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Sachem superintendent will retire after 2015-16 school year

Sachem Superintendent James Nolan speaks at a school

Sachem Superintendent James Nolan speaks at a school board meeting on June 11, 2013. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

James Nolan, the English teacher who went on to lead the Sachem Central School District as superintendent, announced Wednesday he will retire at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

"I have been blessed to work with the greatest students, employees, families and residents on the planet," said Nolan, 54, who became chief of one of Long Island's largest school districts in December 2009 after serving as Sachem High School North principal. "Together, we are the Sachem family, and that continues to be a high point for me each and every day."

His departure, he said, is a family decision, based on the job's "demands of time and energy that I am looking forward to giving back to my incredible family."

Sal Tripi, the school board president, praised Nolan as "a very strong leader, who has embraced our community and led our school district through some very difficult times."

Nolan's current salary is $244,000, and the retirement comes at the end of a four-year contract, he said.

The board is "evaluating its options" regarding a successor, Tripi said.

The district -- which with 13,834 students is one of the biggest suburban systems in the state -- was able under Nolan's leadership to avoid significant cuts to programs despite decreases in state aid, Tripi said. He also credited the superintendent with initiation of a leadership program for kindergarten through 12th grade, based on Stephen R. Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" -- a program that now is open to members of the community.

"Nolan will be sorely missed," Tripi said.

As his and his team's accomplishments, Nolan pointed to that leadership program, implemented in partnership with FranklinCovey Co., as well as a new math curriculum, literacy program and K-12 health and wellness curriculum.

The son of an elementary schoolteacher, Nolan said he was "blessed to have amazing teachers" when he was a student in the Bayport-Blue Point school district.

He started his career as an English teacher in Sachem in 1983, and said he "loved every second of teaching and coaching from day one."

Experience in the classroom and having three children of his own, Nolan said, have been "the two greatest influences on my role as an administrator."

Among his lowest moments, he said, were losing teachers and staff to budget cuts. That occurred after recession-driven decreases in state aid and from the effects of the district's state-mandated property tax cap.

The district's budget for 2015-16 is $296,073,703, a 0.64 percent increase from the current budget. It called for reducing staff by 21 positions, according to information the district supplied to Newsday before the May 19 budget vote. The spending plan was approved, 4,674-1,360.

As for issues related to student testing and curriculum stemming from the controversial Common Core academic standards, Nolan said, "Change is inevitable and necessary."

He added that the "incredibly poor" implementation of the initiatives, "combined with the top-down, non-participatory process of delivery, alienated most everyone involved."

In the next school year, there is much to accomplish, he said, with the focus being to navigate "challenging fiscal times while preparing our students to become leaders of great character who are highly competent, confident and caring."

As for retirement activities, Nolan said he has "no immediate plans, but I'm not one to sit around."

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