The new principal of Sag Harbor Elementary School on his vision for the school, thoughts on a pre-kindergarten program, and why he chose to switch from educator to administrator.
How did working with former Elementary School Principal Joan Frisicano prepare you for this job?
She prepared me wonderfully from the very beginning. When I was a teacher actually and I made the decision to pursue administration, I had a conversation with Joan about it. This was two years prior to becoming the Assistant Principal [AP]. From the day of that conversation, Joan did whatever she could do to help me. While I was pursuing my degree, she was my advisor. She would include me in on the administration tasks of her job, kind of to get my feet wet. The timing worked out and when I completed my degree the position of AP opened up.
It has been a joy working with Joan. She shared every facet of the job with me and I can’t thank her enough for that. We have been a team. Aside from the day-to-day operational things of managing the school, the most valuable thing I have gained from her in the last four years is the quality time we spent talking about what takes place at the school. Those conversations strengthened my educational philosophy and what I value. We have had a lot of meaningful discussions about what is important for children, what a school should provide them, and that has guided my decision making.
What is the philosophy of the school?
It starts with the belief that all children are special. All have valuable and unique talents and it is our job as educators to do whatever we can to provide them with the opportunity to further explore those talents . . . If you look at our program, it is very diverse. We have an amazing academic program, but it is supported by an amazing offering in the arts and physical education. We bring in guest artists, we explore new things on field trips, and we are always trying to expand [our programming].
How would you like the school to evolve under your stewardship?
I am committed to continuing the academic excellence that has been such a part of this place. I am excited about looking forward to see how we do things and see how we can do it differently. I want children to be given the opportunity to explore more through hands-on experiences and give them more opportunities to be creative. We want to establish an environment that fosters both independent and team work. We want to make sure that we prepare children for the world they are about to enter.
I am dedicated to the idea of children looking at the big picture and thinking globally. We should continue to support foreign language. I was happy to bring in Spanish for kindergarten through fifth grade. I think we need to look at ways to expand our teaching of technology. We have already done some great things but we can do more. One of the things we have already worked on is treating computers as a special tool and something that should be embedded in the classroom to support everything else. We have brought laptops into the classrooms. While this can be costly to the district, we have also seen great results from it. Now we have five laptops in each classroom at minimum. They are available at all times of the day.
You started in the district as an assistant teacher. Did you always know that you wanted to pursue a career in administration?
I started in 1996. I was a teaching assistant for two years and then a taught for seven years. I mainly taught fourth grade. I didn’t know that I would end up in teaching. I was an economics major in college, but I always had a love for working with children. I took some education courses for my electives and the rest is history, I got the teaching bug. Actually, I pursued my education credentials through my masters at the same time I was working as a teaching assistant. There are teachers in my family and I think you tend to follow the people who have most affected you in your life.
It was a big change when I decided to go into administration. It was a big decision because I loved teaching. But if you think about how you can have a positive impact on so many children and their families and support the staff to continue to do great things for the children, that was very exciting to me. As an administrator, you can have a larger impact. It is something that continues to be exciting to me. As I got into it, I saw that I had a real aptitude for what the job entails. I was able to do it and do it well, and at times my economics degree comes in handy.
As the leader of the school, you go through all that it takes to manage the building, working with faculty and staff, you make sure the environment is safe and healthy for children. Most importantly as principal, you have to guide what the school is all about. You establish the budget for the new year and make sure the schedule is created in such a way to support all the different programs. I find that curriculum development is the most exciting part. You work together with the faculty and staff to design new experiences for children, particularly project based learning.
Since around 1998, Frisicano has advocated to establish a Pre Kindergarten program in the district and it seems the current school board hopes to implement a program in the fall of 2010. Given the ailing local economy, how important do you think it is to start a Pre-K program now?
Not only do I believe in the value of Pre-K, but it is something that I have had the opportunity to do a lot of research on. I am excited that the district is really exploring implementing the Pre-K here in Sag Harbor. I know Joan and several committees have been trying to get this off the ground for a while. But you always have to make decisions about how you are going to use resources to start this. I am excited that we are behind the idea, but how we are going to implement this is yet to be seen. Pre-K will only enhance an already great program, but we do have a finite amount of resources and we have to be responsible of everyone’s needs. We have some work to do there.
I know that Pre-K has a cost benefit in the long term for the school district. Are their programs already implemented at the elementary school level which save the district money in the long run?
I think we are providing so many wonderful services like that. We have language arts where we help struggling readers and writers. We have intervention in math at the early grade levels. There are a lot of things we do with special education, such as speech and occupational therapy. Receiving that kind of support early on is extremely beneficial to students, especially if something [like a learning disability] isn’t detected until later in their lives.