By Sean Fischer
Volume 69, Issue I
In her fifteenth year working for the Briarcliff Manor School District, Mrs. Diane Blank, the current middle school assistant
principal, is set to become the second Assistant Principal at the high school, working in conjunction with current Assistant Principal Mr. Murphy and Principal Mrs. French to aid in the District’s push for student well-being and the care of the whole child.
In recent years, Todd Elementary School and the middle school have seen changes related to this same push; the introduction of a Wellness Garden at Todd and a more robust guidance program at the Middle School led by counselor Ms. Piersons both foreshadowed the creation of the new Wellness Center at BHS as well as the addition of a second assistant principal whose focus will be on student mental health.
“In our effort to think about social emotional youth, in other words, the whole child, we started [mental health] training in 2016 with Youth Mental Health, a certificate program that we all in the high school were trained in. It was a wonderful course, and it became then something that developed into mindfulness training. Mr. Pellegrin helped with that, and now we have decided to take the next step into developing a Wellness Center. So, in order to address all our students’ needs, we needed to have an additional person to be able to help with all of our different students,” explained Mrs. French. “We felt that in order to meet [the students’] academic and social and emotional needs and to be able to make sure things run like a fine-tuned machine, we needed to have an additional administrator who could work with kids and families, but who could also take care of other ‘have tos,’ like the master schedule, which take us away from students,” added French.
Over the summer of 2018, Mrs. French and Dr. Kaishian proposed the idea of hiring an additional assistant principal to the Board of Education, to which the Board responded enthusiastically. “They supported it one-hundred percent,” said Mrs. French. The search process began later in the summer and in interview committee was formed. It included members of the district administration, Mrs. French, Mr. Murphy, and Mrs. Howard, the middle school principal. The committee received lots of applications and interviewed “a lot of excellent candidates,” according to Mrs. French. Mrs. Blank wasn’t initially involved in the initiative, but in the words of French, “I can’t help but know the skills of Mrs. Blank. Having worked with her, I think she’s most suited for the high school. She certainly did not apply for the job; she was very happy in the middle school. So, all the administrators spoke (and Mrs. Blank wasn’t even involved actually) and we thought that this would be a manageable situation for the district.”
Mrs. Blank was approved by the Board to become an Assistant Principal at the high school following this long process, and she is slated to begin on October 29. Mr. Murphy’s role will remain the same, although Mrs. French added that “Each of us [three administrators] has our fortes, and I think [the addition of Mrs. Blank] will free Mr. Murphy up to do other things that he enjoys, so that we can all do what’s best for the sake of the students.”
Mrs. Blank started working at Briarcliff in 2004 as the student assistance counselor in the middle and high schools for two years. In 2006, the then superintendent Dr. Francis G. Wills and the then Mr. Kaishian added a social work position at the high school, and Mrs. Blank filled this role until 2015. In 2013, Mrs. Blank reexamined her role, and considered becoming an administrator so that she could reach a larger group of students. She completed a program at Banks Street, called the Future School Leaders Academy, which lasted two years, and was awarded a Masters in School Administration. In 2015, she switched to working part-time as the high school social worker, and part-time as the middle school assistant principal until last year, when she began working full-time as the middle school assistant principal. She enjoyed her time at the middle school, explaining that “I learned a tremendous amount from the faculty and students there, both about instruction and curriculum, but also about the lives of middle school children and teachers. It was a good match for me in terms of having the ability to use my clinical skills, working with students around behavior and discipline and making positive changes.”
In terms of her day to day work at the high school this year and in the future, Mrs. Blank explained how she will be overseeing the Wellness Center, and ensuring that all students have a place to go and be heard. “I won’t be seeing students clinically one-on-one, but I do imagine that I will have some individual contact with students. It’s an interesting thing to begin a new role, so some of what I will be doing are things that I don’t even know about yet. Mrs. French, Mr. Murphy and I will be meeting together over the next few weeks to figure out all of our responsibilities. I don’t know that it will be all that different from the middle school; there I thought of myself as a problem solver. Every day was unexpected because the lives of students and teachers and people are unexpected. I think part of my beginning days will be spent doing a lot of listening to teachers, Mrs. French, Mr. Murphy, and to students to figure out how things are going, what is the climate here, what are the needs, and how I can be helpful.”
In addition to Mrs. Blank, a new teacher, focused on fortifying the special education and math departments, was approved by the Board to begin at BHS on November 26. Melissa Amoroso is double certified in special education and math and will be able to give more “TLC to students in those areas,” said Mrs. French. There will also be a new middle school assistant principal to replace Mrs. Blank. “Upon the recommendation of the Superintendent of Schools, the Board of Education hereby appoints Amy Gladstone, who holds Initial Certification as a School Building Leader, to the position of Assistant Principal, in the tenure area of Assistant Principal, effective October 29, 2018,” according to Board of Education documents.