Checking in with Buck’s new principal


Susan Leggett, who began working in District 24 in 1991, became principal of the William L. Buck school last week, filling a vacancy left by Mark Onorato, who was named the director of instructional technology.

The first week, Leggett said, was nerve-wracking. “I haven’t slept much,” she said, “but every day I come here and it’s just such a happy experience.”

Leggett began in the district as a speech pathologist. She later earned a master’s in education from Long Island University and became an early intervention teacher, then a classroom teacher. “I think things kept evolving in my life,” Leggett said.

She wanted to be a classroom teacher, she said, because of her interest in the correlation between a student’s ability to listen and speak, and the ability to read and write. Leggett next received a certification as a school building leader from Long Island University, which is, required to be a principal, because she wanted to write curricula after she retired. When Onorato’s promotion was announced, she applied for the position.

“I made lists, and thought so hard about what it would mean to be an administrator and leave my classroom,” she said.

For Leggett, the switch presents new obstacles. In a classroom, she said, you can plan most of the day, but as principal, that isn’t possible. “The unexpected seems to happen much more frequently than was planned for,” she said of her first week. She cited new challenges such as scheduling emergency drills and holding impromptu meetings with parents.

Leggett said she remains focused on her goals. She said that she hopes to spread kindness and respect in the school, and had an assembly on the first day of class with this theme.

“We know that when everyone is treated with dignity and respect, the education is going to be a natural process,” she said.

Leggett also said she wants to give students the sense that they can make mistakes in school. “It’s a safe environment for them to take a chance, take a risk,” she said.

Superintendent Ed Fale said that he feels good about Leggett’s new role. “Mrs. Leggett has been an outstanding member, an outstanding teacher, and we have every confidence in the world that she would be an outstanding principal,” he said.

Onorato started his new role in July. As the technology director, he will send the students’ and teachers’ evaluative data to the New York State Education Department and oversee all the technology that is used in the district.

“Now that we have a lot of technology,” he said, “I have the responsibility to make sure all the technology is utilized in the district.”

His experience teaching other teachers how to use Smart Boards will be helpful, he said, when he works with them to incorporate more technology into their lesson plans.

Onorato said, he plans to use the $405,000 the district received from the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014 to start a one-to-one device initiative in the district. As part of the program, which starts this year, each student in kindergarten through second grade will be given an iPad, and each student in third through sixth grades will receive a Chromebook for classroom use.

“We want to make sure that our children have the most up-to-date and state-of the-art technology,” Fale said.

Onorato also said he plans to upgrade the technology in the libraries, and is researching other technology programs. “I am in the process of looking at new virtual reality programs, coding programs,” he said. “But I have to vet them to make sure we get the right programs for our schools.”

Onorato echoed Fale, saying that he believed Leggett would do a “tremendous job,” and implement an open-door policy for parents at Buck.