Wantagh Superintendent John McNamara and Dr. Marc Ferris, the assistant superintendent for instruction, played icebreaker games with a dozen new teachers at an orientation program on Aug. 28. After all, McNamara and Ferris are new to their positions in the district as well.
After they got to know one another, Ferris spoke about the district’s mission. “We hired you because we believe in you and we want you to succeed,” he said. “This is a very caring and supportive district.”
Both men said they were eager to get into the full swing of their new leadership positions and the 2017-18 academic year. Wantagh students went back to school on Tuesday.
McNamara, 44, was hired to be the new superintendent in February. The former assistant superintendent for instruction succeeds Maureen Goldberg, who stayed on after her last day on July 1 to help McNamara transition into his new role.
He came to Wantagh in July 2015 from the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District, where he was the middle school principal for six years. He has also worked as an assistant principal at Oldfield Middle School, in Greenlawn, and as social studies department chairman at Island Trees Middle School.
McNamara said that when he became assistant superintendent for instruction in Wantagh less than two years ago, he wanted to enhance the district’s science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, or STEAM, program across all grade levels. He said he was proud of the changes officials have made to curricula and the staff in the past two years — including hiring a full-time STEAM teacher for elementary students, establishing STEAM labs and a sixth-grade Chromebook initiative, and the addition of the Advanced Placement Capstone, virtual enterprise and robotics and engineering courses at the high school — and hoped to build on them.
“We are always looking for ways to not only expand our offerings, but improve on existing ones,” McNamara said. “We try to stay as current as possible.”
This year, the district will enhance the Chromebook initiative by offering the devices to all middle school students. A second STEAM teacher was hired to work with students across all three elementary schools. On the high school level, the A.P. Capstone program will expand, as the district is now offering an A.P. Research course.
The district is also opening a new music lab, which will be available to middle and high school students, complete with Mac computers and software that students can use to compose their own songs on digitally. McNamara said that Wantagh is also introducing art classes focused on screen-printing and digital animation at the high school, in addition to rolling out new literacy and writing programs on the elementary level.
Ferris, who was hired in April, said he was happy to join the district during what he described as an exciting period. Throughout the summer, he met with McNamara and Adriana Silver, the assistant superintendent for business, to set goals for the school year.
“As I got to know John and Adriana and what they valued, I saw that we aligned,” Ferris said. “We want to look at the whole child and engage to children in their K-12 experiences so that they become good citizens.”
Ferris, a Garden City resident, joins Wantagh from the North Shore School District, where he had served as principal and assistant principal of North Shore Middle School since 2002. He previously taught social studies at Frank Carey High School in the Sewanhaka Central School District.
In June 2016, Ferris was one of three panelists to speak on school transition planning during a U.S. Senate briefing on Capitol Hill. He was also named Middle School Principal of the Year by Long Island’s Council of Administrators and Supervisors last year.
Ferris also contributed a chapter to the 2010 book “Breaking the Mold of School Instruction and Organization,” which focused on innovative and successful educational initiatives. His chapter was called “Everyone Matters, Everyone Cares, Everyone Learns.”
Ferris, McNamara and the rest of the administrative team will work with teachers and parents this year to create a strategic plan for the district. The new superintendents both commended the community, noting that parents have told them that they’re excited about what the new school year will bring.
“They have been so supportive of the work that we’re doing,” McNamara said. “They want the best for their kids — as do we.”