With the school year having officially begun, students at James H. Vernon School were greeted by someone new when they arrived for the first day of classes. Jessica Bader, the former director of humanities for kindergarten through 12th grade in the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District, welcomed the students as the new principal of Vernon, which she said she hopes to make a Blue-Ribbon school.
Bader, 51, who comes from a large family of educators, said she knew she wanted to be a teacher from an early age. She studied at State University of New York Oneonta, where she got her undergraduate degree in secondary education in English, and received two master’s degrees from Queens College, City University of New York, one in educational administration and one in educational supervision.
Bader had previously worked as an assistant principal at George J. Ryan Middle School 216 in Manhattan for nine years and arrived at OBEN last year to take over the role of director of humanities K-12. Francesco Ianni, the OBEN superintendent, said the district leadership had been hugely impressed with the work she had been able to accomplish in her short time as director of humanities, making her a clear choice for the position of principal at Vernon.
In the year since Bader arrived, she helped pilot the district’s Seal of Civic Readiness program, a New York state program that honors students who score high on the civic knowledge and civic participation portions of the Regents diploma. She also created and led the Oyster Bay Instructional Team and oversaw the creation of the English Language Arts curriculum for seventh to 11th graders at OBEN.
“Working with us as the director of humanities she did tremendous work at the curriculum level, working very well with the staff, and also was just very, very nice,” Ianni said. “Ms. Bader also established an amazing rapport with the students. That’s one thing that kind of sticks out because sometimes directors can be a little removed from students, but she found the time to connect with them.”
Bader said that her two biggest goals for the new year are continuing to develop that rapport with the students and making Vernon a Blue Ribbon school. The Smithtown resident said that while she enjoyed her time as a director, she missed the more hands-on aspect of being a principal and getting to really know the children and their families.
While she learns more about her students, Bader’s other goal will require some hard work, although she and Ianni both said they are confident Vernon has all of the ingredients to become a Blue Ribbon school.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups and is one of the highest honors a school in the United States can receive.
Bader said she plans to go about this by working with the district staff and faculty to ensure that the students are absorbing the curriculum and improving at all levels. She added that an essential part of her job was ensuring that her students were prepared for the transition to high school, and by doing that she could give them their best chance to succeed later in life.
“My goal is to make James Vernon a Blue Ribbon school, and the best way to do that is to focus on what matters most — the kids,” Bader explained. “The high school’s job is to prepare them for college and their careers, and our job is to prepare them for high school.”
Laurie Kowalsky, president of OBEN’s Board of Education, said that Bader has continued to impress her and the other members of the board throughout the summer. She added that Bader’s energy and planning have already made her a great asset to the district and looks forward to continuing to work with her.
“She’s very friendly and very conscientious and very excited which is great; half this job is having the passion for the kids,” Kowalsky said. “As principal, I really think she’s going to really hit the ground running, and the kids are going to love her.”