Kenneth Graham stepped down as Locust Valley Central School District superintendent on Jan. 26. He had offered to stay until early March to enable the district to search for a replacement, but the district de-clined his offer.
Graham, who has been in the job since the 2020-21 school year, will be replaced by Janine Sampino, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, who will serve as interim superintendent for the remainder of the school year.
Parents were notified by the Board of Education of an unscheduled night meeting last Thursday in an email, and it was posted on the district’s social media accounts. Although Graham was leaving, the email stated, he had been offered an extended contract by the district in the fall. He had accepted, and signed the contract, which was approved by the board on Nov. 16.
But Graham’s departure was confirmed by the board at last week’s meeting.
He will begin working for the North Babylon Union Free School District in March, according to the North Babylon district’s website.
Graham “made this decision for himself, his family, and his own professional pursuits,” the email from the Locust Valley school board stated. “We thank him for his service over the last three years.”
Parents expressed their shock and dismay to see Graham leave, with several saying they felt he had built a good rapport with the community during his time at Locust Valley.
They said they felt particularly surprised by the suddenness of the departure, which caught many off guard.
Meredith Wachter, a resident of Matinecock and a mother of four students in the district, said that she and others felt they had gotten to know Graham well over the years, and appreciated his diligence and the passion he had for the students. Wachter added that she thought he had faced unique challenges because his first year as superintendent coincided with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“When Dr. Graham got the job, our impression was that he was excited to be here and was kind of in this for the long haul, you know?” Wachter said. Covid was “a tough time to come in in that type of position. It’s hard to make a first impression during something that was so volatile.”
Some parents speculated that the district’s hard-line stance against masking and other Covid safety measures may have affected the relationship between Graham and the board. Locust Valley was one of several school districts that joined a lawsuit against Gov. Kathy Hochul’s mask mandate, ultimately losing the case.
Krystina Tomlinson, a Locust Valley resident and the mother of two students in the district, said that now that things were returning to normal, she and other parents were hoping that the focus would turn back to education. She added that she believed the Board of Education had the best interests of the district in mind.
“I think that the relationship got a little strained in the beginning, and it was hard to foster a close relationship because of Covid,” Tomlinson said. “It was a bit of a struggle.”
Neither Tomlinson nor Wachter was familiar with Sampino, who became the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction last fall.
But they both expressed confidence in her, and said they looked forward to getting to know her.
“We’re eager to support her in any way we can,” Wachter said. “We really hope that whoever the superintendent is, whether it’s Janine eventually or whoever is found through a search, that we can have a Board of Ed and a superintendent who really build up a positive, productive relationship.”
Sampino, who was hired in July, came to the district with 30 years of experience in academia, having previously been an assistant superintendent in the Rockville Centre district for two years, after 18 years as a curriculum coordinator. The 51-year-old lives in Bethpage with her husband and son.