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New Hyde Park-Garden City Park superintendent discusses his 'brilliant' elementary students

Robert Katulak, 59, has been superintendent of New

Robert Katulak, 59, has been superintendent of New Hyde Park-Garden City Park Union Free School District for five years. (Jan. 28, 2013) Credit: Brittany Wait

Robert Katulak, 59, of Florida, N.Y., has been superintendent of the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park Union Free School District for the last five years. He is married to Johanna Katulak and has a 27-year-old son, Robert Christopher Katulak.

What does it take to be successful as superintendent?

It starts with a shared vision and mission of what we want the district to achieve and offer, whether it’s providing new upgrades to the curriculum or implementing the new teacher assessments. We need to make sure students are given every opportunity they need to be well-rounded students when they leave us.

Tell me about the district and some of the programs if has to offer students.

We have four elementary schools in the district, with a total of about 1,600 children in kindergarten through sixth grade. We have an enrichment program that allows sixth graders to play senators, voting on bills at Village Hall and researching benchmark legislation. And of course we have math and science fairs for students to showcase their talents. We also have the Caring Ambassadors program, which we just implemented this year. It’s a peer training program to train sixth graders on roleplaying certaining situations involving bullying. It teaches kids to be an upstander to deter bullies, not a bystander. I tell the kids, “Once you type something mean about someone and press send on your computer, it’s always going to be in cyberspace.”

How has your district responded after the Newtown, Conn. tragedy?

Of course, we always have social workers for the students to talk to, and we have been tightening security and welcoming input from the PTA and parents to make our kids safer. For some schools, I know there’s been a push to put armed guards in buildings, but we’re not looking to do that. I’m curious to see what parents have to say about that, but right now we’re using the pass system. Visitors need a pass to walk through our doors and have to be announced.

What’s your favorite part about being superintendent?

I have the ability to be with the kids every single day whenever I want to be. I love listening to the kids prepare arguments in class and I make it one of my primary goals to visit classrooms in each of the schools every week. I like to think that every kid in the district knows me by name and the kids see me as someone in charge of the schools, but also know they can come to me with their problems. And that’s unique because when I was young I didn’t even know the superintendent’s name.

I know you don’t live here, but I’m sure you’ve mingled with the community. How would you describe New Hyde Park in terms of quality of life?

This is a very close-knit community and residents are very involved in education, sporting events and school programs. It’s a very centered community where everyone works well together. Although the community has a diverse religious and social population, residents have blended well, but at the same time maintained their own identity.

Tell me about what it’s like interacting only with kids at the elementary level, since there are no middle schools or high schools in the district.

You have students who say such insightful things. Some are already looking at going to college and comparing themselves to their parents on what they should do in the future. I think we downplay how brilliant these elementary students can be. Many of them have a great amount of street knowledge and common sense.

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