Plaza Elementary School in Baldwin has been named a 2018 National School of Character by a nonprofit organization based in the nation's capital, the sole school on Long Island and one of 73 nationwide to be accorded the distinction.
The school, with more than 400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, received the honor from Character.org. To be considered, schools must demonstrate through a rigorous evaluation process that character development has had “a positive impact on academics, student behavior and school climate,” the organization said.
Plaza Elementary will hold the designation for five years and be part of a network of schools that serve as models and mentors.
“The honor is extremely important, but the reason the school got the honor is more important,” said Shari Camhi, the district's superintendent. “There’s a real sense of belonging and understanding of what it means to be a part of this community.”
The school's character education efforts range from mindfulness programs to Team ORCHID, a group of students who act as digital journalists and report on the school’s positive news, such as community service projects and events including Field Day.
To be in the running, schools were required to complete an application about their character education efforts and undergo on-site visits and interviews.
"The most meaningful part is being able to have high expectations for our kids, because now we've achieved it," principal Mark Gray said of the designation.
Character.org named Plaza Elementary a State School of Character in February. Lee Road Elementary School in the Levittown school district also earned that honor.
The Commack school district has two new principals — Michael Larson at Commack Middle School and Jessica Santarpia at Rolling Hills Primary School.
Larson previously was an assistant principal at Commack High School. He began serving in the Commack system in 2007, teaching history, economics and government. He replaced Anthony Davidson.
“I look forward to embracing new learnings and maintaining the program of academic excellence that has been established at Commack Middle School," Larson said.
Santarpia, who started her career as a fifth-grade teacher in Valley Stream, had been an assistant principal at Stanley D. Saltzman East Memorial Elementary School in Farmingdale since 2013. She replaced Janet Studley, who retired.
“I'm thrilled to be joining the Rolling Hills learning community and I look forward to getting to know the children, families and staff in Commack,” Santarpia said.
Jason Huntsman has been named principal of Kings Park High School. He replaced Lino Bracco, who retired.
Huntsman served the past four years as an assistant principal at Smithtown High School West. Before that, he was an assistant principal in Seaford and a special education and general education teacher in Hauppauge.
“Our focus will be to continue providing and cultivating opportunities for students to thrive in and out of the classroom," Huntsman said. "Our goal is to embrace our new infusion of technology to enhance communication and instruction across all areas.”
John Ruggero has been appointed principal of Robert Moses Middle School. He replaced Elizabeth Walsh-Bulger, who now is a vice principal at Long Beach High School.
Ruggero previously was principal of Waverly Avenue Elementary School in Holtsville and before that was an assistant principal at Seneca Middle School in Holbrook. He began his career as a math teacher in 1998.
“I am excited to join the North Babylon family and look forward to working with the students, families and staff,” Ruggero said. “I am anticipating a wonderful year filled with great learning opportunities and experiences for all of our students.”