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Dr. O’Hara Receives Excellence Award

Oyster Bay High School Principal Dr. Dennis O’Hara, OBHS Assistant Principal Taryn Johnson and Carolyn Probst, a guidance counselor at Westhampton Beach High School, presented at the 2014 College Board Middle States Regional Forum, where Dr. O’Hara was honored with “The William U. Harris Award of Excellence.”

The William U. Harris Award of Excellence recognizes an individual from a College Board member institution who has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in the field of education, has inspired, prepared and connected young people to college, and has shown a genuine commitment to mentoring education leaders in an environment that supports their development and growth.

Dr. O’Hara has dedicated himself to the field of education for more than 25 years, most recently as the transformational leader of Oyster Bay High School (Grades 7-12) in Oyster Bay.

Dr. O’Hara’s career began as a middle and high school science teacher, where he served students not only as a classroom teacher, but spent time working with at-risk students, coached wrestling and track, and acted as a class and club advisor.

His administrative career began when he served as Science Department Chairperson at Hauppauge Union Free School District on Long Island from 1998-2001, and then as assistant principal in that district from 2001-2003.

Since 2003, Dr. O’Hara has been principal at Oyster Bay High School. As an educational leader, Dr. O’Hara has focused on the professional development of his staff. He implemented a Peer Coaching program, established a three-year cohort-based staff development program, crafted a school-wide professional development program called “Small Learning Teams”, and encouraged the use of student-centered teaching methods and team teaching. In addition to furthering the professional development of his own staff, Dr. O’Hara has served as a Secondary Education instructor at Long Island University and Dowling College.

Dr. O’Hara’s most noteworthy contributions, however, have been in the betterment of the students in his care. As an assistant principal, he launched an interdepartmental program in collaboration with the guidance and athletic departments aimed at improving the academic performance of student-athletes. He has also worked to improve special education and ESL programs to improve the quality of education provided to these populations. Dr. O’Hara’s primary focus has been on encouraging students to graduate high school and pursue higher learning. During his tenure as principal at Oyster Bay High School, graduation and college- going rates have increased among all sub-groups. Oyster Bay is now ranked among the top two percent of all high schools in the country by U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek magazine, and the Washington Post.

As Christopher Weber, Library Media Specialist at Oyster Bay High School puts it, “Dr. O’Hara has made it his mission as principal to instill in his students the belief that anyone can and should attend college.”

 To this end, he has designed and championed two unique college visitation trips. Each January, 10th grade students go on a five-day trip south, and visit colleges and universities in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. In the spring, 8th grade students participate in a three-day trip to Philadelphia where they visit local colleges. Dr. O’Hara leads these trips himself, and collaborates with campus admissions officers who give a presentation and a tour to the students. These trips, made possible by hours of fund raising and planning, provide an opportunity for students who may not otherwise be able to visit colleges to experience some of the East Coast’s leading campuses.

Particularly for the eighth-graders, this early introduction to the college admission process can be pivotal in instilling a desire to succeed in high school in order to attend the college of their choice. Dr. O’Hara has been successful in ensuring that college-going culture permeates Oyster Bay High School. These tours, along with many other initiatives, have encouraged students to challenge themselves in and out of the classroom, and to work diligently toward their college dreams. Assistant Principal Johnson had the pleasure of presenting the William U. Harris Award of Excellence to Dr. O’Hara.

“Dennis O’Hara has given his students some of the greatest gifts that an educator can give,” said Johnson in her introduction of the award. “He has torn down barriers and redefined boundaries. He has given them agency and the ability to dream and believe. He has taken statistics that say can’t and don’t and traded them for numbers that dictate the will to do. What resonates amongst all of us that know him and love him, is his ability to create opportunities for student success that is not limited to that which is measurable. He has created an educational environment that embraces families, challenges mindsets and transforms students from hopeless dependency to autonomous maturity."