Reflecting on the Year with Mr. Lederer

Neil-LedererBy Derek Topper

Over the past year, Mr. Lederer has served as the interim principal at Long Beach High School. After forty-seven years in education and holding a variety of positions ranging from teacher to superintendent, Mr. Lederer came to Long Beach to serve as interim principal while the district searched for a permanent principal. Mr. Lederer is well known for his positive demeanor and his controversial changes within Long Beach High School. I had a chance to sit down with this great leader to reflect on the year and discuss some of the changes that occurred over the past year.

1. You are a former superintendent; what made you decide to come out of retirement to be the principal of Long Beach High School? With so much experience under your belt, what made you want to become a principal again?

I have held many positions: assistant principal, science department chairperson, and superintendent. However, my favorite position is the role of high school principal, as it is the position that I have enjoyed the most. When I was asked if I’d be interested in this position, I said “most definitely.” I had been working on and off and been retired for about five years. In the six months before coming to Long Beach, I was not working, and was extremely bored. I felt that I had lost my sense of purpose, so when Mr. Weiss asked if I would be interested, the answer was an emphatic, “yes.”

2. Do you think that your experience as a superintendent helped you as principal this year?

Well, I would say that my experiences as a principal, working with students, have been far more beneficial in helping me work in Long Beach. I enjoy interacting with high school aged students, and working day-in and day-out with the faculty.  As a result of being a superintendent, you become a little bit detached, and I really did miss [the interactions]. Although it is physically exhausting working with students and faculty, I really did miss being a principal and benefitting the students.

3. When you began the year, what did you see as your primary mission for what you had hoped to accomplish as principal of Long Beach High School?  Did your mission change throughout the year?

I made phone calls to all of the teachers over the summer, to introduce myself and to assess what they thought were the needs of the building, but I think you really have to experience the problems firsthand, for yourself. As an interim principal, it’s different than if you’re a permanent appointment, as you want to sustain what already is and maybe make some minor adjustments. However, I felt that student management was a concern, stabilizing things after Sandy would be an ongoing effort, and working through the extensive renovations would be a challenge as well. However, the most important thing was building a rapport and continuing to improve upon management procedures within our school, continuing our academic growth in the areas of I.B., and helping to make our students ready for college and other careers. These were the directions that I tried to go in.

4. If you were to re-do this year, are there any things you would do differently? Are there things you wish you could have done?

I don’t know if I would do anything too differently. However, I’m old school, “blackboard chalk and talk,” so maybe I would have become more familiar with some of our school’s software programs, which might have been helpful. Other than that, I didn’t really want to start programs that I couldn’t see fully implemented because my time here is going to end so soon. I did hold back a little bit, but we moved forward on the student ID cards and refined some things, such as issues of management. I’ve made a lot of observations in the classroom and I don’t know if I would do too much differently.

5. What are the best aspects of being a principal?  What are the most difficult aspects of being a principal? 

The best aspect is working with students, like being interviewed for the school newspaper, or interacting with young people. Getting to know the students and helping them out is also great. Working with the faculty is also enjoyable: when the faculty comes to you and asks you for something, you have to try to help them, as you can’t just turn a deaf ear. I have always felt that my greatest job as an administrator is to make teacher’s jobs easier. I really do believe that teachers have the most important job in a school. Therefore, whatever I could do as a principal to make their jobs easier, I try to do. When they asked me for something, I did the best I could to provide it and we did have some success. But yes – working with children, helping them grow, relating to them, and getting to know them and their concerns and the challenges that they have to face on a daily basis. It’s been a gratifying feeling, knowing the students knew that the door was always open to them.

 

6. What was your leadership style this year and how did you go about solving problems that arose while you were principal?

My leadership style is hands-on, being personable, being outgoing, putting a smile on my face, making students feel comfortable and being approachable. I don’t think I have much of an ego, so doing my best to be out there and visible and to let people know they can approach me. I did my best to support them.

7. Many students at Long Beach High School have noticed that each morning you’ve stood outside and waved to the arriving cars at the Blackheath Road entrance to the school. What was your motivation to do this?

I have always done that, even in other school districts. I feel I should, especially this year with the new arrival pattern and the great deal of angst that came with it. I felt that by being out there, monitoring new arrivals and making sure students didn’t wander into oncoming traffic, it also became kind of a safety thing. I started to do it and people were awfully nice, and I was meeting students coming in. I decided that I should help make students and parents feel welcomed at our school. Eventually I kind of got used to it, and really began to enjoy waving to people and smiling at them.

8. Did you rely on your experience in high school at all when making changes to Long Beach High School?

Well that was fifty-two years ago, so I don’t remember too much. I do remember that my principal was never “out and about,” and most kids really never saw him. When I was an assistant principal in another school, a student came up to me, pointed at the principal, and asked, “Mr. Lederer, who is that?” and I said, “That’s our principal.” I said to myself that I never want a student saying that about me. I am careful about that and I want students to know who I am and to be able to speak with me.

9. What would you say brought you into education as a career choice?

I graduated college and I was going to go to law school, but there was a war going on and I was against the war, (and that doesn’t sound very patriotic, but I was). Then said, “Let me try education.” New York City was offering a special training program, and I lived in the city at the time, so I took it over the summer and began teaching in the South Bronx that September, where I stayed for seven years. I was successful, so I decided that I was going to make it my career. Then, I decided that administration interested me, so I went and got my Master’s Degree in Education at New York University 46 years ago.

10. Coming from a district where you expanded the Advanced Placement program, do you feel that the IB’s curriculum is particularly beneficial?

Any curriculum, whether it be AP, IB, or SUPA, that does college level work in high school is very beneficial. IB is becoming more and more prevalent on Long Island, as it’s an international program and a program that challenges students to work at a higher level. I’m finding that when students go onto college, their freshman year is not as challenging as it is to other students because they’ve taken college level work in high school, which makes their academic transitions easier.

11. Should we continue to expand the IB program at Long Beach High School and to take away Advanced Placement courses with dwindling enrollment numbers?

I don’t really think that the two programs can coexist in a school this size. I think it leads to a lot of scheduling conflicts and it’s just overall difficult. If there is an AP option for a course that there is not an IB equivalent for then, yes, they can. But, if there are common courses then, no, I don’t think that they can coexist. However, I do think that IB and SUPA should coexist, as SUPA courses are transferrable to the most institutions of higher learning. I think they benefit more students as they are more of a guarantee than IB, which is ultimately based on how well you did on an exam. I think SUPA can give them a higher standing in college and some cost benefit for the family.

12. If SUPA is “more of a guarantee,” why would you say that IB is weighted higher in terms of difficult classes are in Long Beach High School?

Well I think that IB is an international program whereas SUPA from one university. IB is internationally recognized and perhaps IB’s curriculum is a bit more rigorous. Also, it does conclude with an internationally recognized examination, a comparison of one student from our school’s results versus students’ across many countries.

13. You briefly touched upon the new identification policies have caused a great deal of student ire. Why did you decide to implement this and do you feel that it’s been overall beneficial to the learning environment as well as the student populace?

We’ve definitely noticed less students in the halls because, previously, they were not going to lunch or they were cutting classes and going into lunch; there was no accountability. I’m a believer in accountability, and since teachers and administrators are required to wear IDs, I feel that students should be accountable for where they are. I think it helps create the proper school tone.  As a result, I do see less student roaming around. Another thing that I think it will help in that regard is cutting down on the number of study halls, which I think the school is trying for next year. Students have to realize that if they’re scheduled for a particular area, that is where they should be.

14. Many students have been upset based on the number of allowed study halls being cut, was the sole motivation behind that to not have as many kids in the hallways?

You come to school for seven hours per day; you should be in academic pursuits for as much of that time as possible. Except maybe for lunch, which I’m not even sure should be a full period. Many schools only give lunch twenty minutes. If students use study hall for study or studious pursuits, then I’m okay with it. If they go to the library and work or sit in their classroom to study and prepare, then I would be fine with it. However, all too often those classes become excuses to walk the halls or go outside. We’re losing forty minutes of valuable educational time. Keep in mind, we’re only in school for half a calendar year, and we’re in school for about one-third of a day, which is not a lot of time. I just think that a study hall is not consistent with what you are trying to accomplish in the academic setting here at school.

15. The school has recently begun “cracking down” on cellphone use and passed a rule that any cellphones seen in the hallways will be confiscated. Why did you decide to begin to do this, and do you feel that cellphones can be used as a learning device?

Cell phones definitely can be used as a learning device. That’s why they are permissible in the classroom with teacher approval. I just thought that they don’t set the right tone in the hallways. That rule has always been in place, it was just never strictly enforced. I thought that students were taking advantage of it. Cellphones cause students to walk slower, when they are actively engaged in texting or checking email. God forbid, if there’s an emergency and a student has their earbuds in, they might not hear us. I kind of felt that if students were just listening to music maybe I could be okay with cellphones, but they were becoming excessive. Again, they’re just inconsistent with the tone that you should try to establish in schools.

16. How do you value the role of extracurricular activities in school life, and would you say that they help students plan their future careers?

I am a tremendous proponent of an active, comprehensive, and extensive extracurricular programs for our students. I would almost make it a requirement that every student has to participate in one extracurricular activity, given that their academics meet requirements. I really believe that extracurriculars add to the school spirit and the culture of the building and make school more enjoyable for the students.

17. You briefly touched upon school spirit, and many of the students have felt that school spirit has been lacking recently. What would do you feel that Long Beach High School could do differently in the future in order to improve upon it, even though you obviously won’t be here?

I think that we have to have consistency in student government and class activities, in order to have as much of that as possible, and that we should expand upon what we have to build upon it even further. I do feel that students should be required to attend the Pep Rally. Many students do attend as the band and athletes are involved. I also recommended to Dr. Morand, the Student Organization advisor, that freshmen be required to attend the Pep Rally next year. I think the school needs more activities like that. The Class Olympics was terrific, and there are some events coming up like the Badminton for Breast Cancer and the Color Run. There are a lot of students themselves taking initiative, and I think that is good and there should be more of that. You need to be careful that it doesn’t become a distraction, but that’s part of the culture of your school to be involved in that. We’re moving in the right direction, and I think that Dr. Morand is moving Student Organization in the right direction. I am sorry that I’m not going be here to see it further expanded.

18. What are your plans for the future?

I don’t have plans. I have been fortunate that based on my reputation; school districts called me and asked me if I’d be willing to take some assignments. Since I’ve retired, I’ve been superintendent of two districts and served as high school principal of West Hempstead, and of course here. I think I do want to take some time off to rest, but I love the challenges in working. I really enjoy working with faculty and students, but I’m getting on in years. I hope to take some time off and maybe go somewhere else if someone else calls.

19. What are you going to miss the most about Long Beach High School?

The people. I’m going miss interacting with the students and the teachers. When I’m home retired, it’s me and my dog (Leddy) because my wife still works, my son is in college and my daughter lives on her own. I do have grandchildren that I have to see more of. Basically, the day is spent with me exercising, reading and walking my dog twice a day. It gets kind of boring and I’m going to miss the people.

20. What do you think your legacy will be at Long Beach High School?

That’s a question for the others. Hopefully, “He was caring and conscientious and dedicated and tried to do the best job possible.”

21. Do you have any advice for next year’s principal, Mr. Stroud? What do you think is in store for the future of Long Beach High School?

My recommendation for him is get to know people before he institutes changes. Before he tries to put his stamp on the school, he should get to know the students and the staff and the rest of the faculty, and build a rapport and relations with all of those individuals before he goes forward.

22. Is there anything else that you would want to say to the students and faculty?

Thank you for a great year, even though it’s not yet over. I will long remember Long Beach High School, as this was a very rewarding experience for me personally. And I hope that I helped the students and faculty enjoy their school year as well.

It is unknown what the future holds for Long Beach High School, but one thing is certain. Mr. Lederer was a great principal and helped to make this school year, one of the best in recent history. Mr. Lederer will be sorely missed in Long Beach High School next year.

 

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