By Claire Walla
While people in the Sag Harbor community are sad to see the oldest Catholic school on Long Island close its doors for good next week, for some the loss of Stella Maris has impacts beyond sentimental attachment.
Come Wednesday, June 22, 34 teachers and administrators will officially be unemployed.
“It’s really not a great time for teachers,” said second-grade teacher Liz Kirwan. Since news of the school closing was made public last month, Kirwan said she has spent her free time scouring websites and posting her resume on a site for teachers called Olaf. While she has applied for a few jobs, Kirwan said many of the positions listed now require English as a Second Language certification, which she does not have.
Plus, there’s the issue of geography.
“I would consider going to the North Fork or Hampton Bays to teach,” she added. But many of the job listings she’s found have been located closer to metropolitan areas like Manhattan and Boston and at this point she’s not inclined to move her family because, she said, “I love this area.”
Kirwan said many teachers, including herself, are now hoping to increase tutoring opportunities and are perhaps also looking for ways to substitute teach. Kirwan added that though she had never considered assistant teaching in the past, she would willingly do it now.
Silver Lining for Some
While the idea of securing a full-time teaching position in Sag Harbor is relatively grim for most, there are a few for whom the future seems somewhat stable. Middle school teacher Liz Guida will be transferring over to Our Lady of the Hamptons (the K-8 Catholic School in Southampton) next year, where many of the students are also headed. Other teachers will be transitioning into retirement and kindergarten co-teachers Kate Montaldo and Toni Rozzi will be embarking on a pursuit of their own.
“The second we heard there was a possibility Stella Maris would be closing, we thought… ‘What if?’” Montaldo said of her joint venture with Rozzi.
The two have created an organization called Children’s Logical Learning Service (CLLS), through which they will offer a whole slew of educational services from tutoring, mini-lessons for kids, facilitated playgroups, early literacy awareness, social skills groups and behavior management assistance.
“We knew it was difficult to get into schools out here and we really enjoyed working with each other,” she said. So, completely on a whim, Rozzi built a website and CLLS was born.
Though the organization has only been in existence for a few weeks and has yet to actually administer its services, Montaldo said a lot of parents have already approached the two teachers and expressed their excitement over what they’re doing.
The two teachers, both natives of Sag Harbor, earned their masters in early childhood education at the same time from Long Island University. Combined, they have experience with pre-K, English language arts (ELA) through middle school, day care (Rozzi worked for a Head Start program), kindergarten and special needs students.
The idea is to offer parents a variety of services throughout the week that would give them an opportunity to have their kids taken care of for an hour or two in a learning environment.
“It’s not just babysitting,” Rozzi continued, explaining that even the playgroups they organize will be facilitated and structured to promote learning in a fun environment.
As the organization develops and as parents express interest in the various services provided, Montaldo and Rozzi said they will be posting bi-monthly calendars on the organization’s website with class offerings. Though the two said their expertise lies with younger ages (including two-year-olds), their list of ideas for the summer months includes a book club for middle schoolers.
“If a parent feels their kid does not get that summer reading done, they can come in once a week and we’ll have a discussion,” Montaldo said. (Rozzi noted that she received her bachelor’s degree in English Literature.)
Montaldo and Rozzi also expressed interest in facilitating workshops for parents, on topics such as emergent writing and reading, so that parents can be more informed about the ways and rates in which their children are developing these skills.
“At this point, we’re remaining very flexible,” Rozzi said.
While details are still being worked out, the two plan to hold classes in the parish center at St. Andrews Church in Sag Harbor or Queen of Most Holy Rosary in Bridgehampton.
Montaldo and Rozzi are optimistic about their new venture. But they’re in the unique position of having been life-long friends with the same professional interests and the chance, now, to take a risk on a new opportunity.
Kirwan said she has substitute teaching jobs lined up for the summer and she hopes they will continue into the school year — but she can’t be sure. Though she previously worked in corporate America, Kirwan said at this point she’s not considering another career shift. With two small kids, “teaching fits with my lifestyle.”
“Mrs. [Jane] Peters has been generous to forward us the open positions in the district,” she continued, referring to Stella Maris’ principal. “But the emails have about 100 names attached to them. The competition is quite fierce.”
Hilary Helfant, who has been working as a part-time art teacher at the school for four years, has said she plans to substitute for the time being, too, until another teaching job crops up.
“It’s very difficult to get a teaching job now,” she emphasized. Though Helfant is used to a varied schedule, having taught sporadic classes at colleges, museums and libraries, she said she prefers the relative permanence of having a regular teaching post and (like Kirwan) because she has a young son, the fact that her work at Stella Maris is part-time is even better.
“I didn’t like teaching here and there,” she said. And at Stella Maris “you get attached to the kids because it’s a community.”
While Helfant is disheartened that the school will shut its doors in just about a week, she’s trying not to focus on it too much.
?She continued, “We’re just trying to end the school year without making it too sad.”