The Aug. 8 death of Lawrence Woodmere Academy’s head of school, Barbra Feldman, created large holes for the Woodmere private school — many in the hearts of those who knew Feldman, and one in the form of a vacancy in her office.
To fill the top educational post for an interim term of one year, the LWA board hired Breezy Point resident Mary Barton, an educator with 32 years of experience in the New York City public school system. Barton’s first day will be Aug. 26, and classes at LWA will begin on Sept. 5. The school’s three principals have been overseeing building operations since Feldman died, Barton said.
“We were fortunate that there was such a qualified person that just retired from the New York City school system and was willing to come in and take over for a year,” LWA board member Jay Arnow said, adding that officials intend to conduct a national search for a permanent head of school. “We will keep all our options open,” he said.
Barton, 57, began teaching English Language Arts and humanities at the city’s Andries Hudde Junior High School 240 in 1986. Ten years later, she became an assistant principal at the school. She served as acting principal for a year at Marine Park Intermediate School 278, in Community School District 22 in Brooklyn. Then, in 1998 she became principal of the district’s Public School 236, the Mill Basin School, and was there for 11 years. In 2010 she was named a senior achievement and technology integration facilitator in Flushing, Queens, where she coordinated the use and assimilation of instructional technology, and for the last four years of her career, starting in 2014, she was the community superintendent of District 27 in Ozone Park, Queens.
“They reached out to me,” she said of LWA, “and I was looking for a challenge, as I was retired for almost a year. It’s something new and different. I bring a lot of things to the table for LWA. It’s a new learning experience of another type of school system.”
Barton earned a degree in history at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., in 1984, a master’s in education and humanities at Brooklyn College in 1990, and an advanced certificate in educational administration and supervision in 1995, also at B.C.
She understands that change is difficult, she said, especially coming in immediately after Feldman, a lifelong Five Towns resident who, Barton noted, was loved and respected in the community. More than 600 people attended Feldman’s funeral in Hewlett on Aug. 11.
Although Barton acknowledged that she is unfamiliar with LWA’s Global Curriculum Initiative, she said she knows the International Baccalaureate program, a similarly rigorous curriculum. She also addressed the issues that resulted in Feldman’s taking the job earlier this year, after two long-term incidents of sexual abuse came to light and Head of School Alan Bernstein either stepped down or was fired.
In June, former teacher Daniel McMenamin was sentenced to 10 years’ probation after pleading guilty to one count of second-degree rape and one count of criminal sex act for having a sexual relationship with an LWA student from November 2014 — when the girl was 14 — until July 2017. McMenamin surrendered his state teaching license and registered as a sex offender. In January, a former LWA student had published a first-person account in the New York Post of an “inappropriate relationship” with a teacher who is no longer at the school.
“Certainly I have to learn more about the school,” Barton said, “but I believe that personal safety is very important. Everyone should have training on appropriate interactions with all parties to ensure this never happens again, and everyone who works here knows how to conduct themselves.”
Board President Vincent Gerbino said that the trustees believe Barton “will serve the LWA community well during this difficult time.” “Barbra’s loss is a profound loss to the LWA community,” Gerbino added of Feldman. “She gave so much of her heart to our school as an alumna, parent and member of our staff. She touched so many of us, and we will miss her more than words can express.”