeavors in the fall.
Alan Baum, who has been the high school principal for 10 years, will be transitioning to a new position within the school district in August. He will be taking on the role of executive director of secondary curriculum and human resources in the district office, while William Bernhard, current P.J. Gelinas Junior High School principal, will take over in the high school.
Baum began his career in the Three Village Central School District in the middle of the 2003-2004 school year when he became assistant principal. The Three Village resident said he taught at Commack High School, and before pursuing a career in education, was a lawyer.
Baum said he always had an interest in working in administration, and when the chance came he took advantage of it.
“The opportunity to fulfill these professional goals was presented, and I wanted to take advantage of utilizing the expertise I have developed over my many years as a secondary school teacher and administrator, as well as my knowledge as a former attorney,” Baum said.
District Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich is supportive of the change.
“Dr. Baum possess a strong skill set and professional background — both in the classroom and as part of our administrative team — that will enable our district to develop initiatives to enhance our overall program,” Pedisich said in a statement. “He is committed to ensuring that our students as well as staff are supported in a way that promotes personal growth, and we are confident that he will be a true asset in this new role.”
When it comes to starting his new position, Baum already has goals in mind.
“This new role gives me the opportunity to work more closely with our superintendent and district leadership in helping our district enhance our instruction and resources to promote even greater successes and achievements,” he said.
While the principal is looking forward to his new role, there are aspects he said he will miss of his current position, like the students and staff.
“The day-to-day interactions, excitement and vibrancy of everything that is Ward Melville,” he said he’s going to miss.
During his tenure at the school, Baum tackled difficult issues, including the opioid crisis and introducing gender-neutral graduation gowns.
“Ward Melville is a great institution filled with incredible students and amazing staff.”
— Alan Baum
In a previous interview with The Village Times Herald, he said he never shied away from the local drug problem. In 2014, he was trained to administer Narcan, a medicine used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. After his experience, he had the high school staff trained in its use. Now, all elementary and secondary school staff members in the district have also been trained.
When it came to the debate over gender-neutral graduation gowns in the winter of 2017, while many students and parents were against the district abandoning the tradition of males wearing green gowns and females wearing yellow ones, and switching to green gowns for all students, Baum showed support for the school district’s decision.
“In addition to creating a unified senior class, it is our hope that creating a unifying color scheme will eliminate the anxiety that is caused by forcing a young adult to wear a gown that labels them differently from how they identify,” he wrote in a March 2, 2017, letter to Three Village parents.
When it comes to navigating the issues and concerns that a high school principal may encounter, Baum had advice for Bernhard.
“Ward Melville is a great institution filled with incredible students and amazing staff,” he said. “Be sure to include them in your decision-making process and never lose sight of your objective: to help provide a well-rounded, enriched educational experience for all students. Stay open-minded, be fair and, above all, enjoy this professional opportunity to grow.”
The principal said he is proud of the students of Ward Melville and also had some parting words for them.
“I would like our students to always feel empowered to do their best in whatever they chose to do and always do the right thing — to be positive ambassadors for change not only in our community but our world,” he said. “I would remind them that their actions today can have great ripple effect on our future and to embrace the strong system of support they have not only at our high school, but within our school district and broader community.”