The hallowed halls of Grand Avenue Middle School of Bellmore have developed a reputation over the years for social and academic excellence. However, it has now acquired a new distinction: for the first time in its 53 year history, the Grand Avenue now has a female principal.
Kathleen Sapanski, succeeding the retired Lewis Serra, is very eager for the new school year to begin.
"I love Grand Avenue," said Principal Sapanski, gushing with obvious pride. "It's a really good, healthy, and safe place for kids."
Sapanski began her career teaching at St. Dominic's in Oyster Bay, followed by Berner in Massapequa, where she was chairperson of the Math and Business Education departments. In 2006, she came to Bellmore-Merrick as the assistant principal under Lewis Serra.
"He did an amazing job," said Sapanski of Lewis' tenure. "He's a really a good man."
Sapanski's educational background includes B.A. in Business and a certification in Math from Malloy College, as well as a Masters in Education from the University of New England.
Sapanski outlined her goals for Grand Avenue, which were very much in tune with those of the outgoing administration.
"Mr. Lewis created the perfect Middle School," she said. "My hope is that we can continue to give students an education that is academically rigorous, developmentally appropriate, and socially equitable."
However, Sapanski also has ideas of her own to implement, especially in regards to the character of the students.
"It's important to me that we help kids become good people," she said. "We're committed to helping them become respectful and responsible citizens, and treat each other with kindness and empathy."
That sentiment also extends to Sapanski's views on discipline; rule-breakers are given a chance to reflect upon their actions.
"Kids usually make mistakes out of impulsivity," she said. "Our culture here is based on RICE: Respect, Impulse Control, Compassion, and Equity. It's a great way for them to think about what they've done. In terms of discipline, we just try to be fair and consistent."
That said, it seems fitting that Sapanski's motto is "Speak kind words, hear kind echoes."
In regards to the curriculum, she acknowledged the difficulty that many students have with Math, and pledged to help them overcome their anxiety with the subject.
"It's easy to look into a child's face and see if they're scared of numbers," she said. "As a teacher, I teach children first, and then I teach them the subject."
Sapanski also stressed that the school and the parents must work as a team to help the kids make good choices and be successful.
During a tour of the school, Sapanski expressed abundant pride in the beautiful murals adoring the second floor hallways and the lunchroom, painted by the students themselves. The fact that remained free of any vandalism whatsoever spoke volumes of the sense of community among the students.
"I want the parents to know that it's an honor to be working with their kids," Sapanski said in closing. "Who's luckier than me?"