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Strong And Caring Leadership

Ten years ago, the OBEN School District found itself as a “district in need of improvement.”  The district saw the leadership potential of the assistant superintendent for instruction, Dr. Phyllis Harrington, and promoted her to superintendent of schools. The board of education proved correct in their assessment and found that they had hired a dynamic leader.


One of Dr. Harrington’s many strengths as a leader was her ability to find the right people to do the jobs necessary for a successful organization.


The standing of the district was the top priority from day one for the new administration. Dr. Harrington hired Laura Seinfeld to analyze, assess and revamp the curriculum and instructional program in our schools.  

Laura Seinfeld came to Oyster Bay-East Norwich in 2005 and worked for the district for five years as the assistant superintendent for instruction. As assistant superintendent, she played an integral role and was the architect of the educational program that took the district from a rating of “schools in need of improvement” to the nationally top-ranked district that it has become.  


In 2010, she returned to the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Schools where she had worked from 1997-2002 as the English Language Arts Department Chair and Grade Level Supervisor at the Woodmere Middle School. From 2010 until now, she continued working as an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. During that time she earned her doctorate of education, educational and policy leadership from the Hofstra University School of Education, Health, and

Human Services. Dr. Seinfeld’s dissertation was on “The Future Superintendents’ Academy: A Mixed-Method Retrospective Case Study.” Dr. Seinfeld co-authored and published an article entitled “Attaining and Sustaining the

Superintendency: The Perspectives of Four Successful Retirees” for The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, in March, 2012.


Dr. Seinfeld, the 2010 Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) Educator of the Year Award winner, has been an active participant in the New York State Council of School Superintendents/Leadership for Educational Achievement Foundation (an educational leadership program for aspiring superintendents), the New York State Council of School Superintendents (where she was the recipient of Pathways to Leadership Scholarship), the Tri-State Consortium, EdLeader 21, and the

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Clearly, Dr. Seinfeld has significant expertise in what it takes to be an excellent superintendent.


What is also significant is her unique perspective of classroom teaching. Early in her career, Dr. Seinfeld worked as an elementary English Language Arts teacher, a high school English teacher, and an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. 


Even before the first day of school of her first year as superintendent, Dr. Seinfeld has already established herself as a leader among leaders. Newsday chose her as one a few superintendents to comment on the challenges that lay ahead in the 2013-2014.


She is quoted as saying, “Oyster-Bay East Norwich (OBEN) Central School District is a caring learning community committed to maximizing each student’s personal potential for tomorrow’s world. The challenge for this and other districts is finding the connections among the numerous state and federal mandates and balancing these mandates with our ongoing mission to provide meaningful learning experiences that truly prepare each student for his/her future without undue stress impacting the learning process.    


“The OBEN leadership, including members of the board of education, is committed to maintaining and improving district programs in a fiscally responsible manner. Working toward this continuous improvement within the confines of the tax levy limit and balancing program enhancement with our community’s ability to provide support are additional challenges we will face this year...I am confident that we are prepared to face these seemingly daunting challenges.”


Dr. Seinfeld has become part of a stellar administrative team.  A few years ago, the Oyster Bay-East Norwich School District found itself in need of an assistant superintendent for business. The board of education, the administration and the community demanded a standard of excellence in this extremely important office. The job was posted and the applicants were sparse. No one met the expectations of the district. The search proved difficult. The board was not going to lower their standards just to fill the position.  OBEN is a small district with a goal of fiscal responsibility and an eagle eye on every budget item in an effort to keep costs down.   


The office of district accountant was vacated during this time and the administration took this vacancy as an opportunity to redesign the business office. Rather than hiring someone to just do the accounting, the district looked to hire an all-purpose Assistant Business Official. Elisa Pellati is doing a great job in that role.


In July of 2007, the district hired Christopher Van Cott as Assistant Business Official. Van Cott has a masters of business administration in finance and an advanced graduate degree from S.U.N.Y. at Stony Brook, where he earned a School

District Business Leader Certificate. In his first year at Oyster Bay, Van Cott showed that he is extremely talented.  Although Van Cott’s extensive business experience had been in the private sector, he has a pedigree for school administration.  Christopher’s father, Alan, built an impressive career devoted to education serving the Islip Union Free School District where he has worked as coach, sixth grade teacher, enrichment teacher, director of instruction, assistant to the superintendent, middle school principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent of schools.  


Van Cott shared his feelings about his background.  “Prior to becoming the Assistant Business Official for the Oyster Bay – East Norwich Central School District, I spent nine years working within the finance and accounting departments of four leading companies. Whether their business was computer software, recreational vehicles, or sunrooms, I was fortunate to have been exposed to a variety of leadership styles, financial practices, and operational strategies. 


“Although I enjoyed my private sector experiences, I felt that something was missing.  I began to research careers where my hard work and efforts could more directly impact our community and collective futures.  Growing up in a household of educators, I witnessed first hand the satisfaction and quality of life that both my parents received from their careers in public education.  This was an option that I wanted to follow, but first I had to make a connection between what I have accomplished in corporate America and what I might be able to contribute to a school district. After preliminary research, I found that the natural fit was as a school business official. I interviewed two seasoned business officials for their input and advice.  Their insight confirmed my desire to pursue this certification.    


“I was fortunate to gain employment in the Oyster Bay – East Norwich Central School District as the Assistant Business Official.  In this role, I have utilized my industry knowledge, coursework, and internship experiences to add value to the school district and the community.  I acknowledge that industry and schools are different; however they do share similarities within their business functions such as budget development and management, financial analysis, internal controls, ethics and cash management.  I am fortunate to have had experiences in all of these important areas throughout my career and am confident that I will successfully build upon these skills as the assistant superintendent for business.” 


Consistently since he has occupied the office, Van Cott has distinguished himself as an expert in finance and, together with Pellati and District Treasurer Dan Balzan, runs an extremely efficient business office.


CPA Marianne Van Duyne of the firm RS Abrams & Co. LLP delivered the annual external auditor’s report to the board of education on the financial health of the district.  


Van Duyne said that the business office is doing a “great job” and that the auditors give Oyster Bay its highest rating. The best rating they can give is an “unqualified” rating, which means that there is “no material weakness” in the system. She praised Pellati for what she described as “the most efficient audit” she had ever seen and lauded Van Cott for being proactive. The auditors expressed that Van Cott is “very smart” in establishing reserves for the district in light of the tough fiscal times ahead.  It was noted that the ERS (employee retirement system) reserve had been increased and the reserves for unemployment and insurance were good. Van Duyne said that the capital reserve was “right where it needs to be.”  Because of Van Cott’s handling of the reserves the district will save a lot of money in the future.


Rounding out the administrative team is Dr. Lisa Mulhall.  Dr. Mulhall has taken on the responsibilities of the office of Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment.  Dr. Mulhall earned a bachelor of the arts degree in English from Rutgers, a masters in teaching English from Teachers College at Columbia University and a doctorate in educational leadership from Teachers College at Columbia University.


Dr. Mulhall came to Oyster Bay from Shoreham-Wading River where she worked as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction. Prior to that Dr. Mulhall worked as a kindergarten through 12th grade English Language Arts supervisor in Cherry Hill Public Schools in southern New Jersey.  She has displayed an aptitude of the highest degree for curriculum and instruction and a commitment to professional development.


The OBEN Schools are poised and ready to soar to new heights.  The administrative team is in high gear and excited and dedicated to excellence.