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Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien was named Administrator of the Year. Photo from Rocky Point school district

When Scott O’Brien read his favorite childhood book, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” to an elementary school class during college, he had no idea how important that moment would be to the future of his career.

“I remember reading the book to them and leaving and saying, ‘I want to do this for the rest of my life. This is what I’m meant to do,’” he said. “I think I always knew.”

The landscape architect major switched his field of study to education. Since then, the Rocky Point Middle School principal has been named Administrator of the Year by the Council of Administrators and Supervisors.

Albert Voorneveld, President of the Council of Administrators, presents Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O'Brien with his Administrator of the Year award. Photo from Scott O'Brien
Albert Voorneveld, President of the Council of Administrators, presents Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien with his Administrator of the Year award. Photo from Scott O’Brien

“I love every minute of being a principal,” he said. “I feel so honored to get this, and privileged to get it, but I just love my job. I love coming to work. I love what I do, and I think it’s just an added bonus to get honored by the people that you work with, that they also feel that that love of my decisions comes through and they value what I’m doing here for them, the staff, the students and everyone in the building.”

The faculty told O’Brien of the nomination in a very unconventional way.

“They had tricked me, of course,” O’Brien said, laughing.

The principal’s staff was adamant about reminding him multiple times of a department meeting in the library one afternoon. When he entered the packed library, he knew something bigger was happening. They presented O’Brien with a wrapped box. Inside, were the nominations by each teacher who wrote a supporting statement, poem or a note of congratulations.

“Before they nominated me for the award, I was well aware that I have a very special staff,” he said. “I feel extremely fortunate to work with not only dedicated and kids-first teachers and staff, but to be able to work together with them to implement change and make our building continuously better for kids. I have reflected on that moment in the library and how grateful I am to be recognized in such a meaningful manner. The work continues and the acknowledgement further signifies the importance and continuation of my role as an educational leader.”

The principal is in his eighth year at the helm of the school, but has been in the district much longer, serving as a special education teacher, assistant principal and principal at the Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School — working in that building for more than a decade. The St. James resident, who attended the John F. Kennedy Middle School in Port Jefferson Station, also worked out-of-state for four years, in Fairfax County, Virginia. O’Brien’s grandparents lived in Rocky Point, so he said he was familiar with the area when he received his first teaching job there.

Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O'Brien has created a warm and inviting atmosphere at his school for both his staff and students. Photo from Scott O'Brien
Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien has created a warm and inviting atmosphere at his school for both his staff and students. Photo from Scott O’Brien

Nicole Gabrinowitz, a seventh-grade math teacher who has been with the district for 20 years, said she came down from the high school the same time O’Brien arrived.

“He was very welcoming,” she said. “He’s also really open to new ideas. He knows his entire staff and works hard and uses a lot of techniques you’d use in a classroom at the staff meetings to keep us close.”

A core group of staff members came up with the idea to nominate O’Brien once they heard about the award. Melinda Brooks, the school’s instructional coordinator for six years, said she wrote in her letter of recommendation that “every single person who is employed in his building is inspired to be their very best each and every day. Each year we receive many requests from teachers who want to transfer to the middle school because they want to inspire too.”

Brooks recalled when she met O’Brien in 2010 and he was warm and welcoming.

“I immediately saw that he was one of the strongest leaders in the district,” she said. “He found his calling. He was born to do this.”

On spirit day, Brooks said the principal dressed up as Superman and his wife, Theresa, whom he met while working at the elementary school and now has three children with, had her class make him a quilt for winning the award, which was decorated with all things Superman-related.

“Everyone sees him as Superman and the kids took it quite literally,” she said. “He’s someone that has an open-door policy and is willing to listen and work with you to do what is needed and is best for the community, the teachers, the kids and everyone involved.”

Dawn Callahan, an eighth-grade social studies teacher who has worked at the school since it opened nearly 14 years ago, said O’Brien has been a refreshing change.

He also, according to many, created a strong family atmosphere, and according to Callahan, looks after the staff.

“Last year we had a student that had passed away,” she said. “Knowing that I had that student for over a year and had done home-teaching at her house before she had passed, he called me personally at home to tell me about it over the weekend, instead of me coming into school the next day and finding out about it. That to me makes you realize that the people you work for really consider this a family, as opposed to being just a job.”

She added that O’Brien gives the staff areas to grow in, and the strong vibes within the building trickle down from the top.

Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien, center, poses for a photo with some of his staff after earning the Administrator of the Year award. Photo from Scott O'Brien
Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien, center, poses for a photo with some of his staff after earning the Administrator of the Year award. Photo from Scott O’Brien

O’Brien works to instill this in other teachers looking to become administrators. He teaches an administrative program at St. John’s University and The College of St. Rose in his free time.

“I love inspiring teachers to be future leaders and to change the culture of buildings and teach how to do that effectively,” he said, “and teach how to get a building to be able to support powerful learning for kids, and create a building that can be the best that it should be.”

His school is in the running win the Inviting School Award, which is a national award presented by the International Exchange of Educational Practices, and is based on the atmosphere he has created.

Regardless of the accolades and success he’s had in the field, O’Brien is just thankful for the experiences.

“Making decisions in the best interest of students while supporting staff in that process was my goal each year,” he said. “The relationships I have created, supported and maintained over the years with all members of the Rocky Point School community have played a pivotal role in where I am today as a leader. I’ve had such wonderful experiences, especially in Rocky Point, and it’s been such a second home to me.”

Montesano crucial to success of Abrams after it was shut down for gun violence

Rae Montesano has served as principal at the STEM school since 2014. Photo from Jim Hoops

Huntington Superintendent Jim Polansky is searching for a new leader for the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School following the news that Principal Rae Montesano will retire at the end of the school year.

“Rae has been instrumental in helping me to put this school in a place where it has found tremendous success, and great things have happened for children since she took over as principal,” Polansky said in an interview following Monday night’s school board meeting. “She will be missed based on all of the work and effort that she has put forth.”

Montesano has held the position since July 2014, though she served as the acting principal beginning in January of that year. She was previously the district’s chairperson of science and instructional technology for grades seven through 12.

“I’m just very appreciative of the confidence that the board had in me to make me the principal and of the wonderful opportunities here at Huntington,” Montesano said.

The Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School opened in September 2013, three years after the building, then called the Jack Abrams Intermediate School, closed in July 2010 due to recurring gun violence in the area. Between that spike in gun violence and when the school reopened with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, police reported they had successfully reduced crime around the school.

“On a personal level if it wasn’t for Rae, I don’t know if we could have gotten this off the ground,” Polansky said during Monday’s meeting. “I know I couldn’t have done it myself. Rae has been right there with everybody every step of the way.”

Montesano has a degree in psychology from Cornell University and a master of science in education from Hofstra University, according to a press release from the district. She worked at various districts before landing in Huntington, including Harborfields Central School District.

I’m going to miss the children,” Montesano said in an interview Monday night. “I’m certainly going to miss my colleagues and the parents. Everyone’s been very supportive of me in the district.”

Principal Daniel Danbusky stands in front of the Northport High School. Photo Danbusky

Northport High School has a new principal.

Daniel Danbusky was appointed by the Board of Education at the Nov. 5 meeting, effective immediately.

Danbusky has been assistant principal at the high school since 2012, and prior to that, spent 11 years as a social studies teacher, coach and Dean of Students at the Brentwood school district.

“I knew immediately that even though it was very difficult to come to the decision to leave Brentwood, I had arrived in the right place,” Danbusky said in an email. “The students here impress me on a daily basis.  Whether it is walking around the art and music wing and seeing their creativity, or attending a fundraiser or community event and seeing the philanthropic spirit that exists in the student body, is beyond humbling.”

Danbusky said he is not the type of person who does well sitting in an office — so students can expect to see his face a lot.

“There is nothing greater about working in a school than being with the students, so I want to maximize my contact with them,” he said. 

Danbunsky received a B.A. in history and a Master’s in teaching from Union College.

He is replacing Irene McLaughlin, who was recently appointed Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources.

“I think he’s a terrific guy,” McLaughlin said in a phone interview. “He has incredible integrity and has established a great relationship with the students, faculty and staff. He’s the total package.”

McLaughlin said there were about 20 candidates when the search for a new principal started.

“It was a collaborative nature, which is important because you’re selecting who will now lead the high school every day,” she said.

Danbusky said one of his favorite parts of the job is seeing the students.

“They are some of the most motivated, talented, empathetic and selfless students I have ever had the privilege to work for in my 15 years in high schools,” he said.

Looking to the future, Danbusky said he hopes to foster better relationships with the middle schools “because coming into the high school of 2000, kids can be overwhelming.”

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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Officials are finishing up a large staffing shift in the Port Jefferson schools, recently choosing a new assistant principal for grades nine through 12.

Kevin Bernier is joining the Royals from the William Floyd school district, where he was an assistant high school principal and a career and technical education administrator.

“We are certain that Mr. Bernier, who comes to us with years of administrative experience, will serve our district well and help to ensure that all of our students receive the personalized, rigorous education that our community has come to expect,” Port Jefferson Superintendent Ken Bossert said in a statement this week.

Bernier, who will start at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School on Aug. 24, has a background as a secondary English teacher and is a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and of the National Council of Teachers of English, the Port Jefferson school district said. He is a Sayville resident.

The position Bernier will hold opened up after former high school Principal Matthew Murphy announced he would not return for the 2015-16 school year. Port Jefferson officials promoted assistant principal Christine Austen to Murphy’s role, vacating her spot.

As assistant principal, Austen previously handled all grade levels in the district, but officials split that job in two — creating one assistant principal position at the high school and one for the elementary and middle schools. Bernier’s primary education counterpart is former Middle County school district employee Claudia Smith, whom the school board appointed last month to serve the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School and Port Jefferson Middle School.

Those shifts are not the only staffing changes this school year — there is also a new principal at the middle school and a new district special education director.

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Brigit DiPrimo is a new assistant principal at Comsewogue High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Comsewogue High School has completed its search for a new assistant principal.

The board of education approved Brigit DiPrimo for a four-year probationary period during a business meeting on Monday night, filling a gap caused by recent shifts in the administration.

“I’m thrilled; this feels like a home away from home,” DiPrimo said in an interview after the meeting. “I’m very excited to get started.”

The Three Village resident previously worked as a principal in Amagansett and before that was an assistant principal at W.S. Mount Elementary School in Stony Brook.

The Comsewogue school district has undergone several administrative changes this year, with the two part-time deans at the middle and high schools being replaced with full-time assistant principals, and DiPrimo’s arrival completes the shift in staff.

Board members had already chosen social studies teacher and former dean James Hilbert to become the new assistant principal at John F. Kennedy Middle School, joining the other assistant principal there, Theresa Etts. At the high school, DiPrimo will work alongside fellow assistant principal Jinu Mathews — the pair of them replacing longtime dean Bill Bodkin, who has retired, and Robert Pearl, an assistant principal and special education teacher who recently left to become principal at Norwood Elementary School.

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Photo by Elana Glowatz

A Miller Place official will change his rally colors to purple and white this summer.

The Port Jefferson school board hired Robert Neidig as the district’s new middle school principal on July 28, a couple of months after three-year principal Antonio Santana announced he would not return to the position for the 2015-16 school year.

Neidig, an assistant principal at North Country Road Middle School for the past eight years, will start at Port Jefferson on Aug. 17, a letter to the community from Superintendent Ken Bossert said.

A recent press release from the Port Jefferson school district said Neidig has two master’s degrees from Stony Brook University and a doctorate in educational administration from Dowling College, and started his career as a social studies teacher in Babylon before becoming an administrator.

At Miller Place, he “fostered a positive relationship between the school and community, initiated character education programs to improve the school climate, facilitated the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards and served as chairperson for four academic departments,” the press release said.

Until Neidig officially makes the move to Royals country, the middle school has an interim principal, Leonard Bozza, who was once the Longwood High School principal and has previously served in interim roles in Port Jefferson: once as an assistant principal and once as the high school principal.

In addition to appointing the new Port Jefferson Middle School leader, the school board also added Brentwood’s head of speech and hearing, Jodi Cahill, as the new director of special education and Claudia Smith, currently a Middle Country school district staffer, as the elementary and middle school assistant principal.

Cahill has a master’s in speech language pathology from LIU Post and served on Brentwood’s special education committee, the press release said. Smith has been an elementary teacher for 18 years and has a master’s from Dowling College.

“Each was selected based upon outstanding vision, strong content knowledge, and the ability to collaborate with all stakeholders in an effective manner,” Bossert said of the three new staffers.

The district is still looking for an assistant principal for Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, and Bossert said the goal is to have one appointed before school starts.

Neidig, Cahill and Smith are part of a new lineup throughout Port Jefferson schools. In addition to replacing Santana, the district had to find a replacement for Matthew Murphy, the former high school principal, who announced his departure a few months before Santana. Officials recently promoted Christine Austen to the position from her role as the assistant principal for grades pre-k through 12.

Smith is absorbing Austen’s former elementary and middle school duties and the educator who is hired as the high school’s assistant principal will complete that transition.

“This is an exciting time in the Port Jefferson school district,” Bossert said in the press release. “[It is] a time filled with opportunities for growth and development as new leaders join the team.”

Huntington High School. File photo
Joseph DiTroia and Gamal Smith are the new assistant principals. Photo by Darin Reed
Joseph DiTroia and Gamal Smith are the new assistant principals. Photo by Darin Reed

On July 7, the Huntington school board appointed three new faces to serve in administrative roles at different levels. The meeting took place at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School auditorium and ended with the appointment of Kathleen Acker, Joseph DiTroia and Gamal Smith as superintendent and assistant principals, respectively.

According to a press release, trustees approved the appointment of Acker who will serve as the superintendent for finance and management services for the Huntington school district’s administrative team. Before joining this team, Acker was a business education teacher for six years at Walt Whitman High School. Since 2010, Acker was also the high school’s principal.

But before she was in charge of overseeing 250 Walt Whitman staff members and nearly 1,900 students, Acker was the school’s assistant principal for six years. She attended Long Island University Post, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in management. She then attended Stony Brook University for her Master of Science in technological systems management. Acker, who will assume the appointed position on Aug. 3, also has an advanced graduate certificate for school district administration, which she received while attending Stony Brook.

Acker will replace Sammy Gergis starting Aug. 3 and receives a salary of $185,000 for this position. Acker is up for tenure Aug. 3, 2019.

Both DiTroia and Smith will serve as assistant principals at Huntington High School and assumed their positions on July 8. Both individuals will receive a salary of $137,041. DiTroia will also handle master scheduling duties. According to Jim Hoops, public information coordinator for Huntington school district, the assistant principal who handles those duties are required to work 10 extra days in addition to the normal school year workdays. While Smith is not replacing a current faculty member, DiTroia will replace Brenden Cusack, according to a Huntington school board meeting agenda.

Kathleen Acker will be the school’s new assistant superintendent for finance. Photo by Darin Reed
Kathleen Acker will be the school’s new assistant superintendent for finance. Photo by Darin Reed

For DiTroia, life before Huntington High School included serving as a teaching assistant for two years at Plainedge High School. For nine years, he was also a social studies teacher at William Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School in Brooklyn, followed by becoming the dean of discipline. His accomplishments include serving as the dean of students and positions as the assistant principal of Alfred G. Berner Middle School in Massapequa and North Babylon High School, respectively.

DiTroia received a Bachelor of Arts in history while attending the University of Delaware. He also acquired a Master of Science in secondary education from Queens College.

Smith attended Clarkson University, where he received a Bachelor of Science in biology and premedicine. He attended Mercy College and obtained a Master of Science.

Before the board appointed him as one of the assistant principals, Smith worked at Richmond Hill High School as a teacher and lab instructor. While working at John Adams High School, Smith served as the dean of students. He was also the assistant principal at John W. Dodd Middle School and PS 212 in the Bronx.

Smith held the positions of assistant principal and science department chairman at Dr. Richard Izaquierdo Health & Science Charter School, was a science teacher and the dean of students for PS 254, and the principal of Nassau BOCES Positive Alternative Twilight High School.

DiTroia and Smith could not wait to get to work, as they began familiarizing themselves with the high school as well as Huntington faculty and staff members only several hours after the board appointed them to assistant principal positions. DiTroia and Smith are both up for tenure July 8, 2019.

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Port Jefferson Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson school district officials announced on Thursday that middle school Principal Antonio Santana would not return for 2015-16, making him the second building leader in the last few months to step down.

In a letter to parents and staff, Superintendent Ken Bossert said Santana would leave Port Jefferson Middle School for a role at a Nassau County high school beginning in July.

“While this news is disappointing, we are happy for Tony that he has chosen to continue to shape his career in the manner that he believes is best for him and his family,” Bossert wrote.

Antonio Santana, above, is leaving his role as Port Jefferson Middle School principal after three years. File photo
Antonio Santana, above, is leaving his role as Port Jefferson Middle School principal after three years. File photo

The same day, Santana sent out an email to parents about his departure.

“I cannot emphasize enough what a pleasure it’s been working with my students, staff, and parents,” he said. “As I have mentioned at many school functions, it has been a true privilege working in such a great community and all of your efforts in raising such wonderful children have been much appreciated. Having said this, I can’t help feeling a great deal of sadness when I think about all of the people I will miss, especially my students.”

Santana’s news comes about three months after high school Principal Matthew Murphy said he would resign at the end of the current school year, “to pursue other educational opportunities.” Murphy and Santana were both hired three years ago to jointly replace the combined middle school-high school principal, Roseann Cirnigliaro.

The district has filled Murphy’s slot — it announced recently that Christine Austen, the assistant principal for all grade levels and a Port Jefferson graduate, would succeed him at the helm of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School.

“It is wonderful to be given this opportunity to come home and give back to the community this way,” Austen said in a statement.

Austen said she wants to introduce more technology into classroom learning and implement new technology-related courses.

“Our goal is to prepare our students with skills that will last a lifetime,” the incoming principal said.

Bossert said in his Thursday letter that the search is already underway for a new middle school principal, but “due to the timing of this vacancy, it is likely that there will be a gap between Mr. Santana’s departure and the appointment of a new principal.”

Parents may reach out to Bossert, Assistant Superintendent for Business Sean Leister or Executive Director of Curriculum Maureen Hull with any questions.

“Further information about the progress of our search for Mr. Santana’s successor will be shared with our community as it develops.”

At the time of Murphy’s resignation announcement, the superintendent said the district did not plan to return to its previous system of having one principal for both the high school and the middle school. The district was able to operate in that manner for the two schools, which share a building, because it had a waiver from the state education department but that waiver has expired. Bossert has previously said the two schools are different learning environments that require “separate and distinct” principals.

Robert Pearl will once again take the helm at Norwood Elementary School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Along with freshly sharpened pencils and blank notebooks, the new school year will also bring several administrative changes to Comsewogue schools.

Special education teacher Robert Pearl will be the new principal at Norwood Elementary School, replacing longtime leader Leah Anesta, and James Hilbert, a John F. Kennedy Middle School social studies teacher and part-time dean, will become the new assistant principal at JFK.

The Comsewogue School Board of Education officially approved Pearl and Hilbert on Monday night, along with some other personnel changes, such as giving 15 educators increased work hours for the upcoming school year, with 10 teachers promoted to fulltime positions.

Pearl served a stint as interim principal from September to December, when Norwood Principal Leah Anesta took a leave of absence to care for an ill parent. Now she is retiring, after being with the district for more than 10 years.

Pearl, who has lived in the community for almost two decades, has said he would like to increase the elementary school’s involvement with parents and the community.

Hilbert’s hiring is part of a more complicated switch.

Comsewogue was operating with a dean at the middle school and one at Comsewogue High School, both part-time officials who had teaching responsibilities. Starting next year, to create more flexibility, those dean positions are being replaced with full-time assistant principals.

Bill Bodkin is retiring as the high school’s dean of students after many years, and is being replaced by two assistant principals: Jinu Mathews, who is already on board, and one more who has yet to be hired to replace Pearl, who entered the high school position upon Anesta’s return but will soon leave to once again step into her shoes.

The middle school already had one assistant principal, Theresa Etts, in addition to part-time dean Hilbert, so there will now be two of those full-time staffers at that school.

Superintendent Jim Polansky and newly appointed high school principal Brenden Cusack at a school board meeting on Monday night at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School. Photo by Jim Hoops

Huntington High School has a new leader at its helm.

The school board promoted Assistant Principal Brenden Cusack on Monday evening to replace longtime Principal Carmela Leonardi, who is retiring this year. Cusack’s appointment is effective July 1.

Cusack, a Babylon resident entering his 20th year in education, has been employed at the district for three years. He was seated in the audience at the school board meeting on Monday night at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School, and upon his appointment, members of the audience, including his family, cheered and clapped — some offering a standing ovation.

In an interview after the meeting, Cusack said he was eager to continue working on improving academics in the Huntington school district. He also wants to offer more opportunities for students to step up and would like to “try to develop and increased sense of caring” within the community, he said.

“Huntington High School is an amazing school,” Cusack said. “And I think you can see from a distance, [from] the outpouring of help to others, and things like that, and that’s something I want to build on.”

In a statement on the school’s website, Superintendent Jim Polansky lauded Cusack’s appointment.

“Over the past several years, Mr. Cusack has become an integral part of a successful high school team,” he said. “He has earned the respect of his students, staff and colleagues. He brings a wealth of administrative and teaching experience to the position. The achievement and well-being of his students have always been his foremost priorities.”

Cusack is a 1995 graduate of SUNY New Paltz with a bachelor’s in education, according to the statement.

Cusack earned a master’s at CUNY-Queens College in 2002 in adolescent education/English 7-12.

He obtained a professional diploma in school administration and supervision at CUNY-Queens College in 2005. He recently participated in school leadership training at Harvard College.