YORKTOWN, N.Y. - As Lakeland district’s Ben Franklin Elementary School celebrates its 50th anniversary, longtime principal Patricia McIlvenny-Moore is marking her own personal milestone as she retires from her beloved position.
A Yorktown native, McIlvenny-Moore began her career after she earned a master’s degree in teaching and joined the school as a fifth-grade teacher. After nine years in the classroom, her leadership qualities were noticed by the superintendent at the time, who nominated her for the “Future Administrators Academy,” a program associated with BOCES, various regional school districts and Columbia University, which she completed. Then after a stint as assistant principal, she became the third person to lead the school and will soon complete 18 years as principal.
“I had a vision—a five-year entry plan of what I would change,” she said, referring to the beginning of her tenure. “The biggest thing was the culture; I wanted to see the school like I did as a teacher in a classroom, where everybody knew each other and it felt like a home—and that is the culture I created, it is like a family.”
The outgoing principal calls the academic learning “stellar” at Ben Franklin, proudly acknowledging that several former students have returned with graduate degrees to work at the school. It is one part of the “whole child” approach she said she has taken over the years.
Included is a focus on healthy bodies and physical fitness. An athlete herself, McIlvenny-Moore played basketball and softball for years and is also credited with starting the girls’ lacrosse program at Yorktown High School, back in 1988. So when she became an elementary school principal, it came naturally to her to find solutions to childhood obesity, a topic that was being widely discussed nationally.
“We were the first ones in New York state to bring a [child-sized] fitness center for our students,” she said. “Kids named it the ‘energy room’ and they can go in when they are feeling anxious about a test or just go on the bike and do the rotations and they have all these machines that can make them feel calmer.” She added that not all children are on sports teams and by providing a fitness room, any child would have a chance to “feel good physically and shine.”
Beyond academics and fitness, McIlvenny-Moore has put citizenship front and center for the K-5 students at her school. The mural at the school’s entrance is a result of fundraising efforts where students created matching tiles for the Maria Ferari Children’s hospital. Raising $50,000, plus funds from other donors, Ben Franklin Elementary School contributed $100,000 to the then newly built hospital.
The school has also engaged its future voters by holding mock presidential elections every four years since 1968. Their accuracy in predicting outcomes has garnered plenty of media attention in recent years.
“All the way up to Trump vs. Clinton, we had been correct in every election; the kids called it every time,” McIlvenny-Moore said. “This past one, ironically, we did get the popular vote, which we’ve done in the past, but we didn’t hit the mark; we didn’t make it.”
As for retirement, McIlvenny-Moore and her husband plan to relocate to Vermont, where she will enjoy skiing, golfing and hopes to travel.
“I’ll miss the people and the children; I could wake up and have the worst morning, but when I come in and see them come off the bus: ‘Mrs. Moore, my tooth, I lost my tooth!’—they just bring you back to this beautiful thing because it is their world.”