New principal in Oysterponds has a familiar name

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06/13/2013 8:00 AM |

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Former Oysterponds superintendent Joan Frisicano will serve as interim principal.

The Oysterponds school board has appointed former superintendent Joan Frisicano to serve as interim principal while it searches for a permanent replacement for outgoing principal Françoise Wittenburg.

With enrollment expected to drop by nearly 18 students to a total of about 67 in 2013-14, the board also voted to cut its primary teaching staff in half by laying off four teachers, as well as reducing other positions from full-time to part-time.

Ms. Frisicano began as interim principal at Oysterponds in December 2010 and became interim superintendent after the board completed its buyout of Stuart Rachlin’s contract. She was named permanent part-time superintendent in April 2011. She resigned last July, citing personal reasons.

Superintendent Richard Malone, who replaced Ms. Frisicano, said during Tuesday’s school board meeting that she was one of 10 applicants for the position. He said he recommended Ms. Frisicano because he believes she’ll be a “successful addition to the administrative staff for the coming school year.”

Ms. Frisicano wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Oysterponds, a pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade district that sends its secondary students to Greenport, is expected to determine what kind of principal it wants after it looks into the feasibility of reorganizing the school.

Mr. Malone said he and the school board are looking into the possibility of sending the district’s upper grades to Greenport, which now offers technology, home and careers and more rigorous math for its own sixth-graders.

Earlier this year, the districts agreed to allow Oysterponds sixth-graders to attend tech and home and careers classes in Greenport. The districts are in the process of finalizing a similar plan for next year, Mr. Malone said.

The superintendent added that Oysterponds will look at the school’s long-range future in the fall to determine by January what type of principal the district needs.

“There’s been some concern about the organization of the school as a K-4, K-5 or K-6 and the board has to make some decisions in that area because you’d be looking for a different leader for a K-6 school than you might be for a K-3 school or K-4 school because you’d want the concentration to be early childhood education,” Mr. Malone said.

Mr. Malone has said the district has 173 enrolled students, 85 at the elementary level and 88 attending Greenport. He estimated that student enrollment will decrease by 29 students between the 2013-14 and 2017-18 school years, from 162 students to 133.

Due to the district’s dwindling enrollment, the district plans to next school year combine pre-K and kindergarten; first and second grades; third and fourth grades; and fifth and sixth grades. The kindergarten class would continue to start its day in the morning but would be joined by the preschoolers in the afternoon.

The school board voted 5-0 to lay off first-grade teacher Jenny Schoenstein, second-grade teacher Rebecca Cartselos, fifth-grade teacher Brittany Knote and Kathy Syron, the district’s first pre-kindergarten teacher, who started in September. Last month the board approved a medical leave request for Ms. Syron, who served one term on the school board, from 2008 to 2011.

School board member Linda Goldsmith abstained from voting and Thomas Gray was absent.

Oysterponds’s kindergarten, third-, fourth- and sixth-grade teachers will remain next year.

Although half the primary teaching staff has now been excessed, the district’s STEM, literacy, art, music and gym teachers will also remain, as will two special education teachers, an aide and a teacher assistant. This structure will increase the student-to-teacher ratio to 7-to-1 next school year, up from 5-to-1 this year, Mr. Malone has said.

In addition to the layoffs, the board voted to reduce the physical education, music and art teacher positions from full-time to part-time.

The changes were included in the elementary school’s budget, which voters approved last month.

As for the possibility of sending upper grades to Greenport, Oysterponds officials said this is the first time the district has considered such a move. Voters in Orient and East Marion would have the final say on reducing grades housed at Oysterponds, officials said.

School board member Krista de Kerillis said she believes Ms. Frisicano will bring continuity to the school as the district figures out its future.

“Our students have been through so many different administrators in the last few years and it’s good for them to have a face to come back to that they already know, especially if it’s only going to be temporary,” she said. “She knows our students and parents. She’s worked with our teachers … I think she was a good principal and related to the students.”

The resolution to replace Ms. Wittenburg was added to the agenda prior to the public portion of the meeting, which began after the school board exited from executive session to discuss negotiations and personnel history.

The school board voted 5-0 to approve Ms. Frisicano’s appointment. Ms. Goldsmith voted “no” and said prior to the vote that she disagrees with Mr. Malone’s recommendation.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Ms. Goldsmith said. “[The interim position should be] a trial for someone who looks really good and may end up being our principal.”

Ms. Frisicano’s 125-day term runs from July 1 to June 30, 2014, at $500 per day, according to school documents. Her contract also includes five transitional days with Ms. Wittenburg, also at $500 per day, from June 17 to June 28. Although benefits are excluded from the agreement, Ms. Frisicano, a Sag Harbor resident, is expected to be reimbursed up to $3,025 for ferry transportation.

Citing personal reasons, Ms. Wittenburg announced in April that she’ll step down at the conclusion of this school year from the post she’s held since 2011.

Ms. Wittenburg, who is expecting her fourth child and plans to move to Maui this summer, thanked the school and community during her final principal’s report at the meeting and said she appreciates all of their support.

“I’ve grown as a leader and I’ve learned a lot as a principal here,” she said. “I’ll take a lot of what I’ve learned on my next journey, wherever that may be.”

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