Earlier this year, the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District announced that John DeTommaso, superintendent for the past eight years, would be retiring on June 30. Mike Harrington, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, was appointed to assume DeTommaso’s role starting July 1.
In a recent interview with the Herald, Harrington said he looked forward to his new position — despite having some big shoes to fill following DeTommaso.
“Mr. DeTommaso has been wonderful,” he said. “He’s left a mark here, a legacy.”
Harrington, who has been in the district since 2003, first worked as a social studies teacher in Island Trees before becoming assistant principal at Sanford H. Calhoun High School in North Merrick. After nine years as principal of Wellington C. Mepham High School in North Bellmore, he took his current job, which he has held for four years.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Central District was among the first districts on Long Island to open for in-person learning. Harrington recounted the reopening efforts, which included meetings with a Reopening Committee as early as May of 2020.
“The entire summer was spent planning for the reopening of school,” he said. “We really believed that the kids needed to be in school.”
Reopening for full in-person instruction by the end of last September was nerve-racking, but school officials believed they were ready for the transition, Harrington said, adding, “We knew we were prepared, and we knew the teachers were prepared.”
After Central’s 2021-22 budget passed last month, district officials are planning some big changes. They will implement a 1:1 Chromebook initiative, which will supply every student in grades seven to 12 with Chromebook laptops.
Harrington explained that over the course of this school year, officials realized how crucial technology was in allowing students to continue to succeed in different or modified learning environments. The new initiative will allow students to “collaborate with one another at home,” he said, and overall, access to technology increases their learning abilities.
An area of concern that Harrington plans to continue to address next year is the social and emotional needs of students. He said officials are confident that students are in good shape academically, but pandemic fatigue could be an issue.
“Mental health is a priority,” he said. “We plan to use different tools to assess students’ emotional well-being,” which includes continuing partnerships with organizations such as South Oaks, a psychiatric care center in Amityville that offers school-based mental health services, providing help to students who need or want it, such as through wellness centers in each building.
Although this school year presented unprecedented challenges, Harrington said, all extracurricular activities continued to run. Before school sports started in January, the district ran independent intramural programs last fall, which the incoming superintendent said he believes helped students feel a sense of normalcy.
Another question is whether masks will be mandatory this coming school year. Harrington shared that the Central District and its four component elementary districts in Bellmore-Merrick recently collaborated on a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking for local jurisdiction.
“We want to give parents the choice” as to whether their children should wear a mask, he said. “We can only do this if it is safe — we won’t jeopardize students’ or staff’s safety.”
Beyond that, Covid-19 cases are decreasing, more people are being vaccinated, and it seems like things are heading in a better direction, Harrington said.
He also shared the news that Scott Bersin, who has been the Seaford High School principal for the last 12 years, will move to the district as the new assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Bersin, who also holds a law degree from Brooklyn Law School, realized he had a passion for teaching after practicing law for a few years. He previously worked at the Great Neck School District as a teacher and later assistant principal before moving to the Seaford School District in 2009.
“Right now, I’m very excited to be joining Mr. Harrington and working with a great district that is only getting better, in my opinion,” Bersin said. “I’m looking forward to getting the year going in a normal fashion.”
Sharing Harrington’s sentiments, he added, “We want to be sensitive to the social and emotional state of students, families and even staff. . . Young people are incredibly resilient. We’re looking forward to welcoming them back fully in September.”
Bersin said he is also excited to see the rollout of the 1:1 Chromebook initiative, adding that this will be a great addition to the district.
“I’m looking forward to getting Bellmore-Merrick back to the way things were pre-pandemic,” Harrington said.
Earlier this month, the district held a send-off parade for DeTommaso, who said he is grateful and excited to see to see the future of the district under Harrington.
“It’s been an incredible run here,” he said. “I want to thank everybody in this whole district and community.”
Harrington said, “Every day I am thankful to be part of the Bellmore-Merrick community.”