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Herricks superintendent to retire next year

Herricks Superintendent of Schools Dr. John E. Bierwirth

Herricks Superintendent of Schools Dr. John E. Bierwirth at Herricks Pulic School in New Hyde Park is retiring next June after 13 years, seen here on July 1, 2014. Credit: Uli Seit

Herricks schools superintendent and longtime Long Island educator John E. Bierwirth plans to retire next June 30 after 14 years in the post.

Bierwirth, who said he will work for an international testing company, was described by education leaders as an outstanding superintendent who helped students navigate the difficult channels of standardized testing.

"He's been an outstanding education leader every place he has served," said Jim Gounaris, Herricks school board president. "He has expertise in a whole host of issues, especially in matters of testing, and he's a great advocate on behalf of children."

David Feller, president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents and superintendent of the North Merrick school district, described Bierwirth as "an extremely bright professional who truly understands the metrics involved in the creation of good tests, and he was able to raise some critical issues about how the state conducts its assessments."

Bierwirth touted his success as superintendent of schools in Freeport, Sachem and Portland, Oregon, and as president and CEO of Outward Bound, the country's oldest and largest wilderness education program.

He said that during his tenure in Herricks, the number of students taking advanced placement tests has increased from about 30 percent to almost 80 percent.

The father of three said that, as superintendent of Sachem schools from 1990 to 1992, the percentage of students taking Regents level courses in the ninth grade increased from 55-60 percent to 85-90 percent in a year.

Known for answering his own phone, the 67-year-old Yale graduate said he believes children can excel if made to test their boundaries as in Outward Bound, where he said the experience of two or three weeks in the wilderness has made permanent changes in children and adults.

When it comes to assessing the abilities and capabilities of students, Bierwirth, whose father is the late former chairman of Grumman Corp., John C. Bierwirth, said their background should not be a factor.

He said parents' and teachers' assessments of students are largely based on race, ethnicity and gender, which can hinder student development.

"Some of the data is pretty uncomfortable. If they've [the students] made the choice themselves, that's one thing, but for someone to make choices that limits someone else's potential, that I'm very uncomfortable with."

Bierwirth, whose salary is $278,739, plans to work for the Program for International Student Assessment, which tests reading, math and science literacy.

"I've had a good time . . . The fun is in seeing people succeed, seeing students and teachers doing certain things they thought they couldn't do."

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, who was a school board member and president for 16 years for Great Neck Public Schools, said Bierwirth "will be missed dearly, and I wish him the best as he moves on to the next chapter of his life."

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