All good things must come to an end – as is true with the tenure of longtime Islip Union Free School District superintendent Ellen Semel.
Semel, who has been with the district for nearly 15 years, will retire at the end of this academic year on July 1, 2021. The board of education unanimously approved her resignation at the Oct. 13 school board meeting.
The Amityville resident was appointed to the superintendent position April 18, 2018. Before coming to Islip, she served as the principal of Lockhart School, a K-6 building in Massapequa. At the time, Islip was searching for a new director of Elementary Education, she said.
Semel, 65, has nearly 40 years of education and curriculum development experience. She received her doctor of education degree in literacy from Hofstra University and a master of science degree in administration from LIU Post.
Prior to her superintendent role in the district, she worked as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction since 2006, where she was responsible for K-12 curriculum, instruction, assessment and data initiatives, and professional development.
Right off the bat, Semel said, she was struck by Islip’s charm: After she was asked to come in for an interview at the Oconee Diner on Montauk Highway with district officials, she never looked back.
“Education, unlike any other career, is based on relationships,” she said. “It’s all about parents trusting you with your children, teachers trusting you with your curriculum. Once you start to develop those relationships… you make connections around town. And that’s just what happened. I started to go to these shops and associated myself with the owners. And then you stay, because you become connected to the community.”
Semel is responsible for launching a cosmetology career program for high school seniors. When students complete the program, they have logged 1,000 hours of hands-on work and are eligible for five cosmetology licenses. She also introduced a Capstone research program to the district roughly six years ago.
Under her direction, Islip introduced a Reading and Writing Workshop to K-8 students, PSAT to all high school students, and 15 hours of professional development for all teachers.
She said she consistently looked forward to the annual Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) high school program, which partners with Stony Brook University to bring young women into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Her commitment to the district has come with its fair share of accomplishments and struggles. But nothing has compared to the difficulty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Semel said.
“This has been the most challenging year of my entire career, without question,” Semel said. “And the timeline the Governor has put on the schools to get the plans in place have been very quick. It’s a lot of pressure, and... we’ve had to really be mindful of those timelines. It’s been nerve-wracking.”
Semel has big plans on the horizon: A passionate swimmer, Semel plans to become a certified scuba diver after retirement. She’s eager to explore the country and possibly teach at the collegiate level.
At the Oct. 13 school board meeting, board president Philip Dineen thanked Semel for her commitment to the district.
“Throughout her tenure, Dr. Semel has shown a true dedication and commitment to the success of our students, school district, and community,” Dineen said.
Dineen said that with the support of administration and staff, Semel heightened student success and created a stronger partnership with parents in the district.
“We offer her our best wishes as she prepares to embark on this exciting next chapter in her life,” he said.
Dineen noted that the school board will convene in the coming weeks to discuss the search for Islip’s next superintendent. The board will provide the school community with more information as the search continues, Dineen said.