New team at South Middle seeks to build on positive culture

Janelle Clausen
Principal Gina Cartolano and Assistant Principals Lenny DiBiase and Ryan Nadherney, the new team heading the school, said they are open to new ideas and making the school even better. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)
Principal Gina Cartolano and Assistant Principals Lenny DiBiase and Ryan Nadherney, the new team heading the school, said they are open to new ideas and making the school even better. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Gina Cartolano was assistant principal for 12 years at South Middle School.

Ryan Nadherny was a guidance counselor at North Middle School and chaired South Middle School’s guidance department.

Lenny DiBiase taught for six years in the Lindenhurst schools and worked as an assistant principal there for nine.

And now the three of them – with Cartolano as principal and DiBiase and Nadherny as assistant principals – said they are bringing a combination of “fresh eyes” and experience to make the school, which is home to more than 700 students, even better.

“From my perspective, we make a really nice team,” Nadherny said. “I think we work really nice together, we all bring unique strengths and we’re always there to support each other.”

The leadership shift came after longtime Principal James Welsch retired and Brian McConaghy, an assistant principal at South Middle, accepted a job as principal of Herricks Middle School. Cartolano ascended to principal, meaning two new assistant principals were needed.

The trio emphasized the importance of social and emotional learning, as well as the importance of ensuring there are opportunities for every student, and said they are always looking to help students feel “a sense of connection” with the school.

“We want to have a school where kids feel safe, where they’re connected and where they’re generally happy to be here,” Cartolano said.

“I think we want kids to try things, we want them to find out who they are,” DiBiase said.

To build on the “positive culture,” Nadherny said they are trying to spread “positive messages throughout the school” whether it’s through language in the classroom or placing “positive words” in select places in the school.

Nadherny also said they’re hoping to expand the Adolescent Advocates program, which trains students “to reduce bigotry and hate” in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, to encompass all grades in the school.

Cartolano said she is proud that South Middle School has been considered a “No Place for Hate” school by the Anti-Defamation League and hopes to build on that relationship.

The push for a positive culture also involves offering as many programs as possible, Cartolano said, whether it’s responding to student interest in a ping pong club or growing a mindfulness club for students needing to “reduce their stress and anxiety on a daily basis.”

“We’re always looking for new ideas, new assemblies, any programs we can bring into the building to just continue with the positive school culture we believe we already have,” Cartolano said. “But you know what? We can always do better.”

DiBiase said one program he is particularly looking forward to is seeing the school’s annual cultural heritage celebration “come to life.”

“It’s really a celebration of the cultural heritages of the students,” DiBiase said. “It culminates in a day and an evening of food and fun and culture and then performances by all different students.”

Something that impressed him about the students, DiBiase said, was that 11- and 12-year-olds are running a television studio and putting together programs.

Ultimately, when asked what inspires them, the three all had the same answer: the children.

“I think the kids really inspire me. You want to do more,” Cartolano said. “These kids are hungry for new ideas. They’re hungry to be challenged.”

“And I agree – we’re all in this because of the students, the amazing students that we have here,” Nadherny said, adding that they aim to provide a “safe and comfortable environment” where students can grow, learn about themselves and develop good habits.

“You can have bad moments as an administrator. You find out things and you go through things that aren’t expected in a school setting,” DiBiase said. “But we could walk into any one of these classrooms and instantly put the smile back on our face and remind us why we do what we do.”

About the author

Janelle Clausen

Janelle Clausen is a reporter with Blank Slate Media covering the Great Neck peninsula and Town of North Hempstead. She previously freelanced for the Amityville Record, Massapequa Post and the Babylon Beacon. When not reporting, the south shore native can...
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