One week ago, the community learned that in January, Sag Harbor Elementary School would lose one of its most valuable assets — an administrator, a teacher, a guidance counselor, a mother and a grandmother — principal Joan Frisicano.
This week there were tears in the office of the elementary school – but they were tears of joy as news spread that Frisicano has reconsidered her decision to retire.
“I felt like my world was off kilter,” said Frisicano’s secretary Karen Mullen, with tears in her eyes.
Frisicano has been the principal and guiding force of the elementary school for 19 years and among many things, has developed the morning school program, which helped to turn the Sag Harbor Elementary into a Blue Ribbon school, an annual national school recognition program.
After announcing her decision to the board of education last Monday, and after telling her staff last Wednesday afternoon, Frisicano said she thought it might become easier to accept the fact that she would be leaving.
“None of that seemed to come together,” said Frisicano in an interview Wednesday.
Frisicano met with superintendent Dr. John Gratto in his office this past Monday and informed him that she would not be retiring after all. After the board of education’s executive session Tuesday night, Gratto announced to board members that Frisicano would not be stepping down.
On Wednesday, around 12:30 p.m. Frisicano told her staff during a lunchtime meeting that she had decided to renege on her original decision and would continue to stay on as principal of the elementary school.
Frisicano said on Wednesday that the decision to retire weighed very heavily on her heart, and added that she loves what she is doing. Frisicano explained that she imagined the decision would be easier — once she made the announcement she thought it would be easy to accept her retirement as reality but she added after it was all done she wasn’t able to cross over into that mindset.
“I had a feeling of emptiness,” Frisicano said on Wednesday. “I thought about all the work I’ve done and I thought about all the responses I got from the kids and staff,” and that, she said, helped her realize she wasn’t ready.
Frisicano said a feeling of “you’re not done” came over her and she felt she needed to keep moving forward with the job.
It is well known in the elementary school that Frisicano loves ladybugs. In her absence on Friday the students and staff members helped adorn the building, particularly her office, with red and black ladybugs, recognizing the hard work and dedication Frisicano has put into the school and also as a good-bye and thank you.
Frisicano said that helped her make the decision.
“We are a family,” she said, “I just thought, what can I do that I can’t do in Sag Harbor? You expect a reaction, but not the reaction that I had,” she added.Â
“I have always had interests, I have my fun and still work, I thought I can continue to do this and still be the principal.”
Frisicano also said after speaking with her daughter over the weekend, who agreed that this job is what Frisicano loves, she decided to stay.
After she announced her resignation, many in the community raised questions about why she was leaving and why her retirement would go into effect in the middle of the school year.
“People thought I was being pushed out, but that was not the case,” Frisicano said on Wednesday. “I hope the community understands that the decision to retire was my decision, and the decision to change was my decision.”
Frisicano said that part of her reason for leaving was that she wanted a new challenge in her life.
“And a new challenge looked attractive to me,” although she said she had no plans for what that would be, she said she just thought she would be able to find it.
“But then,” Frisicano said, “I realized that this job can still be a challenge.”
“Welcome back,” school board president, Walter Wilcoxen said on Wednesday, “Here’s a woman that has worked hard in this district and made the elementary school what it is now, she has been a great asset to our district.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, where Gratto told the board of education about Frisicano’s decision to stay, the group was discussing the next and final steps for confirming Frisicano’s retirement. Close friend and former school board president, Sandi Kruel, said that Frisicano was supposed to have submitted a letter of resignation, which would’ve made her decision final, but Frisicano did not submit the letter.
“I am so happy,” Kruel said. “She is just not done with our district, and I’m thrilled she is staying.”
“I was ready to petition or sit out, whatever it took – we were hoping that she would realize that this was not the right decision,” said Kruel, who believes as the week progressed Frisicano could not go through with it. “Her family is here, her roots are here.”
Kruel also said that she feels this is a good decision, “Kudos to Joan, the board and Gratto – it’s now a team again.”
Last year, Sag Harbor’s board of education considered adding an assistant superintendent position, which has not been created. When asked if the administrative structure of the district faces any changes, Gratto said when he began working in the district people were asking him that question. He replied that he needs a sufficient amount of time to determine any changes and will be able to report and recommend any changes in December. It will then be up to the board of education to decide whether to follow those recommendations.
“Joan is a very talented person who has done a great job of administrating that school and I’m sure she will continue to do a great job,” Gratto said on Wednesday. “I would be happy to have her stay for as long as she wants.”
When asked what her long and short-term goals for the district would be Frisicano said she would need to give it some more thought but added she thinks that Gratto has been positive about the school district and hopes together they can work on accomplishing more in grades K-12 with a continued articulation between both schools.
Frisicano explained that with Gratto, she hopes to accomplish both state and national recognition for the schools where she can focus on getting the elementary school back to a Blue Ribbon school.
While Frisicano said on Wednesday that it is possible she will retire within the next 10 years, she isn’t thinking about going anywhere for at least the next five years.
“I still haven’t finished with this,” she said.