By Andrea Ross Pineda
A new school year calls for new beginnings, one of which is the welcoming of Sewanhaka Central High School District's new interim superintendent Dr. Thomas Dolan. An educator for over 40 years, Dr. Dolan has served in a variety of positions including principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent, working in several districts over the past few years. He has come to the district to bring new ideas and spirit to its Board of Education. In this interview with The Chariot, Dr. Dolan reflects on his time in high school, his experiences within other schools and what he plans to do to improve the schools’ atmospheres in the Sewanhaka district.
Source from SCHSD website
Dr. Dolan welcomes the new school year as Sewanhaka's interim superintendent.
Q: How have these various positions enabled you to serve and bring your best abilities as interim superintendent of the Sewanhaka Central High School District?
Dr. Thomas Dolan: I agree that every experience you have leads you to the next one and every experience prepares you for the next one. I think probably the most important training I’ve received to be an effective superintendent is from the classroom. I think [about] being a teacher and loving to visit classes as often as I can, that reminds me of how challenging, how rewarding teaching is. That’s the best training that a person can get. To lead a district is to understand what it means to be a teacher…I think that every experience has helped me, the experience as president at Nassau Community College was completely different and what that has added is knowledge about how high schools and colleges can build cooperative relationships and that is something we’re working on this year specifically with Nassau Community College.
Q: How has your experience in high school influenced or inspired you to become an educator?
TD: I knew I wanted to be a teacher since fifth grade. I got a hundred on the social studies final exam and I thought to myself ‘Hmm what can I do with this?’ and since fifth grade I had this thought of becoming a social studies teacher which is what I eventually became. I still have fond memories of high school and what I learned in high school that informs my practice now is that every student has to find their niche. Every student has to find something that motivates them to get up in the morning and come to school…Every student deserves that one thing that allows them to define themselves and motivates them and gets them to school every morning.
Q: What are some of your goals for the district this coming school year?
TD: The first one is to continue academic excellence of the district. Our district just does wonderful things for students, preparing them for whatever the next step is in life. For a lot of students, it’s college, for some students it's careers or the military, and for some students it's activities for daily [life] that we need to prepare them for so that they can continue their lives outside of school once we’re not here to take care of them anymore. Number two is to find ways to celebrate the entire district together. For example, later in October, we’re going to bring together four students from each of the five schools to take part in a cooperative athletic event over at Jones Beach…I want those students to get to know each other and learn more about each other’s schools. At the November Board of Education meeting, we are going to ask those students or present to the board what they learned about the district and what they learned from that experience…My third goal is to assist the Board of Education in finding the next superintendent. I love my time here, and I know it’s only September, and I feel a little guilty talking about my departure, but I’m only here for the year.
Q: Would you consider [expanding student course offerings] another aim that you have for the year? TD: It is, but in a very specific area. I am a fan of and acknowledge the very good work that advanced placement courses can do. There's another program that's not here, but in other national schools called IB, the International Baccalaureate, and those are courses that putatively prepare students for college work by giving them college level curriculum and an opportunity to earn college credit if the college agrees that the work they’ve done has met their standards. I think there’s a better way, and the better way is something called dual credit. I know the district already has many dual credit programs, that is a course that a student takes here in high school but earns a transcript from a college, and that transcript is so fungible, that transcript is so accessible, it must be accepted by that college. In the case of SUNY schools, any credit you earn at any SUNY school must be accepted by every other SUNY school. We send a lot of students to SUNY schools, and if we were to develop an even stronger relationship with SUNY schools, the opportunity presents that our students might be able to earn as much as a semester of credit while they are in high school. The math formula is, we are in a position to allow almost 50% of our students to reduce their time in college by one eighth. That is, if we were to give them a chance to earn a semester’s worth of credit, they only have three and a half years left when they leave here. Given that almost 50% of our kids go to SUNY schools, that’s a direction that I really hope to go.
Q: How would you classify your experience as interim superintendent so far?
TD: My management style is something that I don't know if you’ll find in many textbooks about management. It’s something called MBWA. Management by Walking Around. Every week, I make it a point to spend at least an hour in every school, and I wander. I always try to find places I haven’t been before and it allows me to engage in conversations with students and conversations with teachers…It's the best way that I learned. If I were to sit and study the yearbook, or review documents about the school, I'm sure I would learn a lot. But for me, the best way I learn is MBWA. So by practicing that, I've gotten a chance to see all five of the schools a lot and interact with a number of the teachers.
To end, Dr. Dolan touches upon his desire to reconnect with the school he had been so close to previously.
“To emphasize how much I’m enjoying my time in the district,” Dr. Dolan said. “I started in the Sewanhaka Central High School District over 30 years ago. I worked a year in the Central Office, principal of one of the buildings. It is so affirming to come back and see people who I formerly worked with, some of whom I hired, some of whom I gave tenure to, and even better, some of my former students who now teach here, including a well regarded physical education teacher here at New Hyde Park, Mr. Milio… Seeing your students aspire to become teachers and succeed, is the most affirming thing that an educator can experience… I think it’s something unique to the Sewanhaka Central High School District. I don’t have the data to support that, but since nobody else has the data either, I’m going to say it’s unique to this place.”