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May 1, 2009 12:15 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Frisicano reverses decision to retire

May 1, 2009 12:15 PM

Despite an announcement earlier this week that Joan Frisicano was slated to resign her position midyear, in a surprise twist on Wednesday, the Sag Harbor Elementary School principal changed her mind and will stay on to lead the school.

School Board President Walter Wilcoxen said Superintendent Dr. John Gratto notified him of Ms. Frisicano’s change of heart during a meeting about ongoing teacher contract negotiations on Tuesday night. The popular administrator had revealed her decision to leave during an executive session with the board last Monday, November 10, though an announcement was not made publicly until an after-school meeting with faculty and staff on Wednesday, November 12.

“We’re happy to have her,” Mr. Wilcoxen said Wednesday, explaining that it would be up to Ms. Frisicano to explain her decision not to retire. “The board members were just as surprised with this as when Joan said she was going to retire last Monday.”

Mr. Wilcoxen noted that the school district’s attorney, Tom Volz, had just explained Tuesday night that he had not yet received a letter of resignation from Ms. Frisicano, and she could not officially retire without it. Only then did Dr. Gratto inform him that she would remain as principal.

Ms. Frisicano became principal in February 1989, according to a statement from the board that was placed on the district’s website after she announced her retirement. Elementary school Assistant Principal Matt Malone was in line to take over her position.

Neither Ms. Frisicano nor Mr. Malone returned calls the week after she announced her midyear retirement, but the principal fielded questions after she changed her mind. Ms. Frisicano’s secretary said she was shared the “good news” with staff and faculty at the elementary school at around 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday. In a phone call a short time later, Ms. Frisicano denied there was any bad blood with the School Board or the new superintendent or that she opted to stay because of additional terms or negotiations.

”Nobody was pushing me” to leave, she said earlier, noting that she was simply seeking “a new challenge.” After a weekend of consideration, Ms. Frisicano said, “I changed my mind.”

Dr. Gratto said he was pleased to learn that Ms. Frisicano will continue working for the district.

The popular principal’s choice to leave in the first place raised questions why, after nearly two decades, she would leave in the middle of the school year.

Former Superintendent Kathryn Holden retired in June with a year still remaining on her contract, and many in the district considered Ms. Frisicano her natural replacement and the best candidate for the job. She applied for the top position after Ms. Holden agreed to step down last January, but the board instead hired Dr. Gratto, an administrator from outside the district.

Board members Ed Haye and Dan Hartnett acknowledged that they had met with Ms. Frisicano and broke the disappointing news to her in May, weeks before Dr. Gratto’s hiring was announced to the public. During that meeting, Mr. Hartnett said they had discussed reorganizing the district and the possibility of creating an assistant superintendent position, which Ms. Frisicano could have possibly filled. But after six months and scrutiny of the idea from the community, it appears nothing came of the conversation.

Mr. Wilcoxen acknowledged last week that Ms. Frisicano’s initial decision to leave may have been prompted by the decision not to hire her as superintendent. “It may, in the sense that an employee applied for a higher position and didn’t get that position,” he said.

Before her change of heart, Mr. Wilcoxen lauded Ms. Frisicano’s many accomplishments, which were listed in the online statement from the board. “Joan’s leadership and commitment to excellence has resulted in consistently high achievement in the core subjects of math, language arts, science, and social studies,” the statement reads. It also notes, “Year after year, Sag Harbor Elementary ranks among Long Island’s top performing elementary schools on state and national assessments.”

On Tuesday, Dr. Gratto also had high praise for Ms. Frisicano. “I think Joan has done just an excellent job,” the superintendent said, noting that under her leadership, the elementary school is “the envy of many.”

In the board’s statement, Ms. Frisicano was recognized not only for her efforts in academics, but for creating a “well-rounded education” and programs aimed at “recognizing the whole child.” She has been credited with creating the school’s popular Morning Program, at which parents and faculty join the students each day and work together to instill values “such as responsibility, caring and trustworthiness.” Many area schools have followed suit with similar programs, according to the board’s statement of appreciation.

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What a loss! Joan Friscano has done wonderful things for this community.

But really, who can blame her? Obviously her 'bosses', the Board of Education, did not support her. That was proven when they chose to ignore the recommendations of the community, parents, students and fellow educators and hire Dr. Gratto in a closed door meeting.

Let's review why hiring Dr. Grotto must have been such a slap in the face to Ms. Friscano:

He was fired from AuSable Valley School District ...more
By RealLocal (76), Bridgehampton on Nov 14, 08 2:55 PM
She's a nice, hardworking lady whose only weakness -- if this can be considered a weakness -- was her lack of self-promotion. The school board in Sag Harbor needs to start paying better attention to its homegrown and talented employees.
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Nov 18, 08 11:15 AM
She is probably one of the first casulities of Dr Grotto's administration Get ready for more The community should demand the resignation of the Board of Education for hiring another upstate administrator who came to Long Island to fatten his salary and pension Now we have to sit back and watch our school being dismantled Thankyou Joan for all of your hard work in making Sag Harbor elementery a school we can all be proud of
By harbor man (47), sag harbor on Nov 19, 08 10:37 AM