Goodbye to the Tuxedo superintendency

| 22 Feb 2012 | 04:54

Joseph Zanetti reflects on his 13 year tenure as Tuxedo schools chief, the longest in Orange County history, By Nancy Kriz TUXEDO - If Tuxedo School District Superintendent Joseph Zanetti wants to spend time visiting high school students - and maybe get a quick refresher math lesson - he makes a quick left out of his office and walks only about 10 feet to the nearest classroom. And when Zanetti wants to visit with the district’s youngest students, he turns right and walks about 25 yards across a short parking lot to the district’s other building to see what kind of lessons those children are working on that day. However, there’s only seven days left for him to have moments like those. On Feb. 28, Zanetti will retire as Tuxedo schools chief, a position he’s held for the last 13 years. In an era where most school superintendents stay at their posts for maybe three to five years, Zanetti has the distinction of being Orange County’s longest serving superintendent. “I’m just a regular guy who’s been lucky,” said Zanetti, who turns 60 next month. “I feel especially blessed to have been in this position for 13 years.” Zanetti’s career began 38 years ago, working as a business and math teacher at the Valley Central School District. In 1974, he moved to the Florida School District, teaching the same subjects for nine years. In 1985, he joined Tuxedo as its business administrator, becoming the district’s assistant superintendent in 1997 and its superintendent in 1998. “I think we’ve put ourselves on the map,” said Zanetti. “The kids here do well. You see the passion in teachers. They use different methodologies and are challenging. And this is a safe environment.” Tuxedo and Greenwood Lake Tuxedo is one of the smallest school districts in the area. It serves only 615 students, in kindergarten through the 12th grade, living in Tuxedo and Greenwood Lake. There are approximately 234 students in the George Grant Mason School, home to kindergarten through eighth grade, with 30 teachers and support staff. Across the campus is George F. Baker High School, which houses almost 385 students with 32 teachers and support staff. About 75 percent of these students come from Greenwood Lake. Without a high school of its own, Greenwood Lake’s challenge has been to find a place for its students to attend school. Similarly, Tuxedo’s own challenge has been to ensure there’s a student body large enough to operate a high school. The districts are at the midpoint of a five-year agreement for Tuxedo to provide that education. “We moved away from being a very small district with inadequate facilities,” Zanetti said. “In the late 90s, we undertook the biggest capital project in the district’s history. We added an elementary school at almost $4 million. We spent almost $9 million on an addition for the high school. We did that for a population of students mostly from Greenwood Lake when we had, at best, a five-year contract. I think that says a lot about the community of Tuxedo … putting themselves at (financial) risk. And we’re willing to deal with that today. These capital projects provide a first-class educational environment. Our relationship with Greenwood Lake speaks volumes about the programs here. And from a value standpoint, that relationship (with Greenwood Lake) is important to us.” While Zanetti said he takes pride in all the district’s accomplishments under his tenure, the building projects stand out among the most satisfying. National and state ranking But he’s quick to refocus on the quality of education provided by teachers and to stress the uniqueness of what a small district can offer to students. “I’m really proud of our ranking by Newsweek putting us in the top five percent of high schools in the country,” he said. “Yes, we can argue about the methodology, and I can, but we were the first and now the longest continuously ranked high school to have that distinction.” And he was equally proud of the elementary school being named a New York State blue ribbon school of excellence early in his superintendency. Zanetti feels the educational climate put in place by the faculty fosters students’ success. “Do we have the same exposure issues as a large district, as say Monroe-Woodbury does? Yes,” he said. “Our faculty watches our kids carefully. That creates an environment where the kids want to be here. The teachers want to be here. Most people who come here (to work) stay here.” 'The beauty of a small district’ Zanetti used himself as an example. “I thought I’d be leaving here (the district) by the end of the 80s,” he said. “The vision I had was that I’d get my wings here and go to Rockland or Westchester. I did snoop around. But what I found was that this was a district that had an outstanding educational environment and it was a pleasure to come to work every day. For the most part, I see happy people every day. And for me, anytime I have a downward turn, or want a good dose of reality, I go out and see the kids. That’s the beauty of a small district. I can walk around the corner to the cafeteria to see the ninth to 12th graders. And I can walk across the way to see the five-year-olds.” Zanetti’s seen hundreds of five-year-olds grow up and become Tuxedo graduates. He’s also seen children of alumni become graduates too, with many coming back to the district to work. “I’ll really miss graduations,” he said. “I enjoy extending a handshake and giving a hug to everyone, especially the kids who have had problems. I always have some personal comments for everyone. In a small district like ours, that personalization is amplified.” Community A small district like Tuxedo also amplifies the feeling that those who are part of the school district are like an extended family, Zanetti felt. “During the holiday season, when we have 100 out of 400 kids part of the high school choir, all dressed in red and white (the school’s colors), and there’s alumni there and parents and faculty and administration and we’re all singing, that’s really something,” he said, offering an example.” “You get a real feel for the community.” Likewise, when tragedy strikes, it hits a small district particularly hard. “We lost a child last year,” said Zanetti, with tears flowing freely. “And my darkest day was in 2005 when Lou Allen (a high school teacher who was an Army reservist) was killed (in Iraq). I remember driving down the Quickway and I’m calling board members and administrators to tell them, and I’m crying. He (Allen) had just e-mailed us at the school the night before, telling us about all the things he was doing. He used to teach at Burke, and he told people who used to work at Burke and who now work here how great of a place this was and told them why they would want to come here to work.” In his remaining days, Zanetti is committed to tying up loose ends, making sure his interim replacement Carol Lomascolo, currently the district’s assistant superintendent, is best prepared to handle anything that comes her way. But he admitted March 1 will not be an easy day for him. “I might sleep late,” said Zanetti. “But that day, I’m going to be like someone who wears glasses for distance. You can’t do anything without your glasses. I’ll be like, 'Where’s my glasses? Where’s my school?’”

What I’d like to say to the community and my board and my staff and anyone who will listen to me is that you need to keep working hard at keeping up the relationship with Greenwood Lake. And please, don’t lose focus on what you’re doing, especially in this fiscal climate that is really ugly. There is a misperception by the people not involved in education that administrators and boards don’t work hard. I find it very interesting that people who know the least about education are those who are most critical. There needs to be more involvement. The reason we’re here is because of the kids.” Tuxedo School District Superintendent Joseph Zanetti, who steps down Feb. 28