Along with the sixth-grade mini-Olympics and Harvey Milk Day, students at Jericho Middle School had more to celebrate this month — their principal taking a top statewide honor from the School Administrators Association of New York State.
Donald Gately received the group’s award as middle school Principal of the Year, given to a middle school head who “sets the pace, character and quality of education for the children in the school.”
Gately, 54, has headed Jericho Middle School for the last decade and previously was principal of H.B. Mattlin Middle School in the Plainview-Old Bethpage district. He has worked with middle school students his entire career and has served as an administrator since 1996.
The job brings him excitement daily, he said, even with the challenges that come with working with preteens and young teens.
“They’re in such a time of dramatic change in their life,” Gately said in an interview Friday. “To be there with them and to be an important figure at that time in their life, it’s just humbling to be around them and to help them through that.”
The association, which represents 7,200 school administrators, supervisors and coordinators, presented awards May 6 in 10 categories. A group of teachers at Jericho Middle School, which has more than 700 students in grades six through eight, came together to nominate Gately.
“Dr. Gately refuses to accept anything less than his own personal best and this permeates throughout Jericho Middle School,” the teachers wrote in their application.
Jericho has been selected as a National School to Watch by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform three times under Gately’s leadership, in 2009, 2012 and 2015. The Illinois-based forum — an alliance of educators, researchers, national associations and officers of professional organizations and foundations — annually highlights middle schools that perform well academically and developmentally and provide a socially equitable environment for students.
Gately said his goal is to make the experience of middle school more enjoyable.
One standout effort the association highlighted is his focus on anti-bullying measures. Gately said he and other administrators made the decision four years ago to implement the Olweus Bully Prevention Program, an international initiative to help students recognize bullying.
“As kids figure themselves out socially, they make a lot of mistakes,” he said. “Middle school tends to be a hotbed for bullying.”
Another hallmark of inclusivity cited by the association is the school’s Gay Straight Alliance. Students have participated in the club for a decade, and Gately said he believes Jericho is one of the only middle schools on Long Island to offer students that opportunity, in addition to celebrating the life of Milk — the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California — an annual diversity day and resources through the Nassau County Anti-Bias Consortium.
“I am a Bengali Muslim student that is a strong ally for the LGBTQ community. I am proud to say in the brief three years at the school, I have heard no homophobic remarks or witnessed homophobic activity,” student Nuzhat Tarafder told the association.
From students and parents to co-workers, the association said Gately’s enthusiasm is infectious. As a co-founder of EdCamp Long Island, a unique type of professional conference where attending teachers set the agenda and lead discussions, he encourages others to stay as excited as he is, the nominating teachers wrote.
Leading a middle school isn’t always the easiest job, Gately said, but the rewards are well worth the work.
“I’m like the proverbial frog in boiling water — I’ve always been working in middle school, so I think I’ve stopped noticing how challenging it is,” he said. “I just love it, I have a real passion for it.”