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Hampton Bays people: Lars Clemensen

Lars Clemensen, 32, is the Hampton Bays Public

Lars Clemensen, 32, is the Hampton Bays Public Schools Superintendent. (June 21, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Lars Clemensen, 32

Community association: Hampton Bays Public Schools Superintendent

How long have you been with the district?
I’ve been working in the district for six years and am finishing my second year as superintendent.

How did you end up here?
I went to school in Hampton Bays through eighth grade.
I moved back from Texas in 2002 to New Jersey to teach in Paterson with Teach For America, but I never lost my connection with this community and I still have some family here.
I was back visiting and I actually had the opportunity to meet the superintendent at the beach one day, and that’s how things got started.
Then they were building the new middle school, so I helped open that building and was principal there before becoming superintendent.

You mentioned Texas .?.?.
I did. My family moved to Dallas after I finished eighth grade, so I went to high school in North Dallas and then went to college at the University of Texas. You can ask any student in the middle school or high school and they will tell you where I went to college. I’m a die-hard Longhorns fan.

What are you enjoying about being superintendent?
Well, it’s interesting because some of the teachers I had as a kid are still my teachers, but in a different way.
It’s great here. There is so much potential in this community to do good.
Especially because there is no town hall here, the school is the central community experience. You vote here, you see shows here, you walk on the track, you exercise on our fields and fitness center. I’m humbled to be in a position to allocate the resources for the benefit of our kids and our community.

What was the area like when you were growing up?
It was a lot smaller. When I drive down the streets now, it’s the number of cars that strikes me the most. We used to ride our bikes everywhere. And I remember knowing everybody. I would get yelled at by other people’s moms and my mom would yell at other people. That’s just how it was. We were all kind of raised together.

I’ve heard Teach for America is a difficult experience [because you are placed in an impoverished school district]. How does that compare to where you are now?
It was. What I took away from Teach for America is that it’s about the people. You put the right people in the role and it’s possible for all kids to be successful. That’s the thing that in my mind is the recipe for success.
Hampton Bays is a middle class community and people here struggle. The way of the world is played out in Hampton Bays, we have those that are doing very well and those that aren’t. So I just take what I learned at Teach for America and I think I can apply that anywhere.

What challenges does the community face?
Certainly, our tax base is very strained. The property tax cap was something needed in Hampton Bays possibly more than anywhere else. We have the highest tax burden of any school district that is entirely within the Town of Southampton.
We do not have the massive estates that other districts rely on for tax revenue. So our burden is to deliver first class education that our community can afford.
Our other challenge is density as a community. When I was here, Hampton Bays had motels, hotels and cottages. It was a summer community — that’s how my family first came here, for summers.
These have been converted to apartments, condos and year-round rentals. This community was not built to handle that, so our schools have been playing catch-up. So enforcement of existing zoning laws to put a cap on growth is a huge issue.

How would you characterize Hampton Bays?
It’s a roll-up-your-sleeves, get-to-work kind of community. People help each other and they are invested in their kids. We have families with particular talents that are always willing to help, and families with particular needs that can get it.

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