New leadership, outlook for Syosset schools
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The Syosset school district, under new leadership, has a message for its neighbors: Our doors are open.
The school board last week selected former Great Neck Superintendent Ronald L. Friedman -- known for his warmth and visibility -- as the district's interim leader, one who trustees say will help them reach out to the community in a way they haven't for years.
Critics of outgoing Superintendent Carole Hankin have said the administration discouraged community involvement and did little to foster relationships with other districts during her 23-year tenure.
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But that's over, board members said.
"We realized we had to change," trustee April Neuendorf said. "We are open to trade information, to share ideas, to see what works, to network. We would love that."
School board president Michael Cohen also said the district is eager to interact with others.
"If someone comes knocking on the door and extends themselves, I would be absolutely encouraging and insistent that we cultivate those relationships," he said.
Jericho Superintendent Henry Grishman said he looks forward to such a shift.
"We would love nothing more than to see an open, collaborative relationship with our neighbors to the north," he said, adding that Friedman is just the person to make that happen. "Ron is a listener. He is a people person. He's warm, he's sensitive and he's also an outstanding and well-experienced educator."
Calls to Hankin's office were not returned.
Friedman, 68, from Huntington village, retired from Great Neck in 2009. He's spent the past four years working as both an educational consultant, helping districts implement the state-mandated teacher and principal evaluation system, and as a mediator and arbitrator, having earned certifications from Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
As interim superintendent, Friedman will serve through June 30, 2014. He will earn $1 per day until Jan. 1, when he will be paid about $20,000 per month, the median salary for superintendents in Nassau County.
Trustees said they're looking to him to model the qualities they want to find in a permanent successor.
It's a role he's glad to play as schools open Tuesday.
"Everybody has a style and a tone," said Friedman, who started work last week. "If I can show them a particular style that works for Syosset, that may be helpful in their making a choice."
Regent Roger Tilles called Friedman "a real pro" who is well-informed and affable. Tilles' children attended the Great Neck schools while the district was under Friedman's leadership.
"He did a wonderful job," Tilles said. "He hired wonderful people and he was on top of things. He was very well-liked by the parents and the other administrators and by teachers."
He is an excellent choice for the 6,500-student Syosset district, Tilles said, adding "If they had to find an interim, there couldn't be anybody better."
Tom Rogers, head of Nassau Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said Friedman works hard at his craft.
"I knew him when he was superintendent at Long Beach," he said. "He enjoyed a wonderful reputation back then and it's only grown since. People saw him as very thoughtful, very approachable, very knowledgeable -- someone who clearly does his homework."
Syosset officials hope Friedman's experience over more than four decades -- he started out as a science teacher in the New York City public school system in 1967 -- will help them navigate new challenges facing educators and students.
School districts across New York are coping with implementation of tough national academic standards, known as the Common Core. Student scores on state tests given in April, which reflected the more rigorous curriculum, dropped sharply -- even in such high-achieving districts as Syosset.
District officials said they hope Friedman will help them address any weaknesses.
"We don't want a placeholder," Neuendorf said.
Cohen agreed, saying Friedman's insight will help in several areas, including the search for a permanent replacement, a process that has not yet begun.
The school board president said he wants Friedman's successor to be a creative thinker.
While Syosset offers programs for both high-achieving and for struggling students, Cohen said, he's looking for a superintendent who will find unique ways to reach the middle segment, which can be harder to engage.
"I would love to see a superintendent create an environment that makes them want to excel," Cohen said.
Ronald L. Friedman, 68, of Huntington village
1967: Bachelor of science in theoretical physics, The Cooper Union.
1977: Professional diploma (master's degree plus 30 credits) in educational administration, Hofstra University.
1993: Doctorate in educational administration, Hofstra University.
2011: Completed certificate program in labor arbitration and mediation, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
1967-1974: Teacher of physics and general science in the New York City schools and in Lawrence public schools.
1974-1982: Held various administrative posts in the Lawrence and Hicksville school districts.
1982-1999: Deputy or assistant superintendent in the Hicksville, Elwood and Long Beach school districts.
1999-2004: Superintendent of Long Beach Public Schools.
2004-2009: Superintendent of Great Neck Public Schools.
2013: Interim superintendent of the Syosset Central School District.
-- JO NAPOLITANO