After serving in administrative roles in schools for nearly three decades, James DeTommaso is set to become superintendent of the East Rockaway School District on July 1, when current Superintendent Lisa Ruiz retires.
“It will be both an honor and privilege to lead the East Rockaway School District as the next superintendent of schools,” DeTommaso said in a statement. “After serving the community in numerous roles for over 28 years, I returned to my professional home because I believe this is a special place, with unlimited potential. I want to give back all the life lessons and knowledge I have gained from the community as the leader of the district.”
The Board of Education unanimously appointed DeTommaso at its May 24 meeting. He is currently the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences, and earned a master’s in special education and a professional diploma in educational administration from LIU Post.
DeTommaso be-gan his career at East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School as a special education teacher and coach of the varsity football and lacrosse teams. He also served as dean of students and assistant principal for 15 years. Before rejoining East Rockaway last year, he was the principal of West Hempstead High School for three years.
In his year as assistant superintendent, DeTommaso crafted professional development opportunities for the faculty on Superintendent’s Conference Days; used federal stimulus grant money to provide enrichment and remediation programs to help close the learning loss gap due to the Covid-19 pandemic; worked with building-level administrators at the high school to form a partnership with Nassau Community College, in which students can enroll in a concurrent program to earn credits toward an associate’s degree while earning their high school diploma; added opportunities for high school students to earn an Advanced Placement capstone diploma to develop key academic skills to use in college and beyond; introduced the Seal of Biliteracy, a potential program to promote world language study that prepares students for post-secondary experiences; and continued to develop goals for the district’s Strategic Plan in the areas of achievement, opportunity, connection and innovation, according to the district.
DeTommaso takes on the role at a difficult time in the district, as many students have recently told the board about their issues with peer discrimination. He said in a district news release that one of his goals was to ensure that students attending East Rockaway schools had an enjoyable experience. He added that he looked forward to collaborating with the school board, administrators, teachers and parents in the school community to meet the needs of students.
DeTommaso said his major goals included building on the traditions and innovative programs in the school district while also nurturing the learning experiences for students by using 21st-century skills that build critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration with students. He added that providing professional development opportunities and resources for staff would be important for student success.
Ruiz announced her retirement last November and told the Herald afterward that she felt the time was right to call it a career in East Rockaway.
“I feel like I’ve spent almost 45 years in education, almost 42 years in public education, and I just felt that, for personal reasons, this was a good time to move on to that next phase in my life,” Ruiz said at the time. “I was going to leave at the end of last year, but because of Covid, I wanted to see the district through its difficult time.”
Ruiz came to East Rockaway nine years ago after serving as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Merrick and as the director of pupil personnel services in Levittown. She has been in education more than four decades and has worked closely with DeTommaso. She said she was proud of many accomplishments, including increasing the percentage of students attending college; raising awareness about student mental health and social-emotional learning by adding programs and partnering with the Northwell Health Behavioral Clinic; and increasing the availability of support services for students and professional development opportunities for staff.
Ruiz added that she was proud of hiring a “top-notch administrative team and highly-qualified teachers,” as well as helping to identify projects that were included in the $27.7 million bond referendum that voters approved in November 2019, which funded upgrades and repairs to all three district buildings and included a new athletic field at the high school. Additionally, Ruiz helped increase Advanced Placement and dual enrollment college course offerings and brought upgrades and innovations to the district’s educational technology initiatives. She also helped to oversee passage of all budgets during her tenure, with three coming in under the tax cap.
“I feel it’s been a very rich and fulfilling experience to work in such a caring and supportive community,” Ruiz said. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet wonderful people, and that will stay with me forever. This is a unique and special community, and it was the most fulfilling role I’ve had in my 40-odd years of education.”