Jeannette M. Feminella, a teacher and school administrator who once danced on the roof of Commack Road Elementary School in Islip to encourage students to read, died of cancer July 7. The Bay Shore resident was 55.
For more than three decades, Feminella worked in the public school system in Suffolk County, focusing first on a special education and later on administration. In 2011, under her leadership as principal of Commack Road Elementary School, the Washington, D.C.-based Character.org awarded the school its National School of Character award.
Her dance atop the school became legendary, said Susan Schnebel, who became Islip superintendent of schools.
“She would do whatever she needed to do to promote literacy for her students,” Schnebel said. Feminella, as an incentive to get her students to read, told them she would dance on the roof if they met a summer reading target, which they did.
“All the children came out with their teachers around the school and she got up there and she did a silly dance,” Schnebel said.
Growing up in Islip, Feminella knew she wanted to be a teacher, said her brother, Thomas Moss of Wading River. After receiving undergraduate degrees in education and special education from St. Joseph’s College in 1982 she became a special-education teacher in Brentwood in 1984. She also received a master’s degree in education from Adelphi University in 1987.
Moss said that his sister had a “proper sense of righteousness” that, combined with her knowledge of instruction and the education system, helped her help parents of special needs children.
“She always wanted to make sure that what was being done for the child was what was right for the child,” Moss said.
She enjoyed traveling — in the United States and Europe, and especially to Ireland and England, where her family has roots — getting cheap flights because her father worked at Pan Am Airlines.
She and her husband met at a party in Great River in 1987.
“She was the prettiest girl I had ever seen,” said Dominic Feminella. Later, he ran into her at a diner and asked her out to see the film “La Bamba” before he headed back to college in Arizona.
“We wrote letters back and forth,” he said. “We just became friends and fell in love and decided we were right for each other.” Two years later they wed and later had three sons.
In 1998 she moved from teaching to administration, becoming principal at Commack Road Elementary in 2005.
She continued working through two bouts of cancer, but last year retired in the face of colon cancer that had metastasized.
She also is survived by sons Sean, Ryan and Neil; her parents, Harry and Dorothy Moss of Islip; sister, Dorothy Farrell of Holtsville; and grandmother Dorothy Doherty of Sayville.
Feminella was buried July 13 at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Bay Shore after a Roman Catholic funeral Mass.