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Island Profile: Christine Finn, ready to lead Shelter Island School

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Christine Finn at The Islander this week.

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO
Christine Finn at The Islander this week.

Christine Finn, a teacher and education administrator, has a sure-fire way to get the flavor of the local culture when she travels overseas. Go to McDonald’s.

“In Paris, the McDonald’s had very nice macarons.”

The differences between a McDonald’s in Moscow versus Mattituck were also revealing.

“In Russia, they had a dysfunctional system, ordering at one window, and picking up the order at another window,” she recalled.

Since there is no McDonald’s on Shelter Island, her first taste of the place was accompanying a friend who was running the 10K. That was 10 years ago, and since then she’s been thinking about making a place for herself in this community.

When Christine got the call letting her know that she’d be the next superintendent of the Shelter Island School, she was over the moon.

Christine was born and raised on Long Island. Her dad worked for Grumman, and she went to high school in Islip, college at C.W. Post and has a D.Ed. from St. John’s University. Her sister is an auditor for Stony Brook University. Her brother and her parents now live out of state, but her family is close and supportive.

Christine started college thinking she’d be an English major, but a summer job at a nursery school changed her life. “I fell into teaching. It was very happy accident,” she said. “I just loved that you could do something and the kids would respond, especially when they were so little, so happy to see you, and
so joyful.”

After changing her major to elementary education, Christine graduated and began to teach first grade in Brentwood at a school with huge classes, no teaching aides and plenty of obstacles for students to overcome. Many of her students had parents who worked long hours and had no time to read to them; some of her students didn’t speak English at home.

“You want to change the world?” she said. “Well, I was doing something that had a significant impact.”

She spent 10 years teaching 1st and 4th grades. “I taught a lot of kids how to read,” she said, “and I was really proud of that.”

Christine’s experience in the classroom convinced her that great teachers are not always born knowing how to be effective. Experience showed her how to help other teachers improve. “I don’t think I was a natural, but I became very good at it. I was fortunate, the women I worked with showed me the tricks,” she said. “When I see a teacher struggling, I know it can be fixed, that I can help them.

“Most teachers have a certain outlook on life. The glass isn’t half full, the glass is refillable.”

Christine made the shift from the classroom to administration when the principal of her school encouraged her, saying, “You have that little sparkle.” For the next decade, she worked in the Patchogue-Medford district, starting in low-level positions, then assistant principal and principal, and then three years in the district office. From there, she was tapped by the Herricks School District in New Hyde Park, to become assistant superintendent for curriculum.

When she learned Shelter Island was looking for a superintendent, she told her boss she was going to toss her hat into the ring, one of more than 50 applicants seeking to lead the school. It was a brave move. “I was very comfortable in Herricks,” Christine said. “Here I’m in charge, but with a lot of people supporting. My old boss used to say, ‘It’s not the superintendent, it’s the superintendency. It’s everybody who sits at the table with you.’”

Christine was married, but divorced by the time her son and daughter were three and 18 months old. “I raised them on my own, but not really,” she said. “I had a lot of help from my family and his family.”

Christine’s children, Thomas, 27, and Colleen, 25 will be moving with her and their three-month old chocolate Lab, Phoebe Fiona to a dog-friendly development near Wading River in a couple of weeks. “She’s my daughter’s dog but she loves my son best,” Christine said.

She couldn’t help but gush a little about her kids, “Thomas is on the autism spectrum, and he’s very self-sufficient,” she said. “He drives, he works, he likes connecting with people. I’m very proud of him. My daughter Colleen is an old soul — bright, beautiful.”
Colleen is attending Suffolk County Community College.

Christine’s boyfriend, who she met via Match.com, is a writer and lives in Massachusetts.

An avowed night owl, Christine confesses that she has sent the occasional late-night email. “Don’t panic because I emailed you at two in the morning,” she’ll say. “It’s just because I had an epiphany.”

She mentally organizes her working life in decades. Her first 10 years as a teacher, her second 10 years as a middle-level administrator, ending her career with 10 years as a superintendent for Shelter Island.

“I don’t see this job as practice. This is the place I want to be, and I hope the teachers all feel that way, too,” Christine said. “There are many wonderful things we have here, and I’ll learn about more. I’ll have an opinion, and I’ll share it, and I won’t do it all by myself.”

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