Education

Year in Review: Administrative changes marked school year

This week, the Reporter brings you some of the top stories of 2019.

It has been a year of leadership change for the Shelter Island School District.

A month before the end of the last school year, Christine Finn, Ph.D., made the surprise announcement that she was leaving the district to accept a job as superintendent in Carle Place.

The Board of Education moved rapidly to appoint Allan Gerstenlauer, Ph.D., as interim superintendent while they began interviewing candidates. Mr. Gerstenlauer had worked in the Longwood School District beginning in 1974 and became superintendent there from 2005 to 2012 before he retired. He had also served as interim superintendent in Amagansett and in Tuckahoe.

It didn’t take long for the board to settle on a permanent replacement when Brian Doelger, Ph.D., applied for the job. He was a known quantity in the district, having taught social studies here for four years before leaving in August 2014 to follow former Shelter Island superintendent Michael Hynes, Ph.D., to Patchogue-Medford.

Mr. Doelger became a school administrator in that district and then earned his doctorate degree and subsequently worked in other districts, including Riverhead, before being tapped for Shelter Island’s top job.

Mr. Doelger saw an opportunity to return to a place where he was popular and had loved teaching, he said.

Mr. Gerstenlauer in November was appointed to a temporary position to mentor Mr. Doelger in his first year.

Mr. Doelger’s initial few months have generally been smooth, although he and the board had to struggle with an important issue. When a new law required that all students be vaccinated against a number of diseases and not be allowed to attend classes unless they were immunized, there was an emotional board meeting with several parents claiming the law was unfair and/or it was sprung on them with little notice.

At a September board meeting they asked for relief from the law, but district officials had no power to act. At the request of the parents, Mr. Doelger had written to the judge hearing a case to overturn the new requirement, but later learned that the judge couldn’t enter information into the record since it had to come from an attorney.

The parents argued that the state’s obligation to educate their children should have outweighed a rule that would ban attendance at school.

On Sept. 18, when school officials would have had to bar students not inoculated from entering classrooms, no students in question came to school.

Only a couple of board members commented on the parents’ complaint, noting they hadn’t wanted to ban students from classes. But like the superintendent, they couldn’t ignore the state’s mandate.

While the law wasn’t a policy passed by the district, it has affected Mr. Doelger’s popularity with some parents in the district.

Two actions could yet bring the controversy back. There are lawsuits ongoing to overturn the state law, and there’s a bill pending in the state Senate to add to the required immunizations the newer vaccine against the human papilloma virus.

District officials could be facing further arguments over immunization from parents in the months ahead.

Another major change for the district was the resignation of business leader Linda Haas who had served for about a year. No reason was given and Ms. Haas offered no comment on why she left the district. To fill that absence, the board has opted to hire a consulting firm while it takes time to interview candidates to fill the job.