Elmont Memorial High School principal's decision to leave is met with sorrow from the community


Kevin Dougherty, the principal of Elmont Memorial High School, has informed the Elmont community that he is stepping down from his position at the end of the school year.

Dougherty, who has served as principal since 2015, sent an email to parents, students and staff on April 5, announcing that he is leaving his post, effective June 30.

“The Elmont community has been amazing to me and my family over the last eight years,” Dougherty wrote in an email. “I will cherish the memories that we have — I look forward to staying in touch and hearing about the amazing things our outstanding scholars go on to achieve.”

In a statement, the Sewanhaka Central High School District thanked Dougherty for his service to the community and the innovative programs he introduced at the high school during his time as principal.

District officials said they would start looking to fill the position “as soon as possible” for the 2023-24 school year. Dougherty’s announcement comes on the heels of District Superintendent James Grossane’s decision to retire at the end of the school year.

“Word on the street is that today was a very emotional and disappointing day, with Principal Dougherty breaking down while announcing to his scholars that he would not be returning next year, which in turn caused the students to also emotionally break down,” Dwayne Palmer, an Elmont parent, said.

In recent months, the Elmont principal has overcome some controversy. Dougherty was placed on an unexplained leave of absence right before the start of the school year, in what administration officials described as a “sabbatical.”

The move sparked protests among parents and students, who demanded answers about his sudden removal. Dougherty was reinstated to his position on Oct. 11.

Many Elmont community members speculated that this incident — as well as remaining tension with some school board members — has spurred Dougherty to leave.

Lynette Battle, president of the Elmont Parent Teacher Student Association, said that losing Dougherty and Grossane at the same time is a “double whammy” for Elmont Memorial High School.

“This wasn’t a broken system — the school board broke it,” Battle said. “This is for people’s egos and personal agendas — the school board have sacrificed our kids. Knowing who we’re dealing with — (Dougherty’s) passion for our children — I strongly believe he didn’t have the back up or the support that he needed in order to be effective.”

The Sewanhaka Board of Education appointed Dougherty as principal in 2015. He followed in the footsteps of his renowned predecessor, John Capozzi, after having served as principal at Promise Academy in Harlem.

At the time, Dougherty said he didn’t even know where Elmont was and had to use a GPS to get around. Eventually, he got to know the residents and the needs of the school community.

Today, he is affectionately known as “Doc” and built a reputation that goes beyond being a principal, according to those who know him.

“I’ve known him since day one when he arrived at Elmont,” Jon Johnson, a close friend of Dougherty, said. “He’s much more than a principal — he’s been a father to some of these kids, he’s been a mentor. He’s sacrificed so much for the Elmont community as a whole.

“Just last week, there was a fight at the school with some boys, and it was off-site after school,” Johnson said. “Doc went over there personally to make sure that everybody was all right. He genuinely cares about every student.”

One of his most notable accomplishments as principal was starting The Men of Elmont, a mentoring program that Dougherty created at the high school in 2016.

The program teaches core leadership values through weekly mentorship meetings and participates in community service. The group also hosts guest speakers, attends different field trips and visits colleges and museums.

The mentor group initially aimed to help boys who were getting into trouble at school, and Dougherty’s goal was to give the students a space to have real discussions around topics they were interested in and get them on the right track.

Johnson, who is an adviser for Men of Elmont, said as of right now, he does not know what Dougherty’s departure means for the future of the program.

In addition, the Elmont PTSA said Dougherty achieved a 97 percent graduation rate at Elmont Memorial High School, bettering the national average of 86 percent as of 2020. The New York State Department of Education has also recognized Elmont as one of the top 10 schools for graduating young men of color.

During the height of the pandemic in 2021, Dougherty noticed a rise of food insecurity in the Elmont area. He helped jumpstart a food distribution effort at the high school, targeting 20 to 30 families that he knew needed assistance. He reached out to staff and community members about donating nonperishable food.

He later partnered with Island Harvest Food Bank, which provided a steady supply of food. That year, he prepared meals for as many as 150 residents each week.