WOMEN SHAPING HISTORY 2015
Council of School Supervisors & Administrators
What has inspired your current career path?
For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a teacher. As early as kindergarten, I would come home from school and write on the walls of my bedroom with chalk. My mother would get furious with me, but that never stopped me. Each day I would read aloud to my silent audience of dolls and stuffed animals, perhaps it was my way to escape from some of the harsh realities of my life at that time.
At the age of 14 I had my first job with the Neighborhood Youth Core Program. One requirement for employment as a youth worker was that you had to come from a low income family. I was assigned to a camp that was located in one of the highest crime areas of Staten Island. As I look back, I fondly remember spending countless and joyful hours with children who came from a common background similar to my own, reading books, taking trips to the park and walking several miles to the local public pool.
In addition to this early experience, I worked every summer either in camps or youth programs.
In HS I joined the Future Teachers’ Club.
What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced?
My dad died unexpectedly when I was 2 and my sister Clara was 5. It was a very difficult time for my mom, my sister and me. For several years we were transient, moving from apartment to apartment. At the age of 5 we moved to a low income public housing development. Growing up my mom did the best she could; she was tough, demanding, but loved us. While my childhood was not storybook, I credit my mother for instilling in me wholesome values. I believe that the primary reason I am the person I am is directly related to my experiences living in low income housing, strong work ethic and the determination to make a difference in the lives of children.
At the young age of 19, I married the love of my life, Fredrick Claudio, and had my first daughter Justine at the age of 20. I finished college with her literally in a knap sack. At the age of 21, with a one year old, 24 credits shy of a degree; I secured my first teaching job at Our Lady Help of Christians (parochial school). There were 50 students in my class. I went to college at night and weekends and completed my degree at the end of the summer term. The intensity and scope of these responsibilities and having extremely limited income at this young age were at times overwhelming. But I was determined to continue to follow my dream of being an educator.
When I was 32, a mother of two daughters, ages 3 and 13, my husband Fred was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma. After seven intensive years of therapy, Fred passed in 1996. At the age of 39 I was a widow. It was essential for me to meet all the responsibilities of single parent, especially because of the experience I had growing up without a father. I wanted so much more for my daughters.
A year prior to the passing of my husband, my eldest daughter Justine was in a near fatal car accident. Following the accident, my daughter needed several extensive surgeries and physical therapy that spanned the next several years. The concurrent events of my late husband’s illness, his death and my daughters many medical needs were again at times overwhelming. It seemed that my whole world had turned up side down. Through this very difficult time the only constant was my love for my daughters and my dedication to my students. I buried myself in my work and continued my passion for teaching.
What are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of?
If I have been successful, it is because I truly believed that every position I held was the most important.
Raised two loving, strong, intelligent and successful young women Justine and Jenna. I have two grandchildren, Jillian and Shaun and they are the light of my life! Two wonderful sons-in-law.
Lifelong educator - I worked my way up the ranks - teacher, staff developer, Regional Instructional Specialist, Principal, and Community Superintendent. 20 plus years I taught at William A. Morris Intermediate School 61. I loved my years at Morris Intermediate School. I taught special education, general education, communication arts, created a three-year self-sustaining journalism program, served as the school programmer, articulation coordinator, and was the editor of 17 yearbooks. I made it my mission to create opportunities for my students that otherwise would not be possible; intergenerational programs, co-authoring a book with the late Janet Bode, and cultural internships. Since I live in the community I taught in, I have the pleasure to run into students that I taught – always sharing memories of being in my class and reminiscing about a special project, activity or journey.
Principal of the Allan F. Kivlehan School, PS6 - The first District 31 School to be a Teachers College Collaborative Community of Practice School – teachers and administrators visited to observe best practice. I will never forget my first day I met my staff; I read them one of my favorite books – “The Magic Locket”, QUOTES HG by Elizabeth Koda-Callan, a book that I read to my daughters countless times. Basically the book is about a little girl who believed that she couldn’t do anything right. Her aunt gives her a locket and she believes that the locket is magic because all of a sudden everything that she couldn’t do she was able to do. It wasn’t until one day that the locket fell and opened and she saw her reflection and realized that she was the magic. It was important for me to start my principal-ship sharing with my staff that I believed every child had magic in them and needed to believe in themselves. It was IS (HG) up to us to nurture their spirits and help them realize their magic.
Community Superintendent of District 31. My first task, ironically, as superintendent was appointing a principal to my elementary school. Who would have believed that the shy girl, from the projects, who barley spoke, would someday be the Superintendent of Schools! I will never forget meeting the parents that were on the principal’s selection committee. I told them that I went PS 18, one mom was so excited that she said she couldn’t wait to go home to tell her daughter that the Superintendent of Schools went to PS18 and grew up in the adjacent projects. When I left the school and got in my car, I called my mother. I knew this would mean so much to her. As superintendent I had 50 elementary schools and 10 middle schools. I love my community, so my role as superintendent came natural. I loved visiting schools, meeting with principals, teachers and parents. Truly I am and always will be a teacher at heart. It certainly was a challenging task – there was only one of me and 59 schools. What most people do not realize that is out of the 32 school districts SI is one district. However, I was honored to serve my district.
Presently, I am the Executive Director of Operations for the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators – giving me an opportunity to use my global perspective of education to support 6000 plus administrators that drive the instruction for our NYC students. My work at CSA is very exciting; I oversee the daily operations of the union, I work closely with Ernest Logan, CSA President, and Mark Cannizzaro, CSA Vice President. This work is both administrative and academic. We meet regularly with the DOE and because of my prior experience I feel that I have a true understanding of what it is to teach and be an administrator in the NYC public schools. My heart will always be with what is best for children.
If I have been successful it is because no matter what position I held I always believed that it was the most important job!
Throughout my career I have been the recipient of various awards: Phi Delta Kappa teacher of the year, Italian Heritage Cultural Month Honoree, Italian American Educator of the Year, Puerto Rican Educator of the Year.
As a teacher, principal and superintendent I had many opportunities to speak to and with students at awards ceremonies, graduations, etc. I would usually start with books, like “The Magic Locket or Courage” but I always made sure that I weaved in that the most important message -along the way we all need help and they should know who those people are that can help them.
Who have been the most influential mentors in your life?
Growing up, the smallest acts of kindness were so deeply appreciated and needed. This left an indelible impression on me. The following people, listed in chronological order supported and inspired me: my 4th grade teacher, Gene Prisco – who affectionately referred to me as an orchid in a swamp.
MY (HG) 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Picerno - I loved her. She was the first person who truly helped me find my voice.
My first principal Mr. Andrew Monahan (when I was a DOE teacher) – he was a quiet force, but led by example. He was fair, passionate and allowed me to grow through the varied positions I held throughout my years at Morris Intermediate.
My significant other, Edward Seto, who insisted I acquire the degrees that permitted me to become an administrator. I thought I would never leave the classroom, he believed I had more to do.
Deputy Chancellor, Dr. Dorita Gibson (at the time she was Regional Superintendent of District 31) encouraged me to be the Principal of Public School 6 and later the Community Superintendent of SI - when it was the last thing on my mind. She had a way of convincing me – always saying that my community needed me.
What would you describe as a turning point in your life?
After the passing of my husband, I knew that I had to continue to forge forward; my daughters needed me and I had so much more to give to my students. It was a tumultuous couple of years. As one can imagine, it was a very challenging and painful time in my life. But thankfully I can look back and the adage that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle proved true for me.
What are your goals for the future?
To continue to be an advocate for children and be the best person that I can be in my varied roles as mother, grandmother, significant other, friend or union leader.#