YORKTOWN, N.Y. – New Yorktown Schools Superintendent Dr. Ronald Hattar is not afraid to set the bar high.
“My goal is for Yorktown to be the absolute best school district in the world,” Hattar told Yorktown News in a sit-down interview last week.
Hattar was appointed last month to replace Dr. Ralph Napolitano, who retired in July after 11 years as the district’s chief. Napolitano brought stability to a district that had seen frequent administrative turnover in the years prior to his arrival. Hattar, who just turned 36 years old, hopes to be around even longer than Napolitano.
“This is where I’d like to be, this is where I’m honored to be, this is where I want to stay,” Hattar said. “I’d like to retire from the Yorktown Central School District.”
Previously, Hattar spent 15 years in the Eastchester Union Free School District. A Yonkers native, he and his wife, Nicole, moved to Yorktown nine years ago. They have two children: Alexandra, 7, and Jason, 4.
“Before we had children, we moved up to Yorktown because we really liked the school district,” Hattar said. “Now to be entrusted to lead the district forward is something I’m honored [with].”
As a parent, Hattar said he was always impressed with the district’s communication, educational programs, facilities and community spirit.
“Yorktown was very appealing for so many reasons,” Hattar said. “It’s a great district, first and foremost, and there are so many wonderful things that are happening here. Second, I live in the community, so it was absolutely great to be able to work and lead the district where I live. My children are in the district, so there’s an added level of investment that I have because my greatest assets are part of this district.”
Hattar met his wife while a student at Gorton High School, from which he graduated in 1999. From there, he went on to Manhattan College, where he studied math and secondary education. He later earned two master’s degrees from the school in special education and education leadership. Four years ago, he earned a doctorate from Manhattanville College. He said he indirectly owes his daughter for helping him stay focused on finishing his doctorate.
“My daughter was colicky. She kept me up at night, which was actually a great blessing,” he said. “My daughter would be laying on my lap as I’m typing my dissertation overnight. It was absolutely great. I owe completing my doctorate to my daughter. When it came time to walk across the stage for our graduation ceremony, I got permission for my daughter to walk across the stage with me. It was really meaningful and she was a big part of it.”
It’s difficult for Hattar to talk about his children without getting emotional. A self-professed workaholic, Hattar said he has little hobbies outside of the office, choosing instead to spend any free time he has with Alexandra and Jason.
“[Alexandra is] just wonderful. I look at her and I can’t just help but smile ear to ear,” Hattar said. “She’s such an amazing person. My son is equally amazing. My daughter is into dance, and arts and crafts, and music, and my son is all about sports. We really enjoy their different interests.”
Hattar is one of eight children born to Farrah and Miriam. He said his father, who died in 2012, imparted the value of education onto his children, many of whom became educators. As a football player at Gorton High School, Hattar received an award from Con Edison. In the ensuing profile written about him, Hattar said, he told the interviewer exactly what he was going to do for a living.
“I knew before I left high school that I wanted to be a math teacher,” he said.
Indeed, after graduating from Manhattan College, Hattar soon found work as a math teacher in Eastchester. He stayed in the school district for 15 “amazing years,” he said, working his way up to assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Though he found it difficult to leave Eastchester behind, Hattar said he can’t wait to get started at Yorktown.
Hattar, who officially started on July 10, said he is not in a hurry to implement any changes. His priority at the moment, he said, is getting a better understanding of the operations of the district. Once he has done that, he said, he can better determine how to improve the district.
“There’s nothing I want to change immediately, but there’s a lot I want to learn about and begin a very important discussion around,” he said.
The former math teacher said he has a passion for STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math). He said it is important that Yorktown begin expanding its courses to offer more in engineering, robotics, computer programming and architecture. The most difficult part of education these days, he said, is that jobs booming now did not exist 10 years ago, such as network structure engineering, cloud storage security, and app developers.
“We need to prepare our children for jobs that don’t exist in an economy that is undefined with problems that we don’t even know are problems yet,” Hattar said.
Hattar, though, said he is “excited” to take on such a daunting challenge. Eventually, he said, he plans to integrate computer coding into Yorktown’s entire K-12 program.
“I like coding because of the thinking demands it places on students,” Hattar said. “The same thing with engineering and architecture. It’s not necessarily about the content of the subject; it’s about the thinking demands those courses require of children.”
When the school board announced on June 2 that it intended to hire Hattar, the response from many district parents was positive.
“I want to prove them right,” Hattar said. “I’ve worked so hard throughout my career to do what’s right for children. That’s what guides me. My moral compass is always pointed at what’s right for children and what’s best for children.”
In addition to familiarizing himself with district operations, Hattar has spent the past month meeting the hundreds of men and women who work there. The new school year begins Tuesday, Sept. 5, and Hattar said he can’t wait to finally meet the district’s 3,400-plus students.
“We have some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met working in this district,” he said. “Once I meet the students, I’m sure I’m going to be equally inspired.”