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Aquebogue principal’s motivational message will endure after retirement

T.E.A.M. — Together Everyone Achieves More.

It’s a motto that Aquebogue Elementary School principal Phil Kent brought to Riverhead Central School District more than a decade ago. Later this year, the longtime administrator and teacher will retire — but his motivational message will remain on the elementary school’s walls.

“One of things I noticed when I came in is that teachers said there wasn’t a lot of transparency,” he said. “When I came in, I said, ‘Together we will achieve more,’ and most people jumped on it.”

District officials approved Mr. Kent’s retirement, effective Aug. 30, at the March 12 Board of Education meeting.

Mr. Kent, 54, a resident of Cutchogue, worked in the district for almost 25 years.

He earned his first master’s degree in education from Stony Brook University and has 31 years’ experience in public education, he said.

After graduating from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania in 1987 and subbing in local schools, he landed his first full-time teaching job in Southampton, where he attended high school. One of his mentors, Dick Malone, current superintendent for the Oysterponds School District, supervised him during his first position.

Three years later, in 1992, he started in the Riverhead district at Phillips Avenue under the supervision of principal Terry Peters.

“She was the one, in meetings, that told me I should pursue the administrative route,” he said. “She was another great force that was a mentor.”

After Ms. Peters’ death in 1996, he heeded her suggestion and pursued a second master’s degree in administration through the College of New Rochelle, while still working as a teacher. With that degree in hand, he took on the role of assistant principal at Coram Elementary School in the Longwood Central School District.

After working as an elementary principal for Southold Union Free School District in 2002, he made his way back to Riverhead: He served as assistant principal at Pulaski Street School in 2002 and 2003, then moved to Aquebogue Elementary, where he’s remained for 16 years.

While he’s unsure who will ultimately replace him, he said Aquebogue assistant principal Vanessa Williams plans to apply.

“Just all her background in literature, curriculum and as a literary coach has just been so instrumental in keeping the curriculum alive and fun,” he said.

Mr. Kent said he met his wife and fellow teacher, Jill, while he was at Phillips and she was at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School. She currently teaches at Riley Avenue, where Mr. Kent said he thinks she’ll remain for five years until her retirement. They’ve been married for 24 years.

He said he’s noticed a change in curriculum through his career — and is excited to see what will happen in the future.

“There’s been more teacher and administrator input into constructing those standards, as to the last 10 years, between No Child Left Behind, where I think it was created by people in Albany with not a ton of input,” he said.

Mr. Kent said his leadership style as a principal is a balance of community bonding and camaraderie. He credits most of his hard work to the school communities he’s worked for.

“My whole success story is not just me,” he said. “It’s all about the teamwork and the aspect of the whole school community coming together. I’m going to miss these kids. I’m going to miss the camaraderie of our staff, and certainly parents.”

Photo caption: Principal Phil Kent with students at Aquebogue Elementary School earlier this month. Mr. Kent, who has been with the district for almost 25 years, is set to retire in August. (Credit: Riverhead Central School District)

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