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Story - Education

Aug 12, 2009 4:42 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays school superintendent says she will retire next year

Aug 12, 2009 4:42 PM

Hampton Bays School Superintendent Joanne S. Loewenthal announced during Tuesday evening’s School Board meeting that she will be retiring as early as February 2010, after six years of leading the school district.

“It’s something I’ve planned for a long time, but it’s something that is bittersweet,” Ms. Loewenthal said during an interview on Friday, alluding to CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite’s farewell speech in 1981.

Ms. Loewenthal, who earns a base salary of $213,500, plus benefits, for total compensation of $265,713 as superintendent, announced her intentions to School Board members during Tuesday night’s meeting in the Hampton Bays Public Library. She said she will not step down from her position until her replacement is hired and ready to begin work. Her contract does not expire until 2011, though she said there is no penalty for breaking the agreement early.

On Tuesday evening, Ms. Loewenthal thanked board members and the nearly two dozen people in attendance for their support. She was greeted with a round of applause following her announcement.

“Joanne has done a fantastic job,” School Board Vice President George Leeman said after the meeting. He added that the board will be looking 
for a superintendent candidate who is a team builder and fiscally responsible.

The Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) will help conduct the search for Ms. Loewenthal’s replacement at no cost to the district, according to the superintendent. The five-member School Board will make the ultimate decision regarding her replacement.

Ms. Loewenthal said her position will be advertised in The New York Times, among other places, and the deadline for applications will be Friday, October 9. Raymond Fell, the assistant district superintendent of BOCES, will screen the resumes of potential applicants and forward the top five or six to the Hampton Bays School Board members for their review.

The board is then expected to interview candidates in November and could make a decision as early as December 15, according to Ms. Loewenthal. Mr. Fell, who also helped conduct a superintendent search for Hampton Bays before Ms. Loewenthal was hired in 2003, was on vacation and not available for comment this week.

In an interview in her office last week, Ms. Loewenthal, 56, said she decided to retire after a 34-year career in education in order to spend more time with her husband, Michael, and their three adult children. She explained that she and her husband, who is in his late 60s, had always planned to spend their golden years together.

“[I’m going to] direct my time and energy to my family,” she said.

Ms. Loewenthal rejected the notion that she is stepping down due to pressure from high-profile court cases filed against the district, including one being pursued by former Hampton Bays High School Principal Frank Vetro. Mr. Vetro, who resigned from the district in 2006 after he was arrested and accused of making harassing calls to several women, served the district with a notice of claim in June seeking reinstatement to his former position and compensation for lost wages. In his complaint, he alleges that Ms. Loewenthal pressured him to resign his post.

Of her many accomplishments, which include overseeing the building of the $42 million middle school on Ponquogue Avenue, Ms. Loewenthal said she is most proud of hiring administrators who she thinks are a good fit for the district. “When I came here there was a revolving door of administrative leadership,” she said.

For example, she said that before her arrival in 2003, the high school had about eight different principals over a 10-year period. Christopher Richardt has been principal of the high school for the past three years and was recently granted tenure.

Ms. Loewenthal was also hired at a time when the school district was operating with an austerity budget. Taxpayers have approved the school district’s budgets each of the last four years, and by the widest margin this past May.

Marie Mulcahy, a 10-year member of the School Board who originally interviewed Ms. Loewenthal in 2003, said the superintendent will leave behind some big shoes to fill. “I am very happy and yet very disappointed,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful six years.”

A retired teacher, Ms. Mulcahy said it was Ms. Loewenthal’s ability to relate to people and her track record that made her stand out as the best candidate for the job six years ago. Ms. Mulcahy said she hopes the board will hire someone who possesses many of the same qualities as Ms. Loewenthal.

“We want someone who is going to be leading us toward even better achievement,” Ms. Mulcahy said.

Ms. Loewenthal, who lives in Hampton Bays, said she felt an immediate connection to the community when she traveled to the area for her initial interviews. She said she will miss the people she has gotten to know so well while serving the community.

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