This early-reading specialist is Willow Road’s new principal


Cindy Gervasi was named principal of Valley Stream District 13’s Willow Road Elementary School on Oct. 13. She succeeded Rosalie Ambrosio, who announced her retirement earilier this year.

Gervasi came to the district in 2005 with little expectation that she would stay. She was initially an on-call substitute teacher, but eventually dedicated almost two decades of her career to the district. In 2006 she became a reading teacher at Howell Road Elementary School.

She served as a reading specialist for the district for 14 years, and moved to Willow Road in 2019.

Gervasi earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood and elementary education and history from CUNY Queens College, a master’s in reading education from St. John’s University, and a certificate of educational leadership from Stony Brook University. She is slated to complete her doctorate in education in 2026, with the American College of Education.

“I began my career as a first-grade classroom teacher,” Gervasi said in a statement, “and that is where I fell in love with early literacy, which prompted me to receive my master’s degree in reading.”

In 2021 she was promoted to literacy coach and pre-K coordinator for the district. As a literacy coach, she worked with Adelphi University and invited graduate students to provide small-group instruction to second-grade students with special learning needs.

The mission was to boost the students’ ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds of spoken language, known as phonological awareness, an important precursor to more advanced reading skills.

Gervasi also took a leading role in creating and refining writing lesson plans and programs for fourth- and fifth-grade students, and hosted districtwide family engagement sessions focusing on topics like math and the needs of early learners,

She has also developed a keen eye for school data analysis, having been entrusted to monitor and assess students’ progress in improving reading fluency and other literacy skills. Using that data, Gervasi has devised strategies for students and teachers to improve their learning and instruction, respectively.

“As a reading specialist and literacy coach, collaborating with colleagues to hone their craft and set their students up for success led me towards a leadership position,” she said.

This past summer, she took on more of the work of an administrator, serving as principal of the district’s annual summer recreation program.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent more than half of my career here in Valley Stream District 13,” Gervasi said, “… during which time I have worked with administrators who saw my leadership potential and encouraged me to take on leadership roles.”

Just as she has helped teachers tailor their approach to nurture the reading skills and needs of every student, Gervasi aims to lead Willow with the same inclusive philosophy, fostering “a supportive school culture built on mutual respect and cooperation.”

“I was drawn to the school community because of its strong commitment to ensuring all of our students receive a high-quality education and become thebest versions of themselves,” she added.

While she stepped into her new role as principal in the busyness of mid-October, rather than on July 1, as is usually the case, to give new administrators a buffer period to prepare, she has certainly hit the ground running.

“At the heart of Willow Road you will find a school community centered around a hub of innovation, creativity and teamwork,” Gervasi said. “While we focus on academic excellence, we also want to instill values of empathy, respect and a strong sense of community.”