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Sewanhaka names new superintendent

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James Grossane will be the Sewanhaka School District’s new superintendent at the end of this school year, the Board of Education announced at its March 12 meeting. His hiring comes eight months after current Superintendent Ralph Ferrie announced last July that he would retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Board President David Del Santo spoke highly of Grossane, who has been superintendent of the Smithtown Central School District for five years. “We looked far and wide for months to find the next leader of this district,” Del Santo said. “We knew we wanted someone who knows Long Island, who knows New York.”

Previously, Grossane was superintendent of the Levittown School District, assistant to the superintendent for student support services in the Massapequa School District, and principal of Massapequa High School and Washington Street School in Franklin Square, where he first worked as a principal and received a certificate of appreciation on Founders Day in 1999.

“I’ve read up on Sewanhaka, and this is a great opportunity for me,” Grossane told parents, teachers and administrators. “It’s bittersweet to leave my old administration, but they told me, ‘Your job was to leave things better than they were when you started, and that’s what you did here.’”

While at Smithtown, Grossane helped implement a handful of accelerated programs, including Project Lead the Way, which progressively works to help students transition from the K-to-12 system into college throughout their time in the district. Last year, Grossane and his team presented a district-wide plan to help give students of color the same opportunities as their white peers.

The plan called for the training of administrators and teachers to identify inequality in the district, and have them attend education and equity workshops. Like Sewanhaka, Smithtown is working to expand student access to challenging curricula and Advanced Placement courses among all students, regardless of race. A lack of challenging classes was found to be one of the most persistent forms of racial inequality in New York schools, according a 2018 report by the New York Equity Coalition. Smithtown even joined the Long Island Consortium for Excellence and Equity, a group that Ferrie helped establish when he first joined Sewanhaka in 2011.

Fostering equity among the students in Sewanhaka, a minority-majority district, has been of a focus Ferrie’s during his eight years in the district, an effort that parents and community members acknowledged when they were asked to give their input on what they wanted to see in Ferrie’s successor.

Elmont resident and Jamaica Square Civic Association President Claudine Hall had previously asked Deborah Raizes, from Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, the education consulting firm hired to find Ferrie’s replacement, that the district needed a leader who represented the face of the district. Hall said she had reached out to friends who were high-ranking officials in nearby school districts, but they were skeptical of applying.

“They emailed me and said, ‘We don’t stand a chance in Sewanhaka,” Hall said, noting that Sewanhaka has never had a superintendent of color.

Raizes said that her consulting group does not discriminate against applicants, and Sewanhaka Board of Education officials believed that Grossane, who is white, would be able to continue to grow the district’s equity programs for all students. Ferrie said he would do all that he could to help Grossane prepare for his new challenges in Sewanhaka.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, and it’ll be a ride,” Ferrie told Grossane. “But at least it’ll be fun.”

The Sewanhaka Board of Education unanimously voted to approve Grossane’s three-year contract, which will run from the summer of 2019 to the summer of 2022. He will start as the acting superintendent in July.