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Former Wantagh Superintendent Named Interim Superintendent for Sag Harbor

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By Amanda Wyatt

As the Sag Harbor School Board of Education continues its search for a long-term superintendent in the wake of the announcement of Dr. John Gratto’s retirement last month, on Monday, the school board unanimously approved the appointment of Dr. Carl Bonuso as the interim superintendent. A former superintendent in the Wantagh School District, Dr. Bonuso was introduced to the school community and sworn in amid applause from the Board and members of the community.

“I think we are extremely fortunate to have a professional of Dr. Bonuso’s caliber assuming this important role for our very special school district,” said School Board President Theresa Samot at the meeting.

Samto said that Dr. Bonuso’s first day working for the school district would be on Wednesday. Dr. Gratto’s last day is on Friday. According to board members, Dr. Bonuso is expected to serve as the interim superintendent for the majority of the 2012-2013 school year.

His salary will be for $170,155.

“I look at the position of interim superintendent as not an ‘in the meantime’ superintendent,” Dr. Bonuso said at the meeting. “I look at the position as an opportunity to join the Sag Harbor family.”

“I am duly impressed by the passion, by the intellect, and by the heart displayed in this room tonight,” he continued. “It truly makes me thankful and honored to join the family.”

Samot said that in the Board of Education’s search for an interim superintendent, School Leadership recommended that they hire a retiree.

“We really needed someone experienced, who could jump in and take over immediately,” she said.

While the firm recommended “some excellent candidates,” she noted that the board was in total agreement that Dr. Bonuso was best for the job.

Dr. Bonuso, who was recommended by same firm that suggested Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, has spent 37 years in the public education system. In addition to serving as the superintendent of Wantagh Schools for a decade, he has also been an interim superintendent, assistant superintendent of instruction and personnel, principal, assistant principal, educational consultant and a social studies teacher.

Dr. Bonuso has served as an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University and Dowling College and as an APPR trainer at Nassau BOCES. For several years, he has also been the editor-in-chief of the Long Island Educational Review, a peer-reviewed education journal.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, Dr. Bonuso has lived in Suffolk County for the past 25 years. He has two adult daughters, Cristy and Cara, with his wife of many years, Cristina.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in economics from Hofstra University, Dr. Bonuso joined the U.S. Army Artillery during the Vietnam Era. In an interview, he said that his duties involved serving as a training officer. Oddly enough, he explained, this is where he fell in love with education.

“Now granted, there’s quite a difference between teaching hand-to-hand combat and social studies,” he laughed.

After his time in the service, he briefly went into the business world before going back to Hofstra University to study education. He spent 12 years as a teacher before he went into administration. Still, Dr. Bonuso said, “teaching has always been my favorite job.”

As an administrator, Dr. Bonuso said he wants to make sure that “there is not only curricular development, but community development. The best programs are the ones not just with the best programs, but with the best people and the best partnerships.”

Dr. Bonuso also mentioned that he is concerned about keeping Sag Harbor financially solvent.

“All school districts, of course, are working in a very difficult fiscal environment,” he said. “We have everything from tax caps to one unfunded [state] mandate after another. So that is a challenge — to maintain educational excellence in that fiscal environment.”

As Dr. Bonuso begins his tenure in Sag Harbor, Dr. Gratto — who has been superintendent for the past four years — is preparing to leave the district. At the August 13 board meeting, Gratto received applause and a standing ovation for his service, as well as a certificate of appreciation.

“When you leave a job, you can look at the place you’re leaving and say, ‘is it in better shape now than when I got here?’” said Vice President Chris Tice. “And from four years ago to now, the district is in so much better shape, and that was under [Gratto’s] leadership.”

“I also want to give kudos to the administrators, too,” said Gratto. “Thank you for the accolades you’re giving me, but the administrators are the backbone, the people who get things done.”