Remembering Richard Novarro

Barnum Woods teacher, ‘the heart of this place,’ dies at 63


Richard Novarro, who had taught at Barnum Woods Elementary School since 1985, died on Nov. 24, at age 63.

Novarro taught mostly fifth grade during his 27 years at the school, though he led third-, fourth- and sixth-grade classes as well. He was instrumental in developing the school’s Character Education Committee, which promoted positive character education by way of assemblies, class projects and activities. He was one of the founders of the school’s Student Council Committee and student government.

But what made Novarro special, according to his colleagues, was his dedication to teaching and the relationships he forged with everyone he came in contact with. “Richard was probably the most dedicated teacher in all of East Meadow,” said Barnum Woods teacher Camille Iovino-Coli, who had worked with him since his first year there. “He was here before the custodians in the morning, and left way past everybody else in the evenings.”

“Part of the reason he was here so early and stayed so late is because he never said ‘no’ to anybody about anything,” added Margaret Greenberg, who has taught at Barnum Woods since 1987. “He would always drop whatever he was doing, and made you feel like you were the only person who needed his attention at that moment.”

Novarro, who lived in Amityville, was a Catholic school teacher at St. Boniface, in Seacliff, before coming to Barnum Woods.

Barnum Woods teacher Ethel Sobel, a colleague of his for 25 years, said that he had the credentials to become a principal, but never pursued an administrative position because teaching was his passion. “He loved social studies,” Sobel said. “His eyes would light up with a map or book. He just lived it, loved it and breathed it.”

Novarro was born on May 8, 1949, in Queens. He was one of three children of Carmelo and Nancy Novarro. He never married, and had no children. “He really believed that the Barnum teachers and friends were his second family,” said Iovino-Coli.

He was an avid fan of classic movies, music and television shows, and colleagues said they often heard the voice of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como or Doris Day emanating from his classroom. In his day, Iovino-Coli said, Novarro was a great dancer.

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