Cheers, Tears for 29 Years

Therese Watson celebrated at a school board meeting
Therese Watson, who is stepping down from the Montauk School Board after 29 years, was celebrated at a school board meeting on Tuesday. Janis Hewitt

    It was a tearful exit, full of accolades, for Therese Watson on Tuesday at her last Montauk School Board meeting. She announced in March that after 29 years she was stepping down from her seat on the board. But it wasn’t Ms. Watson who was shedding tears; it was everyone around her.

    “A thank-you would not be enough. I thank you for your friendship, your wisdom, your guidance, your leadership, and for being a mentor to me when you handed over the presidency,” Diane Hausman, the board president, said, her eyes filling with tears.

    “It’s been my pleasure, it really has. It’s been a joy for me,” Ms. Watson said, seemingly eager to move on with the meeting.

    But it didn’t stop there. Jack Perna, the district superintendent, told Ms. Watson that she had helped him through many obstacles over the years and had given him the confidence to do his job. “Because of you and your insight, we pushed forward with many things in this district,” he said.

    Judith Pfister, a teacher, said Ms. Watson was on the hiring committee when she was seeking a job at the school 28 years ago. “I wanted to thank you for that,” she said.

    Bill Cullen, the school attorney, visited the meeting for the occasion and saluted Ms. Watson from the audience.

    Donna DiPaolo, a teacher, mentioned a private time in Ms. Watson’s life, when she took over the care of two nephews. “I looked up to you for that. You taught me what a family really is,” she said, tears running down her cheek.

    At that point, Ms. Hausman pulled out a picture of the Montauk School, framed and tied with a ribbon, and presented it to Ms. Watson, who received applause and a standing ovation from the school board, teachers, Mr. Perna, and others in the room. A large cake was then brought out.

    Marking her last meeting, all further resolutions were read by her. “We’re going to make you work today,” Lisa Ward, a board member, said.

    One of the resolutions was a final ratification of the teacher contract, which had been in limbo for over two years.

    “This is a committed, dedicated board, and we should appreciate them,” Mr. Perna said in praising the members’ work on the contract, adding that for the two years that the teachers worked without one you would never have known it because they were so professional.

    He commended Ms. Pfister for her service on the negotiating committee.

    “This is a wonderful faculty,” Mr. Perna said. He said he was glad they never took up the tactics that are often used by disgruntled teachers in other school districts.

    The board voted unanimously to approve the contract, with one abstention, by Kelly White, whose husband, Rick White, is a teacher at the school.

    In an e-mail message yesterday, Colette Clancy, the president of the Montauk Teachers Association, said that after two years of negotiating, both parties compromised with a modest proposal that satisfies both the board and the faculty. She said the association thanks the board members for their time and active role during negotiations.

    Another resolution that was unanimously approved was the hiring of a new physical education teacher, Will Collins, who was at the meeting and throughout the day had shadowed John Salmon, the current physical education teacher, who is retiring.

    Mr. Collins told the board that he grew up in East Hampton and is passionate about kids. He said everyone he talked to about working at the school told him how lucky he was to get the job.

    “They said what a great school this is, what a great family it is, and what a great community it is. With no reservations, I saw that today,” he said.