| Why did we do it?
What was our purpose in taking on such an open ended “History Project”; for which we evolved a script of questions and got answers from over 150 subjects for two decades?
We couldn’t answer the question in 1994 when people would ask “What are you going to do with the interviews?” All we could say was that for educational purposes we had to document our record now or lose the chance to preserve so many poignant accounts, funny stories and touching tales told by exemplary educators. We knew these dedicated public servants might shortly, for reasons yet unknown, be leaving Brentwood for good.
So, we decided to let time sort out the details. We began scheduling appointments. We asked questions and listened saving for generations the essence of what it meant to have been an educator or employed, in this large public school system during the second half of the 20th century. Brentwood remains an exemplar to all others; a diverse microcosm of America reflecting 124 districts on Long Island while simultaneously resembling thousands across the U.S. We’ve accomplished something here to be proud of. Whether we were interviewed or not, ours is a claim of service that few professionals in the State of New York or elsewhere have positioned themselves to share in the way we have.
INITIALLY the practice of sitting with a subject for an hour and giving them a hundred percent focused attention seemed somewhat daunting to a number of friends and colleagues. So much so in fact that many declined our repeated invitations to speak with us as they left careers or retired from full employment. Despite all assurances that we were not about investigative journalism or invading privacy, they deferred. Now, twenty years after we began, some are saying they may be ready. “Better late than never” we say. However, to all among you who were willing to share not only your classroom experiences and personal stories, but precious memories from your lives along with your fondest hopes for the future, we say “Thanks”. Thanks for allowing us to continue the process by paying it forward as we share these interviews with the Brentwood community and countless professionals and researchers near and far. Through an acceptance of ROBS offer of collaboration with Archivist Dr. Geri Solomon and The Long Island Studies Institute at Hofstra University our History Project lives on in academia as well as in the collection of the Brentwood Public Library, thanks to Director, Thomas A. Tarantowicz.
Enjoy unlimited visits to www.robsny.org where you can watch and listen to segments from featured Interviews in the ROBS History Project Section on our Announcements Page each month. Return here to listen and learn again and again.
THIS MONTH'S FEATURED HISTORY PROJECT
March 11, 2010
We began by asking Kevin to tell us about his family. Married for over 20 years and living in East Islip with his wife who he’s known for over 30 years, they have two children, son Brian (married and living with his wife in Brightwaters) and daughter Kerry who lives in Chelsea (Hell’s Kitchen) on the west side in Manhattan. They’re both kind, gentle people who were successful in school. Brian is great with his hands and with anything mechanical. He’s followed in the footsteps of Kevin’s father in that respect. Kerry has loved Irish dance since she was very young. She graduated from Boston College. Her brother graduated from Stony Brook University from which Kevin’s sister also matriculated.. He has two sisters, Kathleen who lives in Coram (recently retired from Brentwood School District) and Maureen who was a successful manager on Wall Street, with Baer-Sterns. She is currently consulting on Wall Street. His brother John is a retired NYC police officer and lives in Richfield CT. and is a Marshall in that area.
Kevin was born on Mother’s Day May 11, 1952 in Queens to a woman who was told by doctors she would never be able to bear children. She had four. The family moved to Brentwood in 1959 where he attended the Village School. It was Lou Lotito’s first year as Principal of Village ..Kevin’s brother and sister attended St Anne’s that year in which there was no room for Kevin. Nevertheless, he has nothing but happy memories of both Mrs. Timlin’s and Mrs. Pincus’s classes there. His mother persisted in her desire to see Kevin get a parochial school education. The following year after agreeing to teach 4th grade at St Anne’s to get Kevin into the school she left her management position with Sears and taught at St Anne’s for the next 15 years for considerably less income.
His mother’s maiden name had been Curran. Also, at the time of this interview Kevin had an aunt of 97 years who was living at the Maria Regina Convent in St Josephs Academy. When his paternal grandmother died (when he was just 6 or 7 years of age), Kevin’s father was sent from Brooklyn to County Mayo in Ireland where he was then raised by an aunt and subsequently placed in a foster home temporarily, until he finally was returned to the States at eighteen.
Kevin still remembers being sent at 5 years of age to Sacred Heart School in Glendale Queens. They had no Kindergarten.. As the youngest registrant, he was put into a class of 60 kids and immediately became a behavior problem. He said he was too young. His mother worked there in the Parish Rectory for the Dominican Sisters. He has only happy memories from there as well. His mother enjoyed volunteer work and helping people. She was instrumental in starting St Joseph’s Guild in Brentwood to help the sisters of St. Joseph. His parents were both selfless people. Kevin’s father worked repairing cars in a service station as a young man upon his return from Ireland..He next went to work for the NYC Transit Authority from which he retired as a dispatcher and safety supervisor. Kevin remembers having to make a Novena for Michael Quill who was on his way to prison for having called the union to strike.
One of Kevin’s earliest memories of his father is of him barbecuing in their new back yard in Brentwood before the grass had grown.; He remembers going to Little League Baseball with his brother and himself. His father started the youth group, The Colombian Squires of the Knights of Columbus in Brentwood, a key part of his growing up. His maternal grandmother lived with them. He never knew nor met his paternal grandparents but he does have memories of his mother’s father. “My father was a saint for sharing his home with his mother-in-law” he said. Kevin is the sole liberal in a family of conservatives..They have agreed to disagree while retaining their civility of discourse and spirit of cooperation. .”At the end of all our phone calls we say I love you to each other” he said.. “That’s important. Because life is short”. Counselors in the Squires and teachers in school had a big influence on his life .by offering advice, and providing direction. It was Kevin’s own choice to enter the field of education although he was encouraged by his parents to go to college. During the Viet Nam War he attended Suffolk Community College for 2 years and transferred to University of Buffalo to get his BA in 4 years. His Graduate work was done at Stony Brook, CW Post and Hofstra.
Some his most unforgettable teachers included several nuns from St Anne’s and a few brothers from St Anthony’s High School in Huntington. He still keeps in touch with former students on Facebook. His first paying job was when he painted a neighbors house right across the street. Summer jobs included work at factories in Hauppauge and at Sears in Farmingdale.. He loved math but English not so much. Brother Knoll at St Anthony’s hammered math into him. Summer remains his favorite time of year. He learned to hate winters while attending school in Buffalo. The aroma of a barbeque brings back great family memories. He once visited Mayo in Ireland where his father was raised.
He achieved permanent certification in Social Studies and math and taught grades 7, 8, and 9 in West Junior High School. He began as a social studies teacher and ended his career teaching all math classes. One of his most difficult days as a Principal occurred when one of his teachers received a phone call at school informing him that a child of his had died. The person was in Kevin’s office when he took that call. The child had strangled accidentally while strapped in a high chair at day care.
Kevin’s father first discovered Brentwood in the Pines when he had dropped Kevin’s Aunt off at St Joseph’s where she had been assigned to live and work. It was a sleepy, picturesque community in 1959. He had applied to North Babylon and Sachem to teach before he accepted the contract in Brentwood. He looked for work in California when for several years he was “excessed” by the district, Consequently, he explored available opportunities in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego but decided it would be too expensive and also he didn’t want to be separated from family. Jeff Dwyer, a someone with whom he became very close, was his first Principal. It was he who had interviewed Kevin for the position he accepted.
One of the biggest changes he saw in Brentwood was the inability of people who moved into the community to provide the where with all to the district to afford the cost of a public education for their children. The people who moving here now are hard pressed to keep up with raising taxes and Long Island’s high cost of living.. There is an oppressive culture of poverty here now that exacts a terrible toll on residents and opens the door to everything that comes with being poor and living in what amounts to an urban like setting in the suburbs.
George Pittman and Bill Lapp were Assistant Principals at West Junior. .Alex Werner became an Assistant Principal when Jeff Dwyer moved to a Central position. Buster Hudson filled in for Bill Lapp for a while. Kevin’s brother and sister both graduated from Brentwood High School. He worked as an Assistant Principal with Darlene Phillips. He started the National Honor Society at West and did some coaching and also served as advisor to the yearbook.. There is no substitute for experiential learning according to his experience in Brentwood.
It is in his opinion, the best preparation for teaching. “I loved doing what I was doing. I looked forward to coming to work every day”. He keeps in touch with Bruce Romboli. now retired and living in Florida. with his wife Skip He sees Darlene Phillips, a good friend. Joe Hogan remains a best friend. He was a Chief Delegate for West Jr with the teachers union (BTA).Served a year on the Executive Committee of the BTA and was 3 years on the Executive Committee of BPSO at the end of his career. His involvement with the BTA had been when he was single and his work with BPSO (Brentwood Principals and Supervisors Association) was when his own children were already grown and raised. ”I was an administrator but I will always be a teacher. ”We both want the same things for children”. He discussed his experience with Taxpac in East Islip. He shared the experience he had as a young teacher “asked” to interview Milton K. Siler who was considering running for the Board of Education during a contentious period of District history.
Kevin retired in June of 2007 in part because he had turned 55 in May and had invested 34 years in his career, but his bottom line was this. He wanted to watch his daughter play soccer for Boston College. His first responsibility was always to his family
Prior to he last five years of his work for the school district, the Superintendent asked him to consider moving to South Middle from East which had been put into great shape.. Mrs. Quinn, the Principal there had retired mid-year. He was fortunate to turn South around in those five years. Everything from test scores to morale was effected. The PTA said, “Thanks for giving us our school back”. As his last building assignment he was able to leave on a high note.
His beginning salary had been $8 or $9,000. His office door was always open to students, staff and parents. He wishes now that before becoming a Building Principal, as an Assistant Principal he had been less of a disciplinarian and more a compassionate advocate for students.. Currently in his position as Adjunct at St Joseph’s, he encourages his teachers to become – like himself, lifelong learners. .Mickey Mantle, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, his mother and father – were all heroes. He misses interacting with the children every day. He doesn’t miss dealing with issues expressed in anger by parents, breaking up fights, the increasing violence present in our schools, or our blatantly unfair method and practice of school funding. He thinks Brentwood’s students and teachers are both, in a word, “Fabulous” His favorite years were his first year at West Junior and his First year at South. In 1979.he suffered a near fatal accident on the Robert Moses Causeway that made it possible for him to meet his wife Barbara, who was a teacher in the district, thereby changing the direction of his life and becoming his life partner of thirty years.
You can also view any of these past interviews by visiting History Project Interview Archives :
Baker Bernhardt, Ruth
Baker Bazata, Eleanor
Laub, Dr. Herb
Sustrin, Letty and Sheila
Walker Lloyd, Shirley
View May 8, 2015 History Project Celebration Photo Album
View History Project Slide Show on YouTube