Searingtown School gets interim principal

Noah Manskar
Robert Neufeld started Aug. 28 as the interim principal at the Searingtown School. (Photo courtesy of the Herricks school district)

One of the Herricks school district’s three elementary schools has started the school year with a new principal.

Robert Neufeld, a retired elementary educator with more than 40 years of experience, started Aug. 28 as the Searingtown School’s interim principal for the 2017-18 year. He is the temporary replacement for K. Elizabeth Guercin, who started as Herricks’ assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction on Sept. 1.

Neufeld’s “very caring and compassionate” character and “wealth of experience” pushed him to the top of a field of 10 candidates district officials considered, Superintendent Fino Celano said.

“He has an outstanding reputation of being an excellent educator,” Celano said.

Neufeld retired three years ago from the Sachem Central School District in Suffolk County, where he worked in three junior high schools and four elementary schools starting in 1974. He started working as a principal in 2000 and once served as co-president of the Suffolk County Elementary Principals’ Association.

Neufeld worked as an interim principal in Sachem after his retirement, Celano said.

Neufeld could not be reached on Monday because he is on a previously planned vacation in Europe until Sept. 27. But in a message to parents and students posted to the district’s website, Neufeld said it is “an honor” to work at Searingtown.

“It is more important than ever that our students grow up to be contributing members of a democratic society,” Neufeld wrote. “Important values of respect, compassion, responsibility and good citizenship are key qualities of our school.”

Linda McElroy, the Searingtown School’s lead teacher, said Guercin helped Neufeld get acquainted with the school before she started her new post, to which she was appointed in mid-August.

“He’s gotten involved in knowing the children and knowing the parents, so it’s been, I would say, as smooth as we could make it,” McElroy said.

Celano said Herricks officials will start searching in March for a permanent replacement for Guercin, who was the Searingtown School principal for nine years. Another search will start around the same time for a permanent Herricks High School principal, Celano said. James Ruck, the interim principal who started in 2016, agreed to stay on for a second year.

“It makes much more sense to not rush to get someone in when it’s such an important position,” McElroy said.

The transitions to permanent principals at Searingtown and the high school will come after several staff changes in Herricks’ central administration. Guercin was the third new top administrator to start in three years, following Celano in 2015 and Lisa Rutkoske, the assistant superintendent for business, in 2016.

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