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A new era at Sylvester Manor with staffing changes


With the New Year have come several transitions at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm.

The big change came on December 31, 2017 with the retirement of Jo-Ann Robotti as the Manor’s executive director.

During her two and a half year tenure, Ms. Robotti oversaw a number of initiatives, including installation of a clean water project, opening of The Gatehouse gift shop and leasing pasturelands that had been unused for years to Accabonac Farms, which is now using them to finish grass-fed beef cows.

The news was shared by Benjamin Dyett, president of Sylvester Manor’s Board of Directors, in a January 9 release. Mr. Dyett thanked Ms. Robotti for her “service, courage, guidance and expertise” and commended her for her leadership at a critical time in the Manor’s development, noting that she “successfully strengthened the organization by putting in place a strong professional staff.”

Mr. Dyett added that in anticipation of Ms. Robotti’s departure, a succession plan was put in place to ensure a smooth transition of leadership, including the hiring of two new key staff members. They include Stephen Searl, who became the new executive director effective January 1, 2018, and Tracy McCarthy, who has been named director of operations.

In this newly-created position, Ms. McCarthy oversees the day-to-day activities of the organization. She will assist Mr. Searl in monitoring budgets, personnel evaluations and recruitment, communications and marketing, as well as creating policies and procedures.

A native of the North Fork, Mr. Searl is a descendant of the Wickham family which has farmed the East End for 300 years. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University and a Master of Science in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He worked as a land conservation manager at the Peconic Land Trust, and for four years, held the position of Director of Land Conservation at the North Shore Land Alliance, a conservation organization that serves Nassau County and Western Suffolk County.

There, he led the nonprofit’s conservation projects and initiatives, and assisted with an ongoing $25 million capital campaign. Mr. Searl serves on the boards of Hallockville Museum Farm and the Peconic Community School, where his wife, Elizabeth, is the co-founder and principal. They have three young sons.

“With more than 15 years in land management and planning, conservation and agriculture, we are confident that Stephen’s experience, knowledge and integrity are a great match for the work, staff and friends of Sylvester Manor,” Mr. Dyett stated. “Together, we will continue to advance our mission to cultivate, preserve and share the history of Sylvester Manor to ensure that food, culture and art remain connected to community and the land.”

Ms. McCarthy, a summer Island resident for most of her life, has lived full-time on Shelter Island for six years. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Vermont and has a Masters of Business Administration in Marketing from the University of Connecticut.

In her professional life, Ms. McCarthy has led the operations of Media Ventures, Inc., a family-owned company in Connecticut, where she most recently was owner and president since 2006. Ms. McCarthy, the mother of Eliza, a first grader at the Shelter Island School, was recently elected to the Shelter Island Board of Education.

Her husband, Bryan, is a captain on the North Ferry. Mr. Dyett noted that, as a small business owner, Ms. McCarthy has an in-depth understanding of how to make a business run efficiently and effectively, often with limited resources.

“With such a strong vested interest on Shelter Island,” he added, “she will be integral in identifying new opportunities for the Manor and the community.”