2015 Educator of the Year: John Roslak

01/07/2016 6:00 AM |

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Toward the end of first period every Tuesday through Friday, students at Mattituck High School put away their work, settle into desks and gaze up at the television screens in each classroom.

A group of students, some wearing blazers over their sports jerseys or witty T-shirts, discuss the school news of the day: Cross country practice is canceled. Tickets for the homecoming dance are on sale. Some perform a comedy skit about a bathroom being off-limits while undergoing renovations.

The broadcasts, although unconventional, are how Mattituck creatively handles its morning announcements. Students themselves are mostly responsible, too, since one first-period course is dedicated to planning, filming and broadcasting the announcements. And for more than 17 years, John Roslak, an influential and revered technology and video teacher, has been behind it all.

Since he began teaching in 1984, Mr. Roslak has helped hundreds of students develop valuable modern skills and learn to work independently. Some have even gone on to careers in video production, motivated by their time in his class. For all his influential work in the school, Mr. Roslak has been named The Suffolk Times’ Educator of the Year in his final year of teaching before retirement.

“How many teachers can say that they created something from scratch that actually transformed education?” said retired superintendent James McKenna, who was also the high school principal when the video course was born.

A Mattituck graduate himself, Mr. Roslak began as an industrial arts teacher, but in the late 1990s, he had the idea of starting an innovative video program at the school.

So he did.

The morning show debuted in 1998 as live announcements, bloopers and all, broadcast into every classroom from a “studio” — a converted girls’ bathroom, complete with pink tiles and a drain in the floor.

Over time, the program grew. The class was moved into a larger, better-equipped room and Mr. Roslak began teaching Video I and Video II courses. Every eighth-grader got a sense of the teacher, too, as part of a rotating elective schedule.

“It was the true meaning of the word ‘hands-on learning,’ ” Mr. McKenna recalled.

(Credit: Chris Lisinski)

(Credit: Chris Lisinski)

Mr. Roslak played a variety of other roles at the school, too. For a number of years, he was the district’s technology director before returning to full-time teaching. He also runs the AV club and manages lights and audio for most school productions.

“He knocks on your door and comes in and wants to discuss aspects of our school system that really don’t directly relate to his job or fall under his responsibility,” said high school principal Shawn Petretti. “If he sees something and he sees a way that we can improve as a school system, he’s going to bring it to the table and he’s going to do whatever he has to do.”

And throughout his three-plus decades at Mattituck, Mr. Roslak has been immensely popular with students. Mr. Petretti, who considers Mr. Roslak one of his best friends, compared the teacher to a “pied piper” who causes students to “flock” to him.

“I’ve witnessed students say they never would have made it through high school without him, that he gave them that safe place, that drive, that push to keep coming to school and to go on and become successful,” Mr. Petretti said.

Mr. Roslak gives his students plenty of independence, too. He supervises projects and offers advice, but places full responsibility for planning, filming and editing in their hands.

In the classroom, Mr. Roslak’s rapport with the kids is obvious. So too is his sense of humor. On Monday morning, a student asked where to find Final Cut Pro on the computer.

“It’s the one that starts with an ‘F’ and ends with an ‘-inal Cut Pro,’ ” Mr. Roslak quipped.

Some of Mr. Roslak’s students have launched successful careers in film and television after getting their first taste in his video production class. Several have won Emmys.

Jared Palmer, who graduated in 2007 after spending four years working on the morning show, has worked on programs such as “Deadliest Catch,” “1,000 Ways to Die” and “Storage Wars.” But he said he only got the chance to do so thanks to Mr. Roslak.

“He helped me learn … that I was going to go on adventures and I was going to tell stories and that I was going to do it all with a camera,” Mr. Palmer said. “He taught me there wasn’t a box to live in unless you made it for yourself.”

Mr. Roslak’s influence has also extended to other districts on the North Fork. In the 2014-15 school year, Southold High School started its own video program, modeled after Mr. Roslak’s and taught by Mattituck graduate Jason Wesnofske.

Mr. Wesnofske belonged to Mr. Roslak’s AV club before graduating in 2003, and when he joined the school’s staff in 2007, he co-chaired the club. So when the time came to establish his own video program in Southold, Mr. Wesnofske approached his former teacher and colleague for advice.

“He built that program from nothing, and he was way ahead of the curve,” Mr. Wesnofske said. “Here we are, 15 years later. We started our program in the 2014-15 school year, and he had that in 1998-99. You think about digital literacy, 21st-century learning, multimedia — he did that. That’s his legacy.”

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Photo caption: (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

Previous Winners

2014 — Phillip ‘Skip’ Munisteri
2013 — Al Edwards
2012 — Daniel Goldfarb
2011 — Major William Grigonis
2010 — Jean Dempsey
2009 — Robert Feger
2008 — Charles Kozora
2007 — Kathy Williams
2006 — Dr. Stuart Rachlin
2005 — Mattituck Fund for Students
2004 — Ron McEvoy
2003 — Chris Gallagher
2002 — Brigitte Gibbons
2001 — Barbara Ackerman
2000 — Ruth Yoskovich
1999 — Tom Brennan
1998 — Peggy Dickerson
1997 — Elizabeth Goldsmith
1996 — Lee Ellwood
1995 — Linda Gates
1994 — Poppy Johnson
1993 — Peggy Murphy
1992 — Patricia Wall
1991 — Charles Nephew
1990 — Dennis Claire
1989 — Bruno Brauner
1988 — Winifred Billard
1987 — Jim Christy

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