Divided Shoreham-Wading River board hires new superintendent

06/21/2011 2:05 PM |

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Only four board members raised their hand when it was time to appoint Steven Cohen as the next superintendent of Shoreham-Wading River schools.

Steven Cohen will be the next superintendent of the Shoreham-Wading River School District, but his appointment was not approved with the full support of the Board of Education at its meeting Tuesday.

Dr. Cohen, an assistant superintendent in upstate Rye, N.Y., was hired with a 4-3 vote by the board. Board members Leo Greeley, Bill McGrath and Mike Fucito all voted in opposition to his hiring.

“This is a travesty to the community,” Mr. Greeley said after Dr. Cohen was hired. “This has been ramrodded through. I hope the community never sees a process like this again.”

All three opposing members said they disagreed with the process of the superintendent search, which was conducted by the consulting firm School Leadership.

“I don’t think it was open enough or thorough enough,” Mr. McGrath said during the meeting.

After the meeting, Mr. McGrath told a reporter part of the process felt rushed.

“During the process, clear misinterpretations and conflicting opinions were given to us that I thought should have merited a meeting to get everyone on the same page before going forward,” he said. “I was disheartened that my requests went unanswered and that the majority went forward so quickly.”

Board member Rich Pluschau countered rumors in the community that the district reviewed a pool of candidates who were not top quality since its began its search later than many nearby districts seeking superintendents this year.

Mr. Pluschau said consultants from School Leadership assured board members they were reviewing extremely qualified candidates, adding that the consultants  did due diligence in carrying out the search.

“They spent a considerable amount of time on their end screening, vetting, background checks, reference checks,” he said. “They actually spent a considerable amount of their time, energy, resources, best practices and expertise in reviewing a tremendous number of candidates.”

Board president Jack Costas echoed Mr. Pluschau’s confidence in the way the search was conducted.

“I think this was a very thorough process,” he said. “[Dr. Cohen] is the most capable and best choice for this district. He’s eminently qualified. I’ll certainly stake my reputation on it.”

Some residents applauded the board for their work and efficiency in carrying out the search; others berated them for not involving the community enough in the search process.

Board-member elect John Zukowski said he takes issue with one of the School Leadership consultants, Frank Chiachieri, being involved in Shoreham-Wading River’s search.

He said Mr. Chichiara is a board member and board president in Valley Stream Central High School District and Valley Stream School District 13 respectively, both of which are currently carrying out superintendent searches.

“At the very least it’s a case of impropriety” Mr. Zukowski said. “Was Mr. Chichiara giving us the best candidates available, or was he holding them for his own district?”

Mr. Zukowski will replace Bob Alcorn, who voted in support of the hiring Tuesday, on the board next month.


Dr. Cohen listened silently, sitting beside his wife, Doreen Lomax, and their 19-year-old daughter, Emma Lomax Cohen throughout the night.

Currently the assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment in the Rye City School District, he will take the reigns from outgoing superintendent Harriet Copel when her contract expires at the end of July.

He said one of his first initiatives will be meeting with the board this summer to devise a plan entitled “Educational Goals,” which will consist of both curriculum and instructional goals as well as finance and facilities goals. He also said they’ll build a calendar of the goals, which will be available to the public on the district’s website.

He said his first challenge will be transitioning into a district that has had the same superintendent for six years, but he praised Dr. Copel for the leaving the district in good shape.

“She’s leaving me a pretty firm foundation compared to how things were here six years ago,” Dr. Cohen said.

He said he looks forward to working with his new colleagues and teachers “to figure out ways to give support in implementing instructional efficiency” and to “stimulate students to take educational risks.”

Before holding the assistant superintendent position at Rye for five years, Dr. Cohen served as the 6-12 chairperson of social studies in the Roslyn School District in Nassau County for five years. Prior to that, he was the social studies chairperson at Clarkstown South Senior High School in Rockland County for one year. Before that, he taught history, economics and philosophy at Trinity School, a coeducational day school in Manhattan.

Dr. Cohen went to Wesleyan University for undergraduate schooling and he holds two masters degrees and a Phd in history and sociology from Columbia University.

“It’s an honor to be chosen,” Dr. Cohen said during the meeting. “I’m very excited to get started.”

As for Dr. Copel, she said she expects a smooth transition when Dr. Cohen officially takes his post on August 1. When Dr. Copel leaves, she said she plans to “rest, relax, read and enjoy myself.”

Dr. Cohen went on a 10-hour tour of each of the district’s five buildings, as well as the District Office on Monday. The district will hold a community forum at 7:30 p.m. next Monday in the high school’s library to afford residents the opportunity to meet Dr. Cohen, discuss concerns they have with the district, voice their visions for the future and ask questions.

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