When students return to Oysterponds Elementary School in September, they’ll be greeted by a new face, principal Francoise Wittenburg.
She’s determined to become not only part of the school community, but the wider community as she and her family take up residence in Orient.
Ms. Wittenburg, 37, will join Oysterponds as full-time principal since the district no longer combines the jobs of principal and superintendent. Part-time Superintendent Joan Frisicano came onboard last spring.
Ms. Wittenburg comes to the North Fork from Arlington High School in Lagrangeville, N.Y., where she was assistant principal. She has also been an assistant principal at a magnet elementary school in Newburgh, N.Y., and a special education teacher. She completed her undergraduate studies in sociology at Cornell University and her graduate studies at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
She and her husband and three children were able to locate a house in Orient, where her son will be enroll at Oysterponds as a fourth grader. Her second child is a preschooler and the third is only 19 months old.
“I’ve got my hands full — that’s my second shift,” she said.
Living farther west on Long Island and commuting to Oysterponds every day would leave her with a “bifurcated existence,” Ms. Wittenburg said. Instead, she thinks it’s important to live in and become a part of the Orient-East Marion community, where she finds people are “very genuine” and possess “an amazing sense of pride.”
As for the staff she’ll lead, she said Oysterponds teachers are “amazing. They have a passion for what they’re doing and they really care about these kids.”
Although her recent career has been upstate, Ms. Wittenburg is hardly a stranger to Long Island. As a preschooler, her family moved from Nebraska to Southold when she was a preschooler, and later relocated to the Shoreham-Wading River area, where her father was a school principal. He’s been her mentor in the world of education, she said.
She and Ms. Frisicano are spending August working on curriculum for the upcoming term. Her contract runs from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012. But Ms. Wittenburg was allowed to delay her actual start date until July 25, taking the previous July days as a combination of vacation and unpaid leave to accommodate plans she had made before accepting the Oysterponds job.
Ms. Wittenburg describes herself as “an emerging leader,” attracted to elementary school because of its importance in forming a firm base for future learning.
She embraces Harvard educator Dr. Tony Wagner’s theory that students will need seven skills to compete in the global marketplace: critical thinking, problem solving, effective oral and written communication, curiosity, imagination and the ability to collaborate. In line with Mr. Wagner’s theory, Ms. Wittenburg wants to encourage critical thinking among students and give them multiple opportunities to analyze, write and collaborate.
“Writing is a window to thinking,” she said. Even at her former school, considered among the top in Dutchess County, she found many students needed remediation in writing. She hopes that won’t be the case with Oysterponds students.
Thanks to a partnership she developed with writers at Vassar College while teaching upstate, she looks forward to tapping into their resources both in person and via the Internet to support Oysterponds students.
“Writing is not easy, but if you do it enough, it becomes easier,” she said. The Vassar writers with whom she has worked are “so good at getting ideas out of the kids.”
In her own life, Ms. Wittenburg has always loved learning and reading and stretching her abilities. She wants to continue doing that at Oysterponds where, she said, “My goals is just to be a great principal.”