When the students at East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School begin the school year on Sept. 5, a new face will greet them as they enter the building.
Neil Lederer was hired as interim principal by the Board of Education on Aug. 8, and will replace Joe Spero, who left East Rockaway for a job with the Lakeside School District in northern Westchester County.
“I’ll be visible,” Lederer said, adding that he planned to be outside the school every morning and afternoon. “I’ll be out. I’ll be communicative. If someone comes to me with an issue, they’ll get a response, hopefully within 24 hours. No request or concern falls on deaf ears. … That’s the way I am, and that’s what I enjoy most about the job — interacting with individuals.”
Lederer, who lives in Melville, brings with him more than 50 years of experience. He graduated from Long Island University Brooklyn with a bachelor’s degree, and earned a master’s in educational administration and supervision from New York University. He began his career as a science teacher in the Bronx. His first administrative job was assistant principal of Lindenhurst Junior High, a position he held for 10 years. After that, he was named assistant principal and then principal of Lindenhurst High School.
In 1992, Lederer moved to Harborfields Central School District, where he served as principal of Oldfield Middle School for six years and then principal at Harborfields High School for two years. He returned to the Lindenhurst district as the high school principal in 2000, and became superintendent in 2002. He retired in 2009, but has taken interim jobs in eight different school districts since then — including serving as high school principal for a year each at Long Beach and West Hempstead.
“I wanted to feel a sense of purpose,” he said. “I was sitting home and I’m saying, ‘Jeez, I still have something to offer, and I’m kind of bored, feeling like I’m not serving any purpose,’ and these opportunities came my way.”
Superintendent Lisa Ruiz said she was sorry to see Spero leave, but was also excited to have an experienced administrator such as Lederer. “I was most impressed by his approach to the interim position, in that he indicated that he would not just … mind the store,” she said of Lederer. “He takes the role seriously. He wants the district to move forward with our strategic plan, and he’s committed to continuous progress in our school systems.”
Ruiz also praised Lederer for keeping up with education trends despite his retirement from full-time administrative duties. She added that in June, Spero told her that he was looking for jobs closer to his home in Rockland County, and he found one in July.
Because hiring a new principal is a lengthy process that requires committee meetings and several rounds of interviews, Ruiz and the Board of Education decided to bring on an interim principal instead of rushing to find Spero’s successor. After interviewing several candidates, the board decided that Lederer was the best fit. “I’m just hearing raves about him already,” Ruiz said, ”which is so encouraging.”
According to Ruiz, district administrators will begin their comprehensive search for a permanent principal in the winter, and make a decision by spring. Ruiz said she believes that students are resilient and will have no problems transitioning between two new principals in consecutive years.
She noted that Spero would be remembered for developing successful initiatives in the high school, including the AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination), which focuses on students’ career and college readiness. He was also instrumental in the district’s earning a Schools of Opportunity designation from the National Education Policy Center, which recognizes districts that provide opportunities for all children.
Spero became principal in 2012, and oversaw the school’s recovery after Hurricane Sandy. He wrote a letter to the community last month, announcing his impending departure and reflecting on his time in the district.
“My experience with the students, families and community of East Rockaway has been unforgettable,” Spero wrote. “From my first day here, I have been welcomed with open arms, and have grown to truly respect and care for everyone with whom I have worked. Over that time, I have watched our school face many challenges, rebuild and prosper. It is hard to measure how proud I am of our accomplishments. Although I am leaving, there is a part of me that will forever be a ‘rock.’”
Spero’s final day on the job was Aug. 10. Lederer officially started on Monday, but had met with administrators several times before then. He said he had not asked Spero for any advice, but planned to — and noted that he also intended to reach out to every teacher and faculty member before the first day of school, and would make himself available to speak with parents.
Lederer said his goals include seeing more success for students taking Regents exams. He added that he also wants to learn more about the district so he can find out what adjustments are needed, and how his successor can sustain them after he leaves. He described himself as fair and open to students, but noted that he also holds them accountable.
He said he was excited about the coming year. “I’ve always loved the high school principalship,” he said. “It’s really been my favorite educational job. I really enjoy working with high school-level kids. I enjoy working directly with the students on a daily basis, and the teachers. I’m looking forward to it. I really am.”