After the departure of Alan Bernstein as headmaster of the private Lawrence Woodmere Academy in the wake of two sex scandals involving teachers, school officials made several changes, adding two new trustees, partnering with them on a new long-term strategy and naming a new head of school.
The changes were outlined in a Jan. 25 letter to LWA families and at a schoolwide meeting three days later. The correspondence, from new Head of School Barbra Feldman and Board President Vincent Gerbino, was emailed a day after Bernstein left the school.
School officials have refused to say whether Bernstein was fired or resigned, after the New York Post published a first-person account by former student Samantha Farber of being sexually harassed by an unnamed teacher, who is no longer at LWA.
In October, another former teacher, Daniel McMenamin, was arrested and charged with raping a female student repeatedly over a period of nearly three years. McMenamin left the school in 2016. He is free on bail, and his next court date is scheduled for Friday.
Leon Lee and Steve Souhrada were appointed to the school’s board of trustees, and are also partnering with LWA, according to the letter. “Together, we have created a plan to recruit and market the school more broadly, build our academic programs and more fully attend to the needs of our faculty and student body,” Feldman wrote. “This will require significant investment and assistance from a management company that is committed to that.”
The letter stated that Lee and Souhrada have more than 30 years of combined experience “managing the finances and operations of schools.” Lee’s LinkedIn profile lists him as “president at Professional Business College.” Corporationwiki.com lists him as chief executive officer of Sappo Management Ltd.
Sappo Management formerly operated the Sappo School, in Commack, which is now the Journey Preparatory School, in Farmingdale, a private school that accommodates children with anxiety, dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, those who are learning English as well as general education students.
Souhrada is listed as the chief executive officer of Junior Preparatory School Inc. on his LinkedIn profile, and as president on the school’s website. The profile also lists two managing director positions and an executive vice president post for three different investment firms.
The letter announced that Craig Pinto, LWA’s development director; Jeff Weiss, the curriculum coordinator and athletic director at the upper school; and Admissions Associate Trish Hughes would be “working directly” with Souhrada on admissions, alumni relations, business development and creative marketing.
Candice Morgenlander, a supervisor at the LWA summer camp, will succeed Feldman as head of that program. Sherri Fromowitz, Marc Hoyle and Susan Lettieri will be what the school calls “academic leaders on our administrative team.”
Fromowitz is the lower school and middle school principal, a reading teacher and the English Pre-School-8 curriculum coordinator. Hoyle is the upper school assistant principal and dean, the community service coordinator for grades 11 and 12, the history curriculum coordinator and a teacher. Lettieri is the director of global education and curriculum, the director of college guidance and the English as a Second Language coordinator.
Calling this an “inflection point” at what LWA officials say is a 107-year-old school — created in 1990 with the merger of Lawrence Country Day School, established in 1891, and Woodmere Academy, established in 1912 — Feldman, a 1982 graduate, wrote to the families that a long-term strategy “has been painstakingly developed by your board and as with any long-term strategy, will come with highs and some bittersweet lows.”
Neither Feldman, Gerbino nor Souhrada returned calls requesting comment by press time. Lee’s voice mailbox was full. Once again, LWA officials relied on Manhattan-based Marathon Strategies to address questions. Sam Spokony, a Marathon vice president, emailed this statement to the Herald on Feb. 8:
“Our team recognized a critical opportunity to expand our STEAM [science, technology, engineering, art and math] programming, increase enrollment and create even more avenues to advance LWA’s student-first mission for generations to come. As part of that work, we brought on Mr. Lee and Mr. Souhrada, both of whom have a great deal of experience in driving initiatives that help strengthen educational institutions and deliver incredible results for students, families and educators. This effort will not change LWA’s status as an accredited, non-profit school with a unique philosophy — and in fact it will make us even stronger.”
School officials said in a previous statement that “an independent third party helped to develop additional training and protocols” in the interest of preventing “unacceptable behavior.” The updated statement now reads, “New training and protocols have been developed and are in the process of being implemented with our faculty and staff.”
Farber and a few other former LWA students expressed concern that the school did not do all it could to protect them and their peers or contact law enforcement officials in a timely fashion, though school officials said they were working with the Nassau County district attorney’s office in the McMenamin case.
Shira Berkovits, founder and chief executive officer of Sacred Spaces, a cross-denominational initiative to address institutional abuse in Jewish communities, spoke at a sexual harassment workshop at Young Israel of Woodmere in October.
“There should be a clear and concise proactive strategy when taking care of children,” Berkovits said when asked about individuals, institutions or organizations that fail to address sexual abuse or harassment or do not inform law enforcement. “Not going to the police is not the approach you want to take.”
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