It was a bittersweet day in the Sewanhaka Central High School District on June 18 as district officials honored the accomplishments of student-athletes from its five high schools. While they celebrated achievement, they also said goodbye to the district’s superintendent of eight years, Dr. Ralph Ferrie.
Former Board of Education President David Fowler reminisced about when Ferrie first joined the district as superintendent in 2011. When the board had to find a successor for then Superintendent Warren Meierdiercks, he said, it was difficult to find someone right for the district, which faced changing demographics and tighter budgets.
“Dr. Ferrie came in with a vision, and he delivered in every facet,” Fowler said. “His hard work and diligence was always student-centered.”
Ferrie took the reins of Sewanhaka schools during a tumultuous time for the district. The state had recently imposed the 2 percent tax-levy cap, limiting the total amount that the district could collect in taxes to meet expenses, and thus the district’s budget. The Common Core State Standards, which were later overturned, took effect during the 2011-12 school year, and the district took in a large number of immigrant children from Latin America and Asia. Ferrie had to get to work quickly, and he started even before he began his new position.
After he was selected, but before he officially began the job, he attended an conference for educators in New Jersey, where he met University of Pennsylvania Professor Robert Jarvis. Ferrie was intrigued by Jarvis’s presentation, which addressed problems that administrators might have understanding diverse student populations and how they could help their districts aid minority students in overcoming obstacles.
“I knew that the Sewanhaka district had a high minority population, so I started talking to Professor Jarvis about his work in Rockville Centre, and if that was something we could bring to other Long Island schools,” Ferrie said. “We eventually got a bunch of other districts together and started the Long Island Consortium for Equity and Excellence.”
Through the consortium, and the district’s Cultural Proficiency Program, Sewanhaka received professional development training in equity, diversity and cultural responsiveness. The district also implemented the Integrated Advanced Program for seventh- and eighth-graders to give all students a fair chance to take advanced courses later in high school.
With the Board of Education, Ferrie also shepherded passage of an $86 million bond referendum in 2014, which was used to make several improvements to district buildings. And he passed an energy performance contract, through which solar panels were installed on all of the district’s five high schools, earning them Energy Star certifications.
District Athletic Director Matt McLees added that Ferrie’s budget plans and leadership left a legacy in the department with the addition of district’s new athletic fields, weight rooms, tracks and trainers. McLees and the five high schools’ athletic directors presented Ferrie with a plaque for his contributions to their departments.
“We want you to know how much we appreciated your leadership, your guidance, as well as your support of our student-athletes.” McLees said. “One of the things we will also take away from you is that no one is more important than the child.”
When Ferrie announced his retirement last year, he said he wanted to complete the installation of the new Alternative School and Academic Learning Center, as well as the full integration of the district’s one-to-one iPad program. The Alternative School has so far served more than 40 non-traditional students during regular school hours, and the Academic Learning Center has helped bring down suspension rates while keeping students in school.
After its full implementation, the district’s iPad program has seen practical success, with more than 250 students using the devices during the winter New York State Algebra I and II and Geometry Regents exams. Ferrie said it was a great step to ensure equity throughout the district, and Sewanhaka has been featured by Apple and led presentations at education technology seminars.
With his final two goals completed, Ferrie looks forward to taking time off at his New Jersey home to reflect on his eight years at Sewanhaka. He plans to visit his daughter in Florida, and then he said he expects to be back in the education field as a consultant or university professor. Ferrie said that while his future does hold some questions, he is certain Sewanhaka will continue to succeed without him.
“I’d really like to thank the teachers, administrators, custodians, support staff, food services, outstanding parents in all of the communities and our students for all they did for me,” Ferrie said. “And I ask that they show the same support to the new superintendent. “It’s been my honor to serve this wonderful district. ”
James Grossane became the Sewanhaka schools superintendent in July. He was sworn in during the district’s annual reorganization meeting on July 9.