New East Rockaway High School principal focused on 21st century learning

Richard Schaffer to take over in July


Richard Schaffer, of Floral Park, has spent the past seven years serving in a variety of leadership roles at Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School in Bayside, Queens. On July 1, he will take over for Neil Lederer as principal of East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School.

The East Rockaway Board of Education announced Schaffer’s appointment at its May 22 meeting. Lederer was named interim principal for the 2017-18 school year after Joe Spero stepped down last August.

“I think one of the first things I will do is look at the course load for students,” Schaffer said of his approach to the job. “I’ll be thinking about strategies and support that will allow our students to become competitive and push students who are already competitive to accelerate their learning even further to make sure we’re meeting the needs of all students, no matter what level they are.”

Schaffer, 39, said he went through seven or eight rounds of interviews before he was offered the job. Previously, he had taught social studies and served as a dean at Hawthorne Middle School for a decade, and was the school’s assistant principal for the last seven years.

Superintendent Lisa Ruiz said that Shaffer’s many duties at the Queens school were what caught East Rockaway officials’ attention. “I am thrilled to welcome Mr. Schaffer to our East Rockaway family,” Ruiz said in a statement. “He brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge, and I am confident that he will prove to be an invaluable asset to our district.”

Schaffer earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Binghamton University, a master’s in education from Queens College and a district administration certificate from LIU Post.

During his time in Bayside, he had many responsibilities, including supervising the social studies, science, foreign language and technology departments. He also organized the development of project-based learning across all departments, and formed a partnership with St. Francis College in Brooklyn, which enabled students to attend an after-school science program on the campus.

In addition, Schaffer implemented a software engineering program at the school, which gave students the ability to learn about 3D printing, web design, coding and video game and app design. And he created a video curriculum and a video studio; developed the school’s website and social media presence; and implemented a series of parent engagement surveys to help families stay connected with the school community.

Schaffer said he was most proud of creating the school’s first alumni directory, which led to a series of alumni events. He noted that he hoped to do the same at East Rockaway, since many district alumni are involved with the school.

“I think the work I did with organizing alumni events, to me, that was one of the most rewarding experiences because it really brought the school community, past and present, together,” Schaffer said. “. . . There’s a strong alumni association around East Rockaway High School, and that’s something I look forward to being a part of.”

Schaffer said he was drawn to East Rockaway because it is a tight-knit community. He noted that he also felt supported by district administrators, and he has already met with several teachers who impressed him because they had solid relationships with one another and seemed to care genuinely for the students.

He said he planned to meet with Lederer on May 31 to gather information about his experiences as interim principal. Schaffer will leave the school in Bayside on June 28, but he said he had already begun forming ideas about how to reach the goals of East Rockaway’s strategic plan for students.

“Some of my beliefs about how a school succeeds are centered around student engagement and 21st century skills,” he said. “When they graduate and go off to college, we’re going to prepare them to be successful in both classroom and non-classroom settings.”

Part of his planned trip to the school on May 31 included spending time with students and touring the building to get acclimated. Schaffer said he had previously met with a panel of students, and was pleased to see their commitment to learning and impressed by the questions they asked him.

Schaffer also spoke about school safety, which has been a prominent issue in schools across the country in the wake of the recent deadly mass shootings in Florida and Texas. Schaffer said there is a safety committee in place, and he planned to meet with its members as soon as possible.

Much as Lederer did, Schaffer said he also planned to make his presence known in the school. “One of the positive attributes that have endeared him to the school is how visible he is,” Schaffer said of his predecessor. “That’s a current practice of mine right now, being outside every morning, being visible in the hallways, being visible in the cafeteria so that the students, staff and parents know that I’m invested in the building. I’m just looking to bring some of my touches to help make the school better.”