Jenn Wissemann feels like she’s come full circle.
Fifteen years ago, she began working as a student teacher at Oysterponds Elementary School District in Orient.
Next month, she’ll become the school’s principal.
Ms. Wissemann said she won’t be isolated to the main office and described her position as a “teaching principal,” meaning she’ll continue to work as the school’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) instructor.
“I love being in the classroom and teaching kids,” she said. “In a building this small, [having a teaching principal is] something that can be done … I feel it’s really the best of both worlds.”
Ms. Wissemann lives on Shelter Island at Sylvester Manor with her husband, Gunnar, who served in the Marines and is currently the head of the manor’s buildings and grounds. She has a 28-year-old step-daughter, Mallory, and her son, Tristan, is a senior at Shelter Island High School. The Wissemanns also have an 8-month-old grandson, Colton.
Last year, Ms. Wissemann started a collaborative program between Oysterponds and Sylvester Manor, the latter of which is an organic farm and teaching center. The program is planned to continue this summer.
Ms. Wissemann, a Southold High School graduate, earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at St. Joseph’s College and an administrative degree at The College of Saint Rose. She began her career in education as a teacher at the Hampton Day School, which is now the Ross School in East Hampton.
On July 1, Ms. Wissemann will replace Joan Frisicano, the district’s former superintendent. Ms. Frisicano has served as the school’s interim principal for the past two years while the district searched for a permanent replacement after Françoise Wittenburg resigned.
We interviewed Ms. Wissemann this week to discuss her new role:
Q: Why did you choose a career in education?
A: I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I have a picture of myself in my classroom from second grade with a piece of writing that says ‘My name is Jennifer and I’m 8 years old. When I grow up, I want to be a teacher.’ My mother found it and had it framed for me. Teachers from Southold really provided me with a great education. I actually had the same teacher for third grade and fifth grade, Mrs. Fran Mulhall. She was fantastic. She made me want to come to school and made it fun. I think everyone can think back and find that one special teacher who just got them. When children leave us and then come back to visit, it’s really heartwarming. They remember special things that you did.
Q: Why do you think it’s important for children to take STEM classes?
A: There’s a lot of critical thinking involved. When we look back at education — from sitting in a lecture, doing a worksheet, taking a test and off you go — we’ve come so far. When I look at what the teachers are doing in the classroom, I see they’re facilitating the lessons so our children are really in control of their learning. They’re posing questions. They’re coming up with ways to find answers. They’re coming up with experiments. There’s a lot of conversation and, I think, gone are the days of the quiet classroom. You want to hear the chitchat, which I love. You want kids up and moving, exploring. You’re not teaching in isolation anymore. You’re bringing in all subjects.
Q: How do you feel about the district’s combined-grade model and what are your goals as principal?
A: It was a change, but now that we’re going into year three it’s been well-received. Change is hard, but the teachers have done a wonderful job with planning. You can’t just ask teachers to do combined grades and teach. We were provided with professional development and asked teachers to write their own curriculum, which is pretty amazing and they’ve done a great job. The kids are loving all the experiences. My goals are to provide stewardship and continue to collaborate with the teachers. I also plan to stay abreast on new, fresh ideas in the classroom to provide teachers what they need so they can, in turn, provide the students what they need. There’s nothing like being an administrator and remembering what it was like to be a teacher. I think that’s important.