Joan Flatley, retired principal of Meadow Elementary, dies at 74


Retired Meadow Elementary School Principal Joan Morgan Flatley, 74, died of cancer on July 25.

An influential figure in the Baldwin school community, Flatley helped bring special-education classes and services to the school district.

Born on Sept. 25, 1942, she grew up in Brooklyn’s Marine Park. She graduated from the College of New Rochelle in 1964 with a degree in sociology, and later earned a master’s in education from Hofstra University.

For 40 years, Flatley lived in the Loft Estates in Baldwin, where she raised four children by herself. After they graduated from Baldwin Schools, she worked as a special-education teacher at Baldwin High School from 1982 to 1999. She later became the department chairwoman, and was also director of pupil personnel services, until 2000. In the last 14 years of her career, she was principal at Meadow Elementary, until she retired at 70.

In October 2015, Flatley was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer. “She was courageous, optimistic and never let cancer stop her from continuing to enjoy life,” said her son Christopher. “She really devoted her whole life to helping others in the Baldwin community.”

Flatley cofounded the district’s Special Education Parent Teacher Association, a group designed to provide and advocate for gifted programs and educational support for special-education students.

“I worked with Flatley to gather most of the parents of the special-education students at Meadow Elementary to start SEPTA because at that time teachers didn’t understand” all the educational needs of the students, said Maureen Stasichin, a friend of Flatley’s for 41 years and a cofounder of SEPTA. “Even though there was a special-education program at the time, this group helped provide more information [to help] students with disabilities in the whole school district.”

Flatley increased efforts to reach out and support the special-education population at Meadow Elementary. Many faculty members recognize that effort as one of her greatest legacies. “I really appreciate how she created a great environment for special-education students to learn,” said Alexander Kirton, a music teacher at the school for 15 years. “Meadow Elementary School had [most] of the special-education population [in Baldwin], and she was able to really connect with them, because she was a former special-education teacher.”

Meadow Elementary, the largest public elementary school in Baldwin, has the most intensive special-education services, alongside Plaza School. When Flatley became principal in 2000, it was the only elementary school in the district that offered special education.

“It takes an extra-special person to be a special-education teacher, and Flatley was a great, caring, compassionate and empathetic special-education teacher and principal,” said Jim Scannell, a neighbor of hers for 20 years and a former district superintendent. “She understood what special-education children needed to help them learn, and a lot of the teachers referred to Flatley as their ‘work mom’ because she mentored them and helped them grow and learn.”

“I can’t even put into words how much she did for the kids, because she knew everything they needed and she knew every child’s name — both the regular-education children and the special-education children,” said Karen Brenner, a speech therapist at Meadow Elementary and a friend of Flatley’s. “She was every staff member’s mother and confidante, because she motivated us to enjoy being teachers.”

Flatley was an active volunteer in the community, working with SPLASH to help clean up the shores of Long Island. She was also a member of Baldwin’s Foundation For Education Committee, and supported activities run by the Baldwin Civic Association.

She was a member of the American Association of University Women, and throughout her career and after she retired, she worked closely with student teachers as a mentor at Saint John’s University, Adelphi University and Molloy College.

Hundreds of her family members, students and faculty from around the district gathered last week for three wake ceremonies to honor Flatley’s life. A mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at St. Christopher’s Church in Baldwin on Saturday, followed by burial at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.   

Flatley is survived by her oldest son, John, and his wife, Christine; her daughter, Mary, and his husband, Robert; her son Christopher and his wife, Elizabeth; her son Robert; her brother Thomas and his wife, Eileen; and six grandchildren. A brother, Ronald, predeceased her.