After four years as the North Shore Central School District superintendent, Dr. Peter Giarrizzo announced last week that he will leave the district at the end of this school year and head to the Mount Pleasant School District in Westchester County to serve as superintendent there.
Giarrizzo worked in the Mount Pleasant district 14 years ago as the director of instructional services, running the special education and instructional programs. The district reached out to him this year when the superintendent’s position opened, an opportunity he couldn’t turn down, he said. He will also be closer to his home in Pelham, which he said will allow him to spend more time with his family.
North Shore Board of Education President Dave Ludmar said the district was looking to hire an interim superintendent for the 2021-22 school year, during which it would search for a full-time superintendent.
Before he came to North Shore, Giarrizzo was the superintendent of the Pelham Union Free School District. After former North Shore Superintendent Dr. Ed Melnick retired in 2017, Giarrizzo said he sought the job because he identified with the district’s vision, especially its shared value outcomes for educational improvements and the progressive nature of the district. Combining these two aspects with the district’s concentration on helping students discover their dreams and nurturing their curiosity made North Shore the perfect fit for him, he said.
Ludmar became a trustee in May of 2016, so he was a part of the committee that hired Giarrizzo. He said Giarrizzo’s educational philosophy aligned with North Shore’s vision and values, making him the ideal candidate for the job.
“He was a strong leader,” Ludmar said. “He understood teaching and learning. He had experience as a sitting superintendent. We felt that he understood the North Shore shared values, which are very important to us. We felt he was going to be a strong leader for the district.”
Giarrizzo said the last four years have been exciting, and he exits North Shore with a sense of pride in a series of accomplishments, including the 2019 passage of a $39.9 million bond to improve the district’s infrastructure. He said he is also proud to have helped the district shift toward solar energy, bring air conditioning to all of the schools, empower students’ voices and hire four different principals over his tenure.
Tackling a pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic presented North Shore with an almost overwhelming challenge, Giarrizzo said, but one that the district rose to meet. After Covid-19 swept across New York in March, teachers and students had to finish the school year remotely. However, he said it was paramount to ensure schools could reopen safely the following year. He said the entire summer was spent developing plans to reopen the district. Officials acquired personal protective equipment, adjusted social-distancing guidelines and followed all state Covid-19 protocols.
Reopening was largely a success, as all students in kindergarten through eighth grade were able to return to in-person learning full time in September, while North Shore High School students engaged in a hybrid-learning model. However, all high-schoolers are expected to attend school in person every day by the end of this month. This, Giarrizzo said, took a great deal of planning, focus, hard work and the ability to learn from one’s shortcomings.
“Teaching and learning look differently on a screen than [they do] when you are in person,” he said, “so we had to increase our capacity as educators to be able to manage that.”
Ludmar said the circumstances of the pandemic were unprecedented, but Giarrizzo’s leadership over the last year has been strong.
“He has been proactive, hard-working and dedicated to doing whatever was necessary to minimize the health risks, maximize student engagement and successfully reopen our schools in a way that so many other districts were unable to accomplish,” Ludmar said.
The NSHS class of 2021 has been one of the groups most drastically affected by the pandemic, as high school seniors have missed out on a majority of the social events that make a student’s last year in the North Shore School District special. The Senior Parent Planning Committee was formed by a group of parents in January to address the issue by planning Covid-safe events for seniors, and committee member Lisa Albanese said Giarrizzo has been one of the group’s biggest supporters. This, she said, shows the superintendent wants to help seniors not only on the educational front, but also in their social lives.
Preparing to depart
The district was already operating at a high level before he arrived, Giarrizzo said, so he did his best to keep it in a state of constant improvement. He considers himself a “process guy,” he said, meaning it is important to go slow before he goes fast, determining what needs to be changed and how it should be fixed before running headlong into a problem.
Dr. Christopher Zublionis, the assistant superintendent for instruction, said Giarrizzo’s process and goal-oriented approach has made him an exceptional leader over the last four years. He said Giarrizzo knows how to implement change. Students have always come first for Giarrizzo, he said, and his departure is a “tremendous loss” to the district.
“In a short time, he’s brought us to a new level in terms of student achievement, also in terms of social emotional programming and social emotional wellness for students,” Zublionis said.
“Peter is collaborative,” Ludmar said. “Peter is a very hard worker. Peter cares about students. He cares about our teachers, he cares about our staff, he’s a genuinely kind person, and he has been great to work with.”
“I think our words are important, and I use them carefully,” Giarrizzo said. “I try to be a person who models kindness, being nice to people and noticing good. I hope that has had an impact on the system.”