Leading through the tumult

Willis Perry takes charge at Lawrence M.S.


Willis Perry thinks of himself as someone who can adapt to any situation, and as the new principal of Lawrence Middle School, he will have to. Perry replaced the retired George Akst on Feb. 1.

Perry, 42, takes over in tumultuous times. The middle school is now hosting 975 displaced Lawrence High School students, while 400 fifth- and sixth-graders, who would normally be at the middle school, have been moved to two district elementary schools.

The turmoil is the result of the Lawrence district’s relocation plan. The high school had to be shut down so that its electrical system, damaged by saltwater in Hurricane Sandy, could be repaired. The school is expected to reopen March 18.

“I’m a guy who can adjust to any situation,” Perry said in the cramped office he shares with middle school math and science Chairman Bill Moss. He is adjusting to being in three different schools during a typical day, with 475 seventh- and eighth-graders in the middle school, fifth-graders at the Number Five School and sixth-graders at the Number Two School.

“Yes, this is challenging,” said Perry, adding that he met with his staff on Feb. 5 to introduce himself and discuss educational and professional goals. “The hardest thing for me is getting to know my staff and the children. I fill my tank up and spend my time where it is needed.”

Raised in Rockaway Beach and familiar with the Five Towns thanks to shopping trips to the Hewlett-area Korvette’s department store with his grandmother, Perry, who played high school basketball at Beach Channel High School and college ball at Adelphi University, originally wanted to be a sports agent. He is married, has two boys and lives in Rego Park, Queens.

He recalled that during his job search after college, his mother, Gwendolyn Perry Meredith, who worked for the New York City Board of Education and had seen how good her son was at coaching kids at Adelphi’s annual summer basketball camp, urged him to go into education. “I think you’d make a great teacher — you’re great with kids,” Perry remembers her saying. He recalled a city Board of Education job fair: “It was a rainy day in August 1994, and the line was around the block at the public school in Brooklyn. I got hired on the spot.”

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