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Apr 27, 2016 10:30 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Elementary Principal Cookie Richard Reflects Before Retirement

Cookie Richard, Principal of Southampton Elementary School, will be retiring June 29.  DANA SHAW
Apr 27, 2016 11:00 AM

When Bertha “Cookie” Richard, Ed.D., was a little girl, she loved to play school.

As the youngest and the only girl in the family, Dr. Richard said she was often taunted by her two brothers, who were much older than her, so she played alone.

“I always played school,” she said. “I was the teacher, and actually had a wooden door in my bedroom. I had chalk and I used to write on it, and all of my dolls were my pupils.

“You get an A. You get an F. You were not doing things right,” Dr. Richard recalled saying to her dolls.

Years later, in 1974, she enrolled at the University of Connecticut, where she originally planned to pursue a degree in child psychology. But after attending her first class with roughly 500 students and a professor who spoke with a heavy German accent, Dr. Richard decided that route was not for her.

Thoughts of becoming a doctor or a nurse briefly crossed her mind, but her passion was not in either of those fields. She decided to become a teacher.

Now, Dr. Richard is hanging up her chalk and retiring from a nearly 40-year career in education that has allowed her to leave an impression on countless children not just in New York, but also Ohio and St. Thomas.

“I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said.

Dr. Richard was born in the Bronx to Hattie and Elmer DeGrant in 1952, at a time when, she said, parents did not tell their kids that they were having another baby. When her mother left the house for the hospital to have Bertha, her sons asked that she pick up some Fig Newtons on the way home. When she came back, she had a baby with her—and the boys asked where the Fig Newtons were.

Their aunt, who was watching the boys, told them they could not call the new baby “Fig Newton”—so maybe they should call her “Cookie” instead. The name stuck.

Her father became a police officer and then a state trooper in Connecticut, eventually taking the family there with him.

Her mother was a domestic worker in wealthy homes. Dr. Richard said the homeowners were always good to her mother.

Cookie and her family lived in public housing near the Long Island Sound. She always thought it was just a house, she said, not realizing that her family was poor.

“I got a scholarship into a pre-K school, where all of the children that she worked with went to,” she said. The kids she went to school with became her best friends, and they often had sleepovers together. “I grew up with no lines of color or economics or any of that.”

Her parents were married for a long time, but they eventually divorced, and her father moved to the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton, where he had relatives. Dr. Richard said she always wanted to move to the reservation, because it was like home to her. Her father would take her there in the summer and they would attend the annual powwow, go clamming and swimming, and spend time with many family members.

After graduating from the University of Connecticut, Dr. Richard took a job in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Her husband, Ronald Richard, taught at a junior high school and she taught at an elementary school in an impoverished community. Where they lived was absolutely gorgeous, she said, and they could see everything including the airport, the boats and the people.

Even though it was a wonderful experience, Dr. Richard realized that she needed more expertise as an educator because there were some students who had special needs, which was not her specialty. She went back to the University of Connecticut and earned her master’s degree in special education.

From there, she and her husband moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she taught grade school for 12 years before moving with her family to the Shinnecock Reservation in 1990.

Dr. Richard was the resource room teacher at Southampton High School for two years before being hired at the elementary school. She earned another master’s degree, this time specializing in education technology, at Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus. She also furthered her education by completing a three-year school district administrators certificate program through the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and a few years ago she earned her doctorate in education from Dowling College.

When the Southampton Board of Education appointed her the assistant principal of the elementary school in October 2005, board members heralded her popularity among teachers, parents and staff, as well as her extensive training in supervisory jobs. At the time, she had been a third grade teacher at the school for 14 years.

Dr. Richard became the principal in July 2006, and she has held the post ever since.

She recently started going through scrapbooks that she collected over the years. The first book was from her first few years as a special education teacher in Cincinnati.

“I was looking at all of these little faces and their animations,” Dr. Richard said. “And then the letters. I have cards and letters that I said, ‘When I retire, I am going to go through every one.’ I’m trying to recapture exactly who they were. When you’ve been involved in education for 39 years, that’s a very long time.”

Each memory was unique in its own way. Dr. Richard said she loved getting to do plays with students because the quiet kid would revel in a new character. Then there were the times that students would present reports and practice their public speaking. To her, those moments are unforgettable.

With her eyes set on retirement at the end of June, Dr. Richard has many things to look forward to. She has always been involved in something, whether it was volunteering as a Girl Scout leader, helping with the Boy Scouts or dedicating time to the church. There were times she felt guilty for not being there for her four children who are all grown now, because she would drop them off at school in the morning when it was dark, and not get home until after dark.

“I was always, always going,” Dr. Richard said. “So, now I can finally slow down and I can do Cookie. I think I’ve earned that.”

In retirement, Dr. Richard looks forward to perfecting her photography, putting together flower arrangements, drawing, working on crochet projects, sewing, taking cooking classes, tutoring and reading for pleasure. She also looks forward to traveling when she wants to travel—rather than when school breaks are scheduled. In fact, she has a 12-day cruise planned in 2017 that will tour the Mediterranean Sea.

But she said she is going to miss the students.

“Kids hug me when I walk down the hallway,” Dr. Richard said. “The love that I get almost tears me up because they are so beautiful. That’s what I’m going to miss: the kids. The kids are so loving.”

Michael Grimaldi, the assistant principal working alongside Dr. Richard at the elementary school for the past four years, said she has allowed him to spread his wings and succeed in his position.

“She’s fostered my ability as a leader, to take the lead in many ways and to trust me,” Mr. Grimaldi said. “She’s treated me almost as a son as well, and I’m going to miss her tremendously.”

As great of an impact as Dr. Richard has had on Mr. Grimaldi’s life, he said she has had a greater impact on the students.

“She is strong with her convictions as long as they are in the best interest of the children, even if they have to go against the popular decision, she sticks to it,” Mr. Grimaldi said.

Dr. Richard will be missed by many of the teachers and students within the school district, as well as members of the School Board.

“Dr. Richard has shown extraordinary dedication to the children of our district both as a teacher and as an administrator,” Southampton School Board President Heather McCallion said. “We wish her the best in her retirement.”

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This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Apr 27, 16 11:49 AM
Chief1~ what did you say?
By Hamptonsseashell (359), on Apr 27, 16 12:26 PM
Something typically inappropriate and negative -- what else from Chief1!?
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Apr 28, 16 9:41 AM
Maybe he said it's time to celebrate
By April1 (156), Southampton on Apr 27, 16 4:16 PM
Thank you Dr. Richard for your extraordinary leadership in big ways and small. You created a warm, safe, and inspiring environment for the children to learn. Wishing you all the best in your next chapter. So glad you will have some "Cookie time."
By littleones (23), Remsenburg on Apr 27, 16 6:32 PM
Thank goodness........next, please.
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on Apr 28, 16 5:57 AM
1 member liked this comment
Time to bring Donna Denon back into the district. She should have had the job in the first place. Richard was not the person for the job and Boyes knew it.
By diy_guy (101), Southampton on Apr 28, 16 6:23 AM
Stop adding administrators. The New York law requires a superintendent and a principal but not a vice-principal. Let's reduce the administration load at our schools and start saving some money. Our school district is bloated with extra administrator that is costing the tax payers a fortune. This is an opportunity to move in the right direction.
By localcitizen (110), Southampton on Apr 28, 16 7:47 AM
We wish you well Dr. Richard. Your heart and compassion will he missed!
By mommythree (3), southampton on Apr 28, 16 9:21 AM
We wish you well Dr. Richard. Your heart and compassion will be missed!
By mommythree (3), southampton on Apr 28, 16 9:22 AM
Thank goodness, next please.
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on Apr 28, 16 9:30 PM
300/310 Hampton Road purchase proposal, Proposition #3~ vote NO!
By Hamptonsseashell (359), on Apr 30, 16 5:08 PM