After an unprecedented school year, former Merrick Avenue Middle School Science Chair Michael Hughes began his term as the new assistant principal of Sanford H. Calhoun High School on July 1, joining a team of administrators who are working on plans to safely educate students in the age of the coronavirus.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be a normal start to the job when I began,” Hughes said. “We face so many obstacles in education on a daily basis — this is just another one that we’re going to have to face together, and do what’s best and safe for students and for families.”
Calhoun takes in students from throughout the Merricks and Bellmores through its magnet On Tour Drama Company.
Hughes, 38, is an educator with deep roots in the Bellmore-Merrick community. He earned a bachelor’s in biology and a master’s in cancer biology from Adelphi University. After working as an associate researcher at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research for a year, he enrolled in Queens College to study for a master’s in a subject area he had always wanted to pursue — teaching.
In 2009, Hughes was hired to teach Regents and Honors chemistry, advanced science research and A.P. psychology at Calhoun, and over the years he became interested in administration. In 2011, he returned to school for his fourth degree, a certificate of advanced graduate study in educational leadership and administration in education from the College of St. Rose.
After nine years of sharing his passion for science with students in the classroom, Hughes was promoted to chair the Science Department at Calhoun and Merrick Avenue Middle School in 2018. As chairman, he continued to build connections with students and within the community, opening his office to students after school and taking part in school events. Hughes notably volunteered to make pancakes as a thank-you to students who raised the most donations for the school’s pantry during the district’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service earlier this year.
“The community has become a part of my family,” Hughes said, adding that his wife, Laura Hughes, is a science teacher at John F. Kennedy High School.
A new beginning
The Central High School District Board of Education appointed Hughes to the position on May 6, replacing former Assistant Principal Michael Gavalas. Hughes credits the “outstanding Bellmore-Merrick leadership team” for inspiring him to move forward and take on more leadership positions. “I’m really excited to be in this role and be a part of the larger community,” he said.
As assistant principal, Hughes will manage several academic departments, guide the ninth- and 11th-grade classes and oversee student activities, prom, graduation, transportation, emergency drills, hall duties and learning centers.
Jennifer Verwys, a MAMS science teacher, said Hughes is a wealth of support for both students and teachers, which would serve him well in his new role. “Mr. Hughes’s enthusiasm for his job is infectious. He truly enjoys working with students, and you will often find him jumping into lessons in different classrooms, working with the students and enjoying the lessons he participated in,” Verwys said. “The Merrick Avenue science department is going to miss him, but we know that he will continue to do great things at Calhoun.”
Though the state’s stance on school reopening plans has yet to be announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the activities and operations that Hughes supervises will most likely look different in the 2020-21 school year. He noted that the challenges brought on by the pandemic would require flexibility and a particular focus on the social and emotional health of the students.
“I really want to create a safe, nurturing environment here at Calhoun,” he said. “When you put the social-emotional wellbeing of a child first and foremost, the academics tend to follow.”
Hughes’s door, he said, “is always open to students and their families.” By starting a line of communication early and making himself available, he hopes to help alleviate some of the anxieties associated with the start of a new school year.
Calhoun Principal Nicole Hollings said Hughes puts “kids first and foremost,” stating in an email to the Herald Life, “His familiarity with Bellmore-Merrick and his commitment to our families will serve our community very well.”
“I’m grateful for all the opportunities that the Bellmore-Merrick community has given me,” Hughes said. “I’ve had tremendous mentorship from a number of different administrators in the last number of years, and I’m really honored and excited to continue to work with such a dedicated, amazing team of educational leaders.”