During last week’s kindergarten orientation at the John M. Marshall Elementary School, Elizabeth Doyle stood before the entering class and their parents with butterflies in her stomach.
“I was feeling the same way the kids were feeling — nervous and excited at the same time,” Ms. Doyle said during an interview from her new office at John Marshall, where she is beginning her first year as principal of the 600-student school. “There’s been all this anticipation building over the summer. I just want to get started and finally meet them all.”
Though teachers at most local schools reported for duty earlier this week, readying their classrooms and participating in staff development, students in most districts aren’t due back until Monday — a day that for many will signal a formal shifting of the seasons.
But for Ms. Doyle, the end of summer can’t come fast enough.
“I’m thrilled to be here and I’m raring to go,” she said.
Though she is a new face in the district, some in the administration are hopeful that her leadership will bring both rigor and stability to a school that has recently struggled with both.
Over the past few years, John Marshall, as with several schools on the South Fork, has seen a rotating cast of administrators. Ms. Doyle is the third principal in as many years. After being denied tenure last spring, Gina Kraus, the former principal, will return to the classroom as a first-grade teacher.
During the interview process, Richard Burns, the district’s superintendent, was struck by Ms. Doyle’s professionalism and thoughtfulness, he said. Her hiring follows an extensive search process. Nearly three-dozen candidates applied for the position.
“She’s a systems person who carefully thinks things through,” said Mr. Burns, who is hopeful that student achievement will soar under her leadership. “Coming from the business world, she has a fascinating background and I’m excited about how she’ll guide her teachers to improve instruction.”
Earlier this spring, the school board appointed Ms. Doyle to a three-year probationary term that began July 1 and will expire on June 30, 2016. The position pays an annual salary of $136,000. When it comes to receiving tenure, Mr. Burns said that student gains are key and that outcomes under her stewardship will be watched closely.
Ms. Doyle, 41, who goes by Beth, graduated from Bethpage High School and received a bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University and a master’s degree from Queens College.
Growing up, college was not always on her radar. She first enrolled at the State University at Farmingdale before receiving a partial academic scholarship to Hofstra.
“I didn’t have a privileged upbringing. I paid for college myself and I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Ms. Doyle. “It made me resilient and resourceful and responsible. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t gone through that.”
But before spending the last decade immersed in the world of education, Ms. Doyle spent several years in the corporate world, last working as a vice president in the wealth management division for Citigroup. In 2003, she joined the New York City Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that attracts mid-career professionals to teach in under-resourced city schools.
The lavish pay and annual bonuses of the corporate world were no match for the magic she found in a Queens classroom, where she taught fourth and fifth grade. “Education put me on this great path,” she said. “I wanted to give back.” Within her first week there, she knew she wanted to someday become a principal.
For the past three years, Ms. Doyle was the principal of the Explore Empower Charter School in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, a kindergarten through fifth-grade school where 90 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches and nearly all are black. Prior to becoming a principal, she worked as a kindergarten through 12th-grade coordinator of English in the White Plains School District in Westchester.
As the Explore network began moving in a different direction, Ms. Doyle searched for other opportunities, with a particular eye toward Long Island, hoping to eventually return to the area where both she and her husband, Michael Guinan, grew up.
Though familiar with the East End, after renting in Westhampton or Hampton Bays during summers in her 20s, she said East Hampton’s diversity is what ultimately lured her in.
According to the 2011-12 New York State Report Card, 47 percent of the district’s student body is Latino. White students, who used to be a majority, now account for 43 percent. Though Ms. Doyle said she knows a little Spanish, she does not speak it fluently.
“I didn’t want to go to a district where I felt like they don’t need help but wanted to be able to apply what I had learned,” she said. “I like diversity and I find it challenging, rewarding, and exciting. I’ve always worked in districts that are diverse and in low-income communities where the work is interesting.”
Known for putting in 80 to 90-hour workweeks, Ms. Doyle described her leadership style as collaborative and relying on data to inform her decision-making. Though her prior post had a rotating assortment of inexperienced young teachers, which is common at many urban charter schools, she is thrilled by the possibility of working alongside a band of committed, senior educators, intent on continually improving their craft.
For the time being, Ms. Doyle is acclimating to life on the South Fork, with plans to move from a temporary home in Springs to more permanent digs in East Hampton later this month. After moving out of their apartment in Lower Manhattan earlier this week, her husband, who works as the New York executive director of the Achievement Network, an organization that helps schools execute data-driven instruction, will now work remotely.
“I’m really looking forward to the community feel,” said Ms. Doyle, with a smile. “There’s this going-home sort of feeling here, and I’ve really missed that sense of community.”