After 21 years in the Hewlett-Woodmere School District — the last five as superintendent — Dr. Joyce Bisso is retiring on June 30. Ralph Marino Jr., the superintendent of the Horseheads School District in upstate Chemung County, will succeed her.
Bisso joined the district as an assistant principal at Hewlett High School in 1994. From 1998 to 2000 she was the interim high school principal, and in July 2000 she was named principal. She served in that capacity until June 30, 2006.
From July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2010, she was the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, and on July 1, 2010, she began her tenure as superintendent.
A teacher before she became an administrator, Bisso has worked in education for 33 years. She began her career in the Jericho School District as a junior high school English teacher from 1971 to 1973, then took a 12-year hiatus to raise her three children before returning in 1985 and teaching until 1994.
Asked about her legacy, she believes her legacy is that she served as a representative for students and gave them the opportunity to succeed as lifelong learners through what she refers to as the “four C’s” and describes as 21st-century life skills for students: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. “I have a basic belief that leadership is not singular in nature,” she said. “It’s like an inverted pyramid. Instead of putting the superintendent as the one main leader at the top, I believe that leadership is dependent upon everyone: the community, the Board of Education, the teaching staff and, at the top, the students. Students have always been at the core of change. The voice of students is invaluable in a community.”
Board of Education President Scott McInnes points to the Youth Leadership Forum; the student-run community garden behind the Hewlett House, across the street from Hewlett High; and the science center at the middle school as examples of how Bisso has made a valuable impact. “Dr. Bisso leaves quite the legacy in the district,” McInnes said. “She has been steadfast in her determination to provide opportunities for all of our students to be able to reach their highest potential, and is a staunch advocate for public education.”
Laura Seinfeld, a former Hewlett-Woodmere assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, also worked with Bisso on the Oyster Bay-East Norwich
school board, where Bisso, an Oyster Bay resident, was a trustee. Prior to coming to Hewlett-Woodmere, Seinfleld was assistant superintendent for instruction in Oyster Bay-East Norwich, and she is now that district’s superintendent.
“What Joyce has always brought to the table is her big heart,” Seinfeld said. “She always put the students first. She has a great deal of wit. She always provided the support needed to help all those around her, whether it was students, administrators or community.”
It’s difficult to pick out a single favorite moment of her Hewlett-Woodmere career, Bisso said. “Classrooms are where all the energy is,” she said. “Just observing the thinking and the doing is what I enjoyed most.”
McInnes said that Bisso’s best moment may have been at the district’s informational meeting after Hurricane Sandy, when all Hewlett-Woodmere schools had been closed for several days. “We invited the community to an informational meeting at WEC” — the Woodmere Educational Center — “and the auditorium was packed,” McInnes recalled. “Her poise, strength and leadership throughout the meeting helped to ease everyone’s fears and lower their anxiety in the midst of the crisis. She knew how important it was to get our students back to school and re-establish their routines to try and give them a sense of normalcy. She did an outstanding job during one of the most difficult times the community had seen in quite some time.”