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Former Riverhead superintendent appointed New Suffolk school principal

Just weeks after starting a new school year, the New Suffolk Common School community is preparing to say goodbye to principal Christopher Gallagher.

The Board of Education accepted his letter of resignation at a meeting Monday.

“I’ve found my work in New Suffolk to be professionally fulfilling and appreciate the opportunity to make a contribution to the New Suffolk School community,” Dr. Gallagher wrote in a letter to the board late last month.

Subsequently, the Board of Education welcomed and appointed Nancy Carney to serve as the school’s next principal. Ms. Carney may also serve as district superintendent, pending the approval of a waiver from the New York State Education Department.

Ms. Carney most recently spent 12 years with the Riverhead Central School District, starting as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in 2005. She became superintendent there in 2010, bringing stability to the district before retiring in 2017.

She will take over officially on Oct. 1.

Dr. Gallagher, 71, came out of retirement in 2015 to serve as a district administrator in New Suffolk. Previously, he had served as superintendent in the Southold School District for eight years.

He said he’d like to take time to travel and spend more time with his five grandchildren. 

“You can’t wait until your 80s to start traveling,” he said after Monday night’s board meeting. “And you don’t have unlimited time. I’d like to be more active in the grandparent role.”

Speaking on a personal note, Board of Education president Tony Dill praised Dr. Gallagher’s leadership at the 15-student school over three years. “They’ve been perhaps the most contentious of the recent history of the school,” Mr. Dill said, adding that Dr. Gallagher kept the focus on the students throughout the ordeal.

The district was marred with uncertainty last year after New York State commissioner of education MaryEllen Elia ruled that the New Suffolk district had to reinstate Martha Kennelly after she was excessed in June 2015. Last spring, the district considered asking voters to weigh in on whether the schoolhouse should remain open, citing fiscal woes related to the cost legal proceedings with Ms. Kennelly.

The vote was ultimately canceled; Ms. Kennelly resigned in July.

“His leadership and commitment to both our staff and students throughout his tenure successfully led us to overcome the many challenges we faced and paved the way for a period of exciting development for our school, a period that is just now ripening into fruition,” Mr. Dill said, wishing Mr. Gallagher well in the years ahead.

Humbly, Dr. Gallagher said the emphasis has always been on students. “I told the staff, ‘We’re going to focus on the kids. And that’s all we’re going to focus on.’ For us to focus on [the lawsuit] would have been a negative for the kids,” he said. 

Ms. Carney, a Mattituck resident, said she’s excited to begin a new journey.

“I feel like I’m going back to my roots,” she said, noting that she started her career teaching multi-grade elementary students at the Hampton Day School and in the Springs Union Free School District.

She said she devoted the last year to her family, traveling and exploring other interests outside education. 

“It was time for me to not work 24-7,” she said. “But this came open and I knew I’d love this,” she said of the part-time position in New Suffolk.

Coming to the 15-student schoolhouse from Riverhead, a district with over 5,000 students, will be a unique experience, she said.

“I loved every single moment of [working in Riverhead]. I’m really looking forward to working with kids again. It’s my passion,” she said.

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Photo caption: New Suffolk school board president Tony Dill (left) with Dr. Christopher Gallagher after accepting the principal’s letter of resignation at Monday’s board meeting.