Sag Harbor school district’s new director of athletics, health and physical education and supervisor of facilities and grounds has quite a title and a very visible role in shaping what people think of the district as a whole.
What attracted you to the dual athletics and facilities role? And to Sag Harbor?
I have a passion for quality education and experience has taught me that many things in a school are connected and interact to impact teaching and learning; from the students, staff, parents and community, to the doors, windows and walls, to the plants, trees and sidewalks. Everything we see, touch, hear, smell and taste can have a positive impact on teaching and learning.
As for Sag Harbor, I heard many positive and complimentary stories from Nick DeCillis [Pierson AD from 1995 to 2006] and others and knew I would like it. It reminds me a lot of the Big Bear Lake region in Southern California, near where I grew up.
You were appointed on the night our district’s Long Range Planning Committee submitted its recommendations to the board (July 13). What did that board meeting teach you?
That the residents, school board members, teachers, and administrators share my passion for quality education, and understand that many things in a school are connected and interact to impact teaching and learning.
Have you ever seen a district with so ambitious a facilities agenda?
Yes. In 2001 Comsewogue shared some of the same ambitions. Two $14 million bond projects and eight years later, many of these ambitions have been realized.
What were your roles in attaining those goals?
As Athletic Director [from 2000 to 2004] I helped plan and supervise parts of the first bond issue with regard to a new fitness center, synthetic turf and natural turf fields, and tracks and tennis courts at the high school and middle school. This past year and a half, as Director of Facilities, I helped plan and supervise new boiler installations, new HVAC systems, new lighting for the middle school auditorium, new windows and doors, new high security keying systems, brick cladding repair, concrete replacement, and other projects. I also oversaw the implementation of a multi-million dollar energy performance contract.
Where did you start your teaching career? And your administrative one?
After graduating from Teachers College [Columbia University] in 1986, I began teaching in the New York City public school system as a high school health and physical education instructor and coach. I first became a school administrator in the Middle Country school district in 1998 as the health and physical education department chair at Centereach High School. In 1999 I became the director of health, physical education and athletics for that district.
You have also had a long career in the armed forces reserve. How did that come about? When did you leave?
I joined the California Army National Guard in 1986 to become a combat medic, earn some extra money and serve my country. In December of 2008, after 22 years of service, I joined the Retired Reserve at the rank of Major.
Where was your most recent tour of duty?
My last tour of active duty service was to Iraq, from October 2004 to December 2005. I served at Camp Victory, in Baghdad; Abu Ghraib Prison; Camp Bucca, near al Basra, and for six months at Camp Spartan, in Ashraf, Dyala Province, where we held members of the Mujahedeen al Kaq (or “MeK”, or People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran), the expatriate nationalist Iranians who fought with Saddam Hussein against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war, and who want to overthrow the mullahs in Iran. All these were incarceration missions and my duties included coordinating and ensuring medical, preventive medical, environmental and other aspects of detention operations were in compliance with U.S. Army, Department of Defense, and Geneva Convention regulations and laws. It was an extremely rewarding and life-changing experience.
What did you see there?
I saw extreme professionalism and sacrifice on the part of U.S. military personnel and U.S. civilian contractors. I saw exemplary bravery and selfless-service. I saw compassion and dedication beyond what any television or other media have ever or will probably ever show or report on. I saw grateful Iraqis. And I saw lots of bad guys.
Have you ever thought about writing about or reporting on those experiences?
Yes. I actually had a personal narrative published in the wartime anthology “Operation Homecoming,” published by Random House in 2006, edited by New York Times best-selling editor Andrew Carroll and sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. I wrote about my anxiety and fear of leaving my family and my then two-day-old son, Theodore on my first deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in January of 2002. The story is called “Theodore.” I have also written a memoir of that whole experience at Gitmo where for about six months I was the ranking Army Medical Department officer for the incarceration mission. The memoir is called, “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: The Real Story,” and it will hopefully be ready for publication sometime this fall. I have written several poems about my time in Iraq, and I hope someday to write a memoir of my time there as well.
What are you looking forward to most as you start out these next few weeks?
Getting to know people, places, and things. I want to know what people like about the Sag Harbor Schools, and about what they’d like to change and I would like to be a part of the team that will preserve the best and help change the rest. I believe that every day is an opportunity for excellence and I look forward to those opportunities very much.
What were your favorite sports growing up? What else did you find yourself doing in high school?
I grew up playing baseball, basketball, football, and tennis with my brothers and friends and on youth teams, and hiking and exploring the foothills of the Sierra Nevada across the street from my house. In high school I played varsity football (2 years), volleyball (1 year), and tennis (4 years). I also was an exchange student, sang in choirs and small singing groups, and acted in plays.
And because people always want to know and are afraid to ask: How old are you? Are you married? Do you have kids? Where are you living?
Wow! Well, I guess they’ll find out sooner or later, won’t they? I am 47. I am married to my grad school sweetheart, Sandra, whom I met in 1985. Sandra and I are blessed with five children; Benjamin, who’s 13; Harrison, who’s 10; Theodore, who’s 7; Hamilton, who’s almost 3; and little Hermione, who’s 10 months, and who’s named for the bookish, loyal and brave Harry Potter character–the boys insisted. We have lived in Port Jefferson Station, where my wife grew up, since 1991.
Have you stayed close to Nick DeCillis?
He has been one of my mentors since I was a new AD at Middle Country. I was at the dedication of the Newfield High School Stadium and new scoreboard that bears his name when Nick was honored there. I have had the esteemed pleasure of being a colleague of Nick’s through Section XI [the Suffolk County Chapter of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association] for many years now. Nick is a great man and a legend among athletic administrators.