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Glen Cove school officials hope for fresh start

School officials in Glen Cove say they're hopeful a new superintendent will help them move past what has been a painful chapter for the district.

There are allegations of cheating at two of its elementary schools and its high school, and Superintendent Joseph Laria's resignation Thursday came as another unwelcome surprise.

"It doesn't look good for us as a district," said Karen Ferguson, president of the Glen Cove Teachers Association. "We don't need another incident to give the impression that we are falling apart at the seams."

Sources said Laria on Wednesday allowed a 16-year-old student to drive his Lexus in the high school parking lot; Laria was in the passenger seat and two other students were in the backseat.

The district is reviewing the circumstances of the car ride during school hours, "interviewing students and staff, along with examining a security videotape," said Michael Conte, a district spokesman.

Laria, who has not returned phone calls, had just seven weeks until his scheduled retirement.

Alan B. Groveman, superintendent of the Connetquot district, called Laria "a wonderful person," adding that Laria was the head of the Elwood schools while Groveman's children attended.

"It's a surprising revelation given the extensive positive history he has in education in Nassau and Suffolk counties," he said, speaking of the resignation.

Laria has already been replaced by Assistant Superintendent Louis Zocchia, who will remain in the role until June 30.

Maria Rianna, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at the Smithtown district, will assume the job on July 1.

Trustee Gail Nedbor-Gross said she hopes Rianna will help Glen Cove move forward.

"She is a good person who will bring a lot of positive energy to our district," she said. "She is compassionate and experienced."

The district has also announced that its high school principal, Joseph Hinton, will remain absent for the remainder of the school year because of an undisclosed illness.

Roseann Cirnigliaro, the former principal of Port Jefferson High School, will take his place.

"I, personally, have always liked Dr. Hinton and I certainly hope he can come back," Nedbor-Gross said.

Antoinette Cappiello, co-president of the high school's Parent Teacher Student Association, said it's been "a tough time" for the district.

"We want to heal, to come back together and be the district that we were," she said.

Principal Hinton was "an amazing man, a true leader," she said. She's known him for several years, saying she'd "love to see him return."

Teachers at Margaret A. Connolly and Landing elementary schools have been accused of improperly coaching students on state tests. At the high school level, allegations of grade-changing have surfaced in connection with two 2012 Regents exams. The Nassau County district attorney's office is investigating.

Hinton has not been publicly linked to any improper activity, but sources close to the case have said the high school probe involves at least two administrators, including a principal.

Ferguson said the allegations don't have merit, and the district will be vindicated.

"These are wonderful teachers; loving, warm, caring, professional," she said. "This whole thing has been very much a shock."

She said teachers remain fearful about unfounded accusations.

"We are looking forward to next school year," she said.

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