At first, no one in the small classroom at Greenport High School wanted to speak, as if the announcement had stunned them into silence.
Then, one by one, the roughly dozen residents at Greenport’s school board meeting began to weigh in on a plan to share a superintendent with their neighbors in Southold — and old wounds reopened.
In the late 90s, one resident said, Greenport was the “step-child” in a shared-services agreement with Southold.
They were treated like an “outsider,” some at the meeting claimed. Residents detailed how academically challenged students were offered classes at Greenport while gifted students had higher level offerings at Southold.
No one wanted to associate with Greenport then, so why would it work now?
But as Southold Superintendent David Gamberg — who would also run Greenport schools under the plan — detailed how students are already sharing services and are being treated equally, some said now may be the time to move on from old slights.
“I have my doubts, I have my concerns, but … the time is now to break down those cultural barriers,” said Chris Golden, a coach and teacher at Greenport. “If this is the opportunity, I’m on board 100 percent.”
The meeting came a day after Southold’s school board heard from two concerned parents in their district about the potential for a shared superintendent. The Southold moms that spoke at Wednesday’s meeting were focused on how Mr. Gamberg would divide his time at the schools and whether the districts might eventually be merged.
But Greenport’s residents were more concerned with the history between the two districts, and how not to repeat it.
Residents also discussed the “elephant in the room,” the potential consolidation with the Oysterponds School district. Members of the Oysterponds school board who attended the meeting said the two boards would get a “fresh start” on the talks soon.
Mr. Gamberg said he was aware of what had happened previously between Greenport and Southold.
“I don’t discount that history,” Mr. Gamberg told the audience, but added that students are treated fairly in the shared programs that already exist, like NJROTC and traveling soccer programs.
Board members Tina Volinski and Heather Wolf also described the equal treatment of their children by coaches and advisers in both schools.
Mr. Gamberg said it was “essential” as the new superintendent that he build trust between the schools.
Mr. Gamberg said he would plan to spend half-days in both schools on some days, while other days would be spent all at one building or all at the other.
But his commitment to students from both schools would be unwavering, he said.
“It’s not a light switch that goes on and off; it has to be on all the time,” Mr. Gamberg said.
Current Greenport superintendent Michael Comanda said he was aware of concerns about the plan, but believed that the strength of the school’s faculty could make it a success.
“There’s a seasoned group of folks here,” he said, adding that Mr. Gamberg was “well respected by his peers.”
Southold board president Paulette Ofrias sat in the middle of the classroom and said the Greenport parents’ comments had opened her eyes.
“I can’t promise you this is going to work … all I can say is you learn from [the past] and move on,” she said.