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Graffagnino calls leaving School Board ‘bittersweet’

On the morning of July 1, former Board of Education President Thomas Graffagnino sat in the audience of the school’s conference room, watching his successors announce the official hiring of Brian Doelger as superintendent of schools.

After a dozen years on the Board of Education and several years as vice president before becoming president in 2015, Mr. Graffagnino opted in May not to seek re-election.

Speaking at the June 30 graduation, he called leaving “bittersweet.

Nonetheless, he’ll be a frequent member of the audience at upcoming meetings while he takes some down time before deciding how to offer community service.

Mr. Graffagnino came to the Board of Education with “a clear mind and a good heart” and no agenda except doing what is best for students, he said, adding that this is a benchmark all Board of Education members should bring to the job.

His immediate plans call for devoting himself to his engineering job at North Ferry and serving on the Pastoral Council of Our Lady of the Isle Church.

Because former superintendent Christine Finn’s resignation to take the superintendent’s job in the Carle Place School District came late in the school term, he and his colleagues worked hard to enlist interim Superintendent Allan Gerstenlauer, who will be on the job through the month of July with Mr. Doelger arriving on August 1.

The board was able to save the district money by not calling in a consulting firm that had brought them two previous superintendents, Michael Hynes and Ms. Finn. Members used the same criteria the consultants had used in screening candidates.

What does Mr. Graffagnino expect will need the attention of his former board colleagues and new members? As existing bonds are paid off, the board may want to look at other projects that are necessary in keeping the building in good shape and continuing to ensure the school is safe.

One project that he never got to take on was the construction of a separate recreation center on school grounds that could include more gymnasium space, tennis courts and other facilities.

He’s proud that, despite mumbling from time to time about closing the school and sending students to other districts, Shelter Island has retained its independence. Taxpayers would still have to pay for education by way of tuition and transportation if the students went off-Island, he said.

The school is more than just a facility for classes; it’s a community center and essential to life on the Island, Mr. Graffagnino said.

Under the leadership of Ms. Finn and Director of Pupil Personnel Jennifer Rylott, the school has expanded its services to special education students, enabling more students to be educated on the Island. Services have also resulted in moving students forward so more could be successfully declassified from the special education system.

“No one slips through the cracks” at Shelter Island because classes are small and interaction with faculty, administrators and staff gives every student many mentors who have their backs, Mr. Graffagnino said.

He had some advice for people taking seats on the board. “Make decisions wisely,” he said. “At the end of the day, every decision will impact students.”