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Meet the West Islip High School teacher who was Tony Bennett's assistant

Nicole Cordani with credentials from her time working

Nicole Cordani with credentials from her time working with Tony Bennett before she decided to pursue teaching full time in 2004. Photo Credit: Newsday / Brittany Bernstein

Nicole Cordani had submitted so many internship applications in 1998 that by the time RPM Music Productions reached out to her, she couldn’t even remember what the company was.

An interview at RPM’s small Manhattan office quickly clued her in: The Centereach native — who was Nicole Delaney at the time — would be interning for an artist management company and record label owned by Tony Bennett and operated by his son, Danny.

She didn’t keep her intern title long, though. In her two years at the company she worked as a receptionist, productions manager and, for a short time, Tony Bennett’s assistant.

Cordani, now 40 and living in Selden, said Bennett was “one of the nicest men I’ve ever met” and that he knew everything about everyone in the company.

He would call and say, “Nicole, how’s your mom doing? How’s Grandma and Grandpa?” she said.

While working at RPM sometimes meant being backstage at concerts like KISS and Reba McEntire and attending posh restaurant openings, other times it was less glamorous. A typical day might include transporting boxes of CDs and promotional equipment in a hand cart across a sweltering Manhattan or getting Bennett’s Central Park South apartment recarpeted after his dog Boo peed all over it.

Once Bennett had been sick with laryngitis the week before he was set to perform at Carnegie Hall, and Cordani was tasked with finding a doctor who would clear Bennett for his performance, she said. When Bennett’s doctor refused to clear him, Bennett told Cordani, “Doll, find me another doctor.”

Cordani ultimately arranged to have Bennett visit the Manhattan hotel room of a Los Angeles doctor hours before the doctor was set to fly back home.

Working at RPM “was one of the best experiences I had,” she said. “I really learned how to just switch gears super fast, had to deal with so many different people and how to try not to be star-struck.”

Over time the chaos and long days wore on Cordani. She had been commuting from Centereach and working days that could stretch from 8 a.m. to midnight while also finishing her bachelor’s degree in marketing at Dowling College.

She left RPM in 2000 and briefly worked at a marketing company on Long Island. She got her master’s in business administration in 2002, but afterward wondered what it would have been like if she had followed the advice of her family members, many of whom were teachers.

“I figured out what was important,” she said. “I wanted a family. I wanted a more not-so-chaotic, simple lifestyle”.

She began substitute teaching in the Three Village district in the winter of 2002. When she worked in a special education class, she realized what she wanted to do.

“I had the best time with the kids because they were so sweet and so loving and everything I did I felt like I was helping,” she said. “I really didn’t have that at my other jobs. Everything was ‘budget this, budget that.’ ”

She went back to Dowling and, in 2004, earned her masters in special education. The following August she took a job at West Islip High School, and has since taught both special-needs and mainstream students in several subjects. She has also worked with at-risk students in the alternative school.

Almost two decades later, Cordani is married with a 4-year-old son, and still uses the lessons she learned at RPM.

“I learned a lot working with artists,” she said. “Because, really, kids are just small versions of them.”

Editor’s Note: Newsday.com is talking to Long Island teachers who were in another career before going into education. Do you have a story to share about finding your way into the classroom? Send it to brittany.bernstein@newsday.com.

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