Three months after taking the helm of the Southampton School District, Superintendent Dr. Scott Farina says he is fitting in well and has already made changes that will push the schools in terms of educating students.
But while Dr. Farina said he has further goals for the three-school district, including changing up the budget process, many of his plans will depend on the outcome of the upcoming vote on a merger with Tuckahoe—if approved, it would drastically change the financial outlook and demographics of the district.
To be put to its first public vote on October 29, the merger will determine if the Tuckahoe School District will be annexed by the Southampton School District. If it fails, Southampton faces the possibility of losing all the Tuckahoe students and their tuition—an estimated $3 million revenue loss—which would mean the potential for cuts to Southampton’s programs.
Dr. Farina said he is excited to be a part of the merger, which he said could be a model for other East End school districts.
“In these economic times, we certainly need to look at more efficient ways to educate our communities,” he said. “Small districts are not the most cost-efficient way of providing quality education to our kids.”
Despite the pending merger vote, Dr. Farina has already put some changes in place, including a shift in focus in the classrooms themselves. Teachers now are putting more emphasis on the new Common Core standards to prepare students for the spring assessments, including implementing new state Common Core modules provided to schools.
“I have really enjoyed being here at Southampton,” Dr. Farina said in an interview this week. “The staff has been very supportive and open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. The community has been totally welcoming to me, and it has been professionally a very nice experience.”
Dr. Farina, who was appointed in April after a five-month search, had more than 20 years of experience in education before taking over as superintendent for Dr. J. Richard Boyes on July 1. From 2003 to 2007, Dr. Farina served as principal of the East Hampton High School, and most recently he served as an administrative consultant in Chester County, Pennsylvania, examining the organizational structure of schools and helping make them more cost-efficient and student-focused.
Before his position as administrative consultant, Dr. Farina also worked as an assistant superintendent and high school principal in the Garnet Valley School District in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.
This week, Dr. Farina said the recent shift in the classrooms came as a result of the district’s state test results from last year. With a new state baseline for tests established, the district wanted to find a way to improve student scores while giving a well-rounded education. “The Common Core learning standards have been something that we needed to address and quickly,” he said. “We have made some great strides in that.”
One way the students are being prepared for the state tests is to expose them to the assessments before test day. Students are being given work that more closely resembles what they will see.
“The assessments are different than they used to be,” Dr. Farina said. “The district certainly tried to do its best in the past, but I believe that now we have some new tools, better instructional practices, that are more focused on the Common Core.”
He said he also wants to change the way the district approaches the annual budget process. Traditionally, the district takes the current year’s budget and works within the constraints of current programs. In the future, Dr. Farina said, he would like to start with a “zero budget,” meaning the district starts from scratch every year and adds necessary components, a method he says is much more cost-effective.
For now, Dr. Farina said he is enjoying getting to know all the students, noting that over the summer he spent time meeting the administrative staff and faculty. Over the past few weeks, he has attended several student events, including homecoming and the bonfire, and he has been invited to a “puppy party” in the elementary school.
“It has been great being out there and in the buildings,” he said. “For me, the schools come alive when the students are here, so it was nice for the summer to end and the students to come back.”