As Matthew Gaven prepares to become the second Rockville Centre schools superintendent in three years, he says he is eager to get to know the community better.
“First, I want to get to understand the culture and what makes Rockville Centre a great place,” Gaven said. “It’s important, but you want to take what’s working and accentuate it. For those things that need improvement, I look forward to working collaboratively with the staff and administration to try and make that a positive change.”
Gaven, 49, of Garden City, will take over for Interim Superintendent Robert Bartles on July 1, but he will spend the next two months visiting schools and getting acquainted with the students, staff and administrators in each building. The Board of Education announced Gaven’s appointment on May 4, concluding an exhaustive search for a new district leader, and he agreed to a three-year contract that runs through June 30, 2025. Financial details were not immediately disclosed by the district.
Gaven has served as deputy superintendent in the Mineola School District for the past three years, and has worked in the district since 2006. He has been an elementary school principal; a middle school principal; director of pupil personnel; director of technology; and assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, assessment and technology. He began his career as an elementary school teacher in the Garden City Public Schools, and became an elementary school assistant principal and principal there.
Gaven’s hiring comes in the wake of former Superintendent June Chang’s resignation last summer, just over a year into a five-year contract. While Chang did not publicly disclose his reason for leaving, he faced much adversity after taking over for Dr. William Johnson, the district’s superintendent for 34 years before he retired in 2019. Chang had to lead the district through the coronavirus pandemic in his first year on the job, and deal with the ongoing controversy over masking students.
In addition, last July, the school board voted, 3-2, against Chang’s recommendation to rehire South Side High School girls’ varsity soccer coach Jennifer Abgarian — Newsday’s All-Long Island girls’ soccer Coach of the Year in 2020 — and her assistant, Chris Aloisi.
In the first year of Chang’s contract, which he signed on Feb. 25, 2020, he was paid $290,000.
The search for his successor was led by an independent search consulting group, which led discussion groups and conducted surveys, and created a candidate profile. The school board interviewed seven of the top-ranked candidates and conducted follow-up interviews with a number of them, along with background and reference checks.
“This is a wonderful exclamation point on a carefully executed search process,” board President John O’Shea said in a statement. “Our Rockville Centre school community was fully involved and contributed significantly to the work of our search consultants and the Board of Education. We are profoundly grateful for this community-driven process and thank our many residents and staff members who volunteered their time and thoughts in the effort to secure our next district leader.”
Gaven declined to comment on the controversies Chang faced when he took over for Johnson, a beloved figure in Rockville Centre, but said he was familiar with Johnson from professional meetings when he was working in Mineola, and looked forward to learning more about the Rockville Centre district.
“The key thing in any community is getting to know community members,” Gaven said, “and that starts by being present at after-school events, sporting events and concerts. Being an open person and listening is really key, and understanding the needs of the community and working with the board and administration to make that happen.”
Gaven holds a professional diploma in educational administration from Hofstra University, a master’s in computing and education from Teachers College, Columbia University, a master’s in elementary education from Hofstra and a bachelor’s in history from Providence College. He is a lifelong resident of Long Island, and now lives in Garden City with his wife, Marie, and their three children, Emily, 20, Patrick, 19, and Katie, 17.
Gaven said he was struck by the strong academic history of Rockville Centre schools, and that listening to the community and meeting students’ needs should be top priorities. “I think it’s just exciting to come to a great community,” he said. “It’s a professional challenge to come and assume the superintendency of a great district and build upon the great things that are already in place, and help guide what’s next for the future. Anyone would be super excited about that.”