A born teacher, North Salem MS/HS principal retires after 30 years

Dr. Patricia Cyganovich Credits: Photo: Sue Guzman
(NORTH SALEM, N.Y.) -- Dr. Patricia Cyganovich has spent her entire life in school. But, after 30 years as principal of North Salem Middle School/High School, the 64-year-old administrator is retiring at the end of the 2016/2017 school year. “It’ll be my first September not going to school since however old you are when you start going to school - 5, I guess,” said Cyganovich, calling it a bittersweet feeling. “It will certainly be different.” Just a few years after starting school - the second grade to be exact - is when Cyganovich said she knew she wanted to be a teacher. “I had a second grade teacher who I loved and she made me love school,” she said. “As a result, I always wanted to be a teacher. I never lost that feeling. Being in a school was always good for me and I thought that I could make it good for others.” The Long Island native studied English education at SUNY Cortland. After graduating in 1975, she began teaching in Pawling. During her nine-year teaching career, she earned her masters at Western Connecticut State University, and then her administrator certification at SUNY New Paltz. Cyganovich then moved into administration at Brewster High School as its assistant principal. In 1987 she came to North Salem Middle School/High School as its principal and has been there ever since. “One of the unique pieces of North Salem is our kids are with us from grades 6-through-12, and you really have an opportunity to see growth and change, and hopefully have an opportunity to influence kids over a long haul,” she said. Maintaining a middle school philosophy within the school is something Cyganovich lists as a major achievement in her 30-year career. “From a curricular point of view and even a student management point of view it was an advantage, because students have consistency in approach,” she said. “But, they also have a different kind of environment for the middle school as they do for the high school.” She also points out that the middle school has been awarded on four occasions the Schools to Watch Award, a national initiative launched in 1999 by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. Cyganovich also looks back with pride at the Senior Options Program (Opportunities for Professional Training In and Out of North Salem), in which seniors spend at least 50 hours interning in a chosen field. She says this aligns perfectly with the school district’s mission to use creative and critical thinking skills to find and solve problems. “So, we ask students to go into a field with a professional to consider with them what are the problems that are faced in that field and what ways could a student apply their skills to solve the problem,” she said. At the end of the school year they give a presentation in front of students, teachers, family and community members about their experience. This year’s graduating class presented their findings on June 6. “It’s really an opportunity for kids to go beyond what you can offer in your regular school setting.” Every senior now takes the course, which 20 years ago was just an informal part of seniors’ English class. Cyganovich remembers seeing an opportunity to grow it, based on a discussion with social studies teacher Bob Mittlestadt. The outgoing principal said he is one of just a handful of people left who have worked at the school longer than she has. Two others are also retiring this year - physical education teacher Neil Broderick and English teacher Katherine Vilkas. In fact, Cyganovich isn’t even the only one retiring at the 30-year mark. The school’s assistant principal, Dr. George Bovino, is also retiring. “My first official job was to hire the assistant principal and I hired him,” she said, adding they have run the school as equals since 1987. “We decided it would be hard to do it without the other one at this point.” “We did not know each other, but we have complemented each other in the things that we like to do and the things we’re good at,” Bovino said of Cyganovich. Now that the outgoing principal has done everything there is to do in education - teaching, curriculum work, budgeting, hiring, mentoring, to name a few - she is looking for some new challenges in the next phase of her life. “I’d like to take photography classes and get into gardening a little more seriously,” she said. “I’m a beach person, so a couple of nice days at the beach would be really nice. So, I think that’s the kind of plan I have for the short term, and then we’ll see what the long term brings.”

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