It’s been a year of administrative transition in the Highland Central School District. After eight years as superintendent of schools, Deborah Haab announced her retirement in June. She stayed on until early October, when the Board of Education appointed an interim superintendent: Thomas Bongiovi, former superintendent of schools for the Port Jervis School District. In November, Highland High School principal Peter Harris left the district to take a position as principal at Ulster BOCES Hudson Valley Pathways Academy, and the BOE appointed William Zimmer, then-assistant high school principal, to replace Harris. Now the Highland district is in the process of interviewing candidates to replace Haab, with Bongiovi active interim superintendent until a permanent hire is selected.
The Highland district held their first Board of Education meeting with Bongiovi at the helm on October 18. In his comments before the board, Bongiovi thanked the staff and faculty of the district along with members of the community for making him feel welcome. “From the moment you walk into the buildings, and just being around town, you can really feel the family atmosphere here,” he said. “And that creates such a great learning environment for students.”
Referencing the strong connection the school district has maintained with the local Rotary Club, Bongiovi told the board he joined the group himself in his first week on the job. He spoke about the importance of communication between the district and the community, something that now, two months into the job, has remained a priority for him.
“In my first few months I have spent a great deal of time meeting with my administration, staff members, district leaders and members of the community,” he says. “It is important for me to gain their perspective regarding the Highland Central School District and what we need to focus on moving forward.”
In addition to establishing that open line of communication between the district and community, Bongiovi says his efforts thus far have been concentrated on learning the local culture and developing an understanding of the academic position, financial status and operation of the district.
Currently and moving forward, Bongiovi says, the Highland district is taking a proactive role in combating the nationwide substance abuse crisis. His five-point drug education and prevention plan for every grade level has begun, with presentations to more than 20 classrooms of students in grades 4-6 made throughout November and December by Town of Lloyd Police Chief Daniel Waage and police Sergeant Philip Roloson. Discussions with students in grades 7 and 8 are scheduled for January.
The second stage of the five-point education and prevention plan is to train all of the district’s faculty and staff in the use of Narcan, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. So far, 37 employees have completed the training, says Bongiovi, including administrators, nurses, clerical staff and physical education teachers. Additional trainings are planned for January.
The third step involves New York State Trooper Craig Vedder attending faculty meetings through January to talk about the signs and symptoms of drug use. Presentations for students will begin in January and continue into February.
The fourth stage of the five-point plan will be development of an age-appropriate drug awareness and prevention program for students in kindergarten through grade 12. The district is in the process of researching what other school districts are doing in this area.
And finally, getting community-wide cooperation is important, says Bongiovi, who plans to develop a community coalition made up of people from the district, community, county agencies and local organizations to coordinate drug education and prevention efforts.
At their recent regular board meeting on Tuesday, December 19, Highland BOE president Alan Barone said the superintendent search process to hire a permanent superintendent is in “the last leg” of the process, with final interviews scheduled for the first week of January. “If all goes well, we’ll have a decision made shortly thereafter,” he said.