Two new administrators are in their posts at the Springs School prompting many in the community to hope they will provide newfound continuity following the administrative complexities that arose toward the end of the last academic year.
John Finello, superintendent, reported for duty on the first day of school, Sept. 9, and Cleopatra Panagiosoulis, assistant principal, started two weeks later, on Sept. 23. Mr. Finello is called Jay, while Ms. Panagiosoulis, whose six-syllable surname can be a challenge, especially for younger students, prefers either Cleo or Ms. P.
The school had been without an assistant principal since early May, when Katherine Byrnes resigned amid testing irregularities on a state exam. The investigation, led by the Testing Integrity Unit of the New York State Education Department, is still under way.
In the months following Dr. Byrnes’s abrupt departure, nearly 170 applicants applied to fill the vacancy. Ms. Panagiosoulis’s facility with language (she is fluent in both Spanish and Greek) and her experience with data made her the clear front-runner, according to members of the school board.
But hiring an assistant principal was not the district’s only challenge. Springs had a difficult time securing steady leadership as a result of its decision to operate with a part-time instead of a full-time superintendent as a cost-saving measure.
In early September, the board announced that its part-time superintendent, Dominic Mucci, had been denied the waiver necessary from the New York State Education Department to continue in the job. He required a yearly waiver because he is a retiree collecting a pension and earning $30,000 a year, but is not yet 65. After 65, retired educators are not subject to earnings limitations.
Mr. Finello, who is 63 and also a retiree, does not require a waiver since, in keeping with state regulations, he will receive approximately $25,000 for the remainder of the current calendar year and $30,000 come January. The school board has also agreed to provide him with up to $3,000 per month for rental expenses in East Hampton. His one-year term expires Aug. 31, 2014.
“I am excited about having Jay and Cleo as part of our Springs family, and I am certain their contributions will help our district grow and achieve, especially in these times of great change in curriculum delivery, student assessment, and professional evaluation,” Eric Casale, the principal, said. He cited Mr. Finello’s broad experience and Ms. Panagiosoulis’s ability to communicate in three languages as particular assets.
“I’m really happy that I’m here,” Ms. Panagiosoulis, 49, said during an interview late last week. Married with one teenage son, she commutes nearly 90 minutes each morning from the family’s home in Patchogue. “I immediately fell in love with the school. It’s very welcoming.”
“In this school, it’s a real community of learners,” Mr. Finello said. He is a native of Huntington, who is now living in a temporary residence in Springs. “There’s a real collaboration between parents, teachers, staff, the board of education, and local community groups. I’m excited about being here and looking forward to continuing the wonderful program.”
For the past two years, Mr. Finello was the interim superintendent of the East Islip School District. Prior to that, he spent 39 years in the Huntington School District, rising from teacher to staff developer to assistant principal to principal to assistant superintendent, before finally becoming the district’s superintendent. A graduate of St. John’s University, he received a master’s degree from Adelphi University and a diploma in administration from Long Island University’s C.W. Post Campus.
Each week, Mr. Finello plans to spend two to three days at school, and said he was fast learning about its culture and building. Springs, which now enrolls around 725 students, is significantly smaller than the Huntington district.
Ms. Panagiosoulis last worked as an assistant administrator for data and as an instruction specialist at the Evergreen Charter School in Hempstead, where the student body was 65 percent Latino and 35 percent black. In addition to her work at the charter school, she has done data work for the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Earlier, she had spent several years in the classroom, teaching in Manhattan and the Bronx.
Though Dr. Byrnes had previously overseen special education, Ms. Panagiosoulis will not do so. Instead, Louis Aiello, who stepped in to cover some of Dr. Byrnes’s duties in the interim, will stay on as a part-time employee overseeing special education, among other duties.
Accustomed to wearing multiple hats, working with diverse students is among Ms. Panagiosoulis’s passions. Her mother is Guatemalan, her father is Greek, and she was born in Guatemala. According to the most recent New York State figures, 51 percent of Springs students identify as Latino.
“I take pride in opening doors and reaching out to different parts of the population,” said the fast-talking Ms. Panagiosoulis. “I want to make them feel like they can come here, that we speak their language, that we understand their culture.”