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Watson has a new acting principal

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Floyd B. Watson Elementary School has a new leader. Jennifer Pascarella, longtime assistant principal of South Side Middle School, has become the acting principal at Watson, a job she said she was happy to have.

“My roots are in elementary education — it’s where my heart is,” Pascarella said, “and I’m thrilled to have this position.”

Pascarella began her career as a sixth-grade social studies teacher at South Side Middle School, where she taught for 14 years. She has been assistant principal for the past 12 years.

“Her depth of experience and knowledge of the district programs will provide wonderful support for the Watson Elementary students and staff,” Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said.

Pascarella, a mother of three, has spent her entire career in Rockville Centre, and said she has “grown up in the district.”

“It’s a huge part of who I am and what I’m about,” she added.

Although there’s a “world of difference” working at an elementary school after years in the middle school, Pascarella said that she feels she has the tools to offer support to students since she knows what they’ll face in middle school.

“Students here are at the beginning of their education experience, just learning how to take in information and do something to take action,” Pascarella said. “I’m looking forward to seeing them progress up to the middle school and feel that what I can bring to the table is helping students get over the hump of any issues that might come up — to stop them now before they get worse.”

Pascarella was appointed acting principal effective Oct. 2, replacing longtime principal Joan Waldman, who was placed on administrative leave in mid-September for undisclosed reasons. In recent weeks, the district’s curriculum coordinator, Janine Sampino, provided administrative support at Watson.

In a statement sent to the Herald on Sept. 18, Waldman’s spokeswoman Katherine Heaviside said, “The district has provided little information about its decision to place a respected and dedicated educator and principal on administrative leave, other than that it does not involve a student or staff matter” and that she is “confident the district will find she has always acted in a proper and professional manner and looks forward to swiftly returning” to her role as principal.

The district could not comment further on whether the position will be made permanent or if Waldman would return, since it is a personnel matter.

Pascarella’s move has meant changes at the middle school as well: Her assistant principal position at the middle school is currently being filled by Rose Cammarata, who retired as an assistant principal in June, and Michael Duggan who was hired in July as Cammarata’s replacement. With Cammarata sharing the role for the interim, Pascarella said, the transition is more consistent.

In the meantime, Pascarella feels at home at Watson and has had a positive first month, she said. Several staff members are former students, and she’s also reconnecting with parents who were her students. “It brings my career full circle,” she said.

“Watson is filled with amazing teachers and staff members who are really dedicated to the students’ needs,” she said. “The students, staff and families have been so welcoming, and I’m really happy to be here.”