James W. Polansky retired as superintendent of the Huntington school district on Friday, after 12 years in that role, as well as two decades in other districts. Here is what he had to say.
What are your favorite memories from your career in e ducation?
There really are too many to list. Every connection I’ve made with a student, family or colleague has led to one or more special moments that I take with me. I know I must have done something right when former students (some who are now in their 50’s) reach out at the time of my retirement to share a memory about something they experienced in my classroom that made a difference. I have made every effort to impress upon them that they helped shape my career even more significantly.
What do you consider your career highlights?
Obviously my years in Huntington stand out, as I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences as a superintendent in a terrific community. We have made great strides because families truly care about education and each other. I have genuinely cherished and not taken for granted the support they have provided me through the years. Before that, I can cite similar highlights from my years in several capacities in South Huntington, particularly during my years as Walt Whitman principal. I grew significantly as a educator during the decade that I taught at Syosset High School and during my time following as science director in Oyster Bay.
Would you do anything differently?
We can all look back at specific moments in our careers and consider what we could have done differently. All told, however, if we place thought and care into the decisions we make and work diligently to build relationships and ultimately do what is in the best interest of the students and the school community we serve, there should be no regrets.
What do you think about the state of public education right now, either on a very broad level or locally?
Things have changed considerably since the onset of my career. Educational standards have transitioned multiple times over and the burden carried by schools in terms of mandates and responsibilities have increased significantly. A global pandemic led to paradigm shifts in multiple regards. On a broader scale, education has become much more politically charged in recent years. Yes, we should be teaching our children how to think critically and about how governments at all levels operate. Partisan politics, however, have very little place in education and should be left at the door upon entering a school building.
What would you most like people to know about where public education stands now, has changed, or is headed?
Today, schools are currently expected to do more than they ever have. They should continue making every effort to rise to the occasion in support of their communities. The focus is clearly on doing everything possible to meet the specific needs of individual students and families Schools must also be provided with the resources to do so and this should not be on the backs of taxpayers, particularly at a time when the fiscal outlook is not as favorable as it has been in recent years.
As stated above, education in general has become more politicized. This is not helping school districts serve their families and has, in many cases, led to unnecessary divisiveness. Fortunately, we have not experienced this to a significant degree in Huntington.
There is talk about reducing or eliminating Regents exams. Any thoughts on that?
I applaud the State’s Blue Ribbon Commission for taking on the charge of reimagining graduation requirements. There is a place for Regents examinations, but I agree in that there should be multiple ways for students to demonstrate competency and readiness. For example, those first learning English as teens are expected to pass an English Regents exam. They are intelligent and motivated young people (often demonstrating proficiency or mastery in other subject areas), but they need additional time to master a new language. This should not prevent them from earning a diploma nor deny them an opportunity to move on to the next stages of their academic careers or otherwise.
What’s next for you?
I look forward to continuing teaching at the college level and working with school districts in other ways. In addition, I look forward to doing many things that I have not had the time do previously.
What are the biggest lessons you can draw from the Covid-19 pandemic–the shutdown, coping with a crisis, anything you wish you or government had done differently?
It’s easy to criticize one level of government or another in the wake of COVID-19. The fact remains that no one knew what to expect or how to predict. When we closed initially in March of 2020, we were told it would be a week or two. No one could know. We did the best we could under the circumstances and I am very proud of how school districts stepped up. In brief, districts learned that they could facilitate productive change (e.g., technological transition) very quickly in the face of a health crisis.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I am truly blessed to have chosen a career in education. I am also truly blessed to have worked with so many outstanding students, colleagues and families. My years as Huntington superintendent have been extra special. I can only hope that the legacy I have left is even half as significant as what the community has given me through the years.