SHRUB OAK, N.Y. - Lorrie Yurish, principal of Lakeland High School, is sitting at her desk for what will be one of the last Friday mornings of her tenure. Admiring a photo given to her earlier that day by the students in the Life Skills Program, she reflects on her nine years at Lakeland High School and her 24 years as an educator in the district. At the end of the month, she will be saying goodbye to it all.
When she and her family moved to the area in 1988, she didn’t expect to stay for longer than three to five years, the usual amount of time her husband’s job at the time required. The attachments she made to the people and the community far exceeded any expectations she held going in.
“We have words that we hang in our hallway: ‘We are Lakeland,’” she said, blinking away tears. “I get choked up every time I say it—I end my graduation speech with it. This place is a home away from home. It means a lot to say that we are Lakeland and to be apart of the community, so I’ll miss it.”
At the time she moved to the area, her oldest daughter, Sarah, was beginning kindergarten at Lincoln-Titus Elementary School and her involvement in the district began as a parent volunteer for the Parents as Reading Partners (PARP) program.
As a certified teacher, she was able to step up when the school needed more substitutes. After that, she went back to school and was able to soon start teaching as an aide and then full-time at Lincoln-Titus.
She was the district’s director of grants and testing for four years before becoming an elementary assistant principal, splitting her time between Lincoln-Titus, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson elementary schools.
After earning her diploma to be certified as an administrator, Yurish was named interim principal at Lakeland High School in 2012 and then principal in 2013.
“All 24 years of my time here at the Lakeland district has been wonderful,” she said. “I have to say that the last nine years here at Lakeland High School have been the most memorable. The students, the staff, the teachers and the parents: This is really a family. This is a Lakeland community. It’s not just a high school.”
During her tenure, Yurish said she chose to emphasize community at the school. She said Lakeland’s community has always been a priority but she wanted to better it and expand on it during her time there.
“I wanted to make sure we changed the culture,” she said. “Maintaining and improving a sense of community here is something I’m really proud of doing.”
She hopes her students and coworkers remember her most for how much she cared. Some of her most rewarding experiences as an educator for her have been seeing the way that care benefits students.
“We have good kids. We have great kids,” Yurish said. “Certainly some make bad choices but that doesn’t mean they’re not great kids.”
Former students sometimes come back to thank her, but they aren’t the only ones to have noticed her dedication over the years.
“We can’t thank Lorrie enough for her many years of service to the Lakeland community,” said Superintendent Dr. George Stone. “She has been an active leader and partner in education with the students, staff and parents at the high school during her years as principal and assistant principal. From her first days as a parent in the district through her teaching career and her time at Lakeland High School, Lorrie has been a valuable member of the district community. She will be missed by all of us here in the district. We wish her all the best as she moves into the next phase of her life.”
Though the next phase is uncertain, she is looking forward to the possibility of warmer climates and more time spent with family. Her grandson, Mason, lives with her youngest daughter in West Virginia and she plans to spend a lot more time with them.
Immediately after her retirement at the end of the month, she will be visiting her friend, a fellow retired educator for three weeks in Florida. While she is excited, she anticipates moving on to be bittersweet.
“I struggled with the decision for a good year-and-a-half,” she said. “This place has defined me. I’ve allowed it to define me.”
She also acknowledges the unusual timing of her exit but said the overlap of the new interim principal is intended to ease the transition.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to get the new year started and have the opportunity to work with the new principal and help with the transition before the start of the new school year,” she said.
Christopher Cummings, the current assistant principal of Walter Panas High School, will be officially begin his term as interim principal on March 1. He has been an assistant principal since July 2013. Before moving to Walter Panas high school 2013, he was an assistant principal at Lakeland High School from 2008 to 2011. He was also an assistant principal and Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School from 2011 to 2013. Prior to that, he taught music at Lakeland and Walter Panas as well as Copper Beech.
“With his wealth of experience in the district as both a teacher and administrator, we believe Chris will continue Ms. Yurish’s record of strong leadership as we move forward,” Stone said.
Yurish believes the school is in good hands, as well, and approves of the decision to promote someone from within the district, as he is invested in its well-being.
“Mr. Cummings was an assistant principal with me for a little while and I know he’s very excited about having the opportunity,” Yurish said. “He’s young and he’s got a lot more years ahead of him, so he’s someone that could probably take Lakeland High School to the next level.”
As for her, Yurish is open to all the possibilities ahead and will still be attending graduation at the end of the school year.
“You can’t walk away from here and not be affected by being a part of this Lakeland high school community,” she said. “You can’t walk away from it and not have it remain with you.”