Our new school superintendent promises to keep standards high
Education isn’t something Dr. Teresa Prendergast takes lightly. As the new superintendent of the Great Neck Public Schools and the only woman to hold this position in almost a century (Elise M. Gignoux served from 1922 to 1924), this is the latest stop in a journey for the first-generation offspring of immigrants that began with the Bronx native’s childhood dream of always wanting to become an educator.
“Both [my parents] came from Ireland. So, education was a priority in our family and an opportunity to learn and to take advantage of the opportunities that existed in this country and the foundations of public education. The one thing I’ve always said as a teacher and educator is that I find it so very important for adults as well as kids to find what it is that you’re passionate about. Because if you find your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life,” she explains. “I’m very lucky because I’ve always wanted to be in education and always wanted to teach. I was very humbled that a district like Great Neck would see in me the potential to lead this district and I’m absolutely thrilled to be here.“
An educator since 1987, Prendergast ascended to her current position as Great Neck Public Schools superintendent after serving as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Garden City Public Schools, a position she held since 2006. Her education résumé begins almost three decades earlier, when she earned her bones as a math teacher, dean of students, assistant principal and teaching dean while earning her master of science degree in mathematics education, grades 7 to 12 at CUNY Lehman College and doctor of education in educational administration and bachelor of science in elementary education from St. John’s University. The Bronx High School of Science alum spent the first seven years of her career learning the ropes while working for the New York City Board of Education, initially as a mathematics teacher and then as the sixth-grade dean of students in District 29Q Susan B. Anthony Intermediate School 238. From here, there were stops in the Hewlett-Woodmere and Lynbrook Public School Districts. All along the way, Prendergast’s passion for education found her seeking out knowledge from an array of mentors who have helped her become a more well-rounded educator. She cherishes those experiences and credits them with helping her end up as Great Neck’s captain of education.
“I’ve been very fortunate because I’ve been lucky enough to meet some really phenomenal people in my life professionally who have given me the time and opportunity to learn from them and allow me to branch out of my comfort zone and learn more things,” she recalls. “I’ve been in such a very good position all my life that I don’t really call what I do work. It’s a passion and something that I really feel that if I have an opportunity to work with that principal and teachers and giving them the tools that they need to be successful, then walking through the schools and seeing what our kids can do and teachers are able to do is priceless.”
Even though Prendergast’s appointment as Great Neck Superintendent was officially in July, she’d spent the months before and after that coming around and familiarizing herself with the lay of the land and getting to know district staff and parent groups so they could get a better sense of who she is. And while she has an enormous task ahead of her in terms of maintaining Great Neck Public Schools’ reputation for educational excellence, Prendergast is very humble in her approach to her appointment.
“What I’ve said to folks every time I’ve spoken to them is that I know the reputation of this district. The history and traditions occurred because great people were leading this community and great people were leading the buildings. And this district has done a phenomenal job of putting the right people in the classrooms. So it’s not about me coming in with my goals. It’s never been about me. It’s about what can I bring to the folks and the various constituency groups in this community to continue to build on the successes that are already in place,” she says. “You have to honor the past and respect those traditions but still move forward and look toward the future. I’ve started attending as many PTA meetings as I can, open house events and I’m spending a lot of time in the buildings, just walking around. Introducing myself and having people become more familiar with who I am as a person and to give them a sense that my role is to be their superintendent. I am your superintendent. What is it that I need to be able to do to support you and this community? I think the goals we’ll identify will be determined collectively because it’ll never be about my goals moving forward.”
Prendergast minces no words in relaying the pride she has in being allowed the privilege to steer the educational ship that is the Great Neck Public School District.
“The beauty of being here is that education is valued and it’s a priority. I’ve met with a few different PTAs already, but I hear that reoccurring message. Parents are here and want to support schools, they want their children to receive that top-notch education and they’re proud to say that they live in Great Neck and I want to ensure that they can continue to feel that way,” she says. “And that they can feel comfortable knowing that their children are going to receive a phenomenal experience and that as a child progresses, K through 12, regardless of whatever issues may arise, that the supports are here and that our priorities here are about enhancing opportunities for the kids, whether it’s in or outside of the classroom.”
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