Board of Education Vice President Dennis Mortensen presents a model school bus he made for Dr. Jaroslaw.
With a warm smile and certain gentleness, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Harry Jaroslaw walked the halls of the Mineola School District each morning for over a decade. But, come September, those very hallways and classrooms will be missing his presence. For Dr. Jaroslaw, there is little doubt is his mind that now is the right time to walk away. The question is, though, will he miss Mineola as much as Mineola will miss him.
Although deciding to leave a profession he has dedicated his life towards may have been a difficult one for Mineola's superintendent, he hasn't had the time to reflect on it too much. "I'm been so incredibly busy," he said from his office, during the week before graduation. "On one hand, I'm grateful that I don't have to think about my retirement. On the other hand, I wonder if this is the way it's supposed to be."
Perhaps it's better that Dr. Jaroslaw doesn't think too much about his retirement. It might be too difficult to leave something he has spent nearly half a century doing. However, on Thursday, when the district held a retirement party in the high school cafeteria where several colleagues, some students and board of education members paid tribute to Dr. Jaroslaw, it became apparent that his retirement is a reality.
Come August, he will leave the Mineola School District to begin the next stage of his life. So while the superintendent may be experiencing a plethora of emotions and he may be grateful he doesn't have too much time to reflect on his time in Mineola he is grateful that his time in education has come to an end in the district he has spent the last 13 years of his life.
It may have been a decision that caused a few sleepless nights, but Dr. Jaroslaw knew two years ago the time was right to leave. "I felt in my mind that since this job takes so much time and so many nights, day after day, year after year, and with my grandchildren born, I guess I didn't want to miss a lot of their activities that I missed with my own children," he said. "I guess I began to think that maybe there were other things I wanted to do with my life after almost 47 years in this business," he said.
The Mineola Schools have been a part of the lives of many who are taught not only academic skills, but about life as well. In a way, Dr. Jaroslaw has acted as an inspiration to the students, a real life example that anything can be accomplished. Born to immigrant parents, Dr. Jaroslaw's father worked hard as a pushcart vendor on the streets of New York City. But, his son would go on to earn a doctorate degree from Columbia University and later go on to lead the Mineola School District. "My father would say, in broken English, that only in American could that happen," Dr. Jaroslaw said.
After beginning his career as a teacher, a principal, an assistant superintendent and a superintendent, his destiny ultimately brought him to Mineola, where, when the job opened, he was one of 153 candidates being considered. He was offered the position just before he was offered a job for a school district in Westchester and so began Dr. Jaroslaw's tenure in Mineola, where he gained the respect of his colleagues and the community. "I liked the diversity of Mineola. That really attracted me," he said.
Although Dr. Jaroslaw's career has spanned six decades, having worked as a superintendent during four of those. He has worked in some of the wealthiest districts in the United States, but for Dr. Jaroslaw, Mineola has been home.
Home is where everyone knows who you are and you know who they are. It is a place where friendships are formed and a culture of a school community is forged. When walking into a classroom or down the hall or in front of a school, Dr. Jaroslaw feels proud that he has been able to learn those who make the schools work are and they know him. He has learned who the students and they have learned who he is. "Dr. J," he is called for short and a simple gesture like a greeting means the world to a man with the most prestigious position in education. "I know just about everybody who works in this system. I know just about every custodian, every teacher aide. I'm very proud of that," he said. "The students know who I am and that's a great feeling. I feel very proud of that. The bus drivers wave to me when I drive my car back."
As a teacher in New York City, shortly after beginning his teaching career, he was called to a meeting at the headquarters of the New York City Board of Education. The postcard he received calling him to the meeting was addressed, "Dear Sir or Madame."
"That bothered me because they didn't even address me by my name. I went there into this vast, cavernous building and nobody called me by my name," he recalled. "I said to myself that if I ever went into a position of authority, I would learn people's names because your name is a part of who you are. That's always been very important to me. I want kids to know that I'm not just some automaton that walks in and out of buildings."
While Dr. Jaroslaw won't miss the bricks and mortar that make up the school buildings, he will miss the relationships he has formed over the years with some of the members of the community, his staff and colleagues and board members. "That you miss, that kind of personal chemistry I'm going to miss," you said.
He will miss the experiences with all the students - young and old, he said, as he recalled how he would visit a first grade class at Meadow Drive, as part of a reading program. "I used to go into that class every single week," he said. "Those are the kinds of memories that I'm going to miss."
The Mineola School District has much to be proud of and Dr. Jaroslaw is like a proud parent. He is proud of what the district has been able to accomplish in terms of test scores and the increase of the four-year college graduation rate. He is also proud of the enriching experiences available to students, from the traditional college-bound programs to the tech prep programs and international and domestic programs. "Over the years, hundred of kids have traveled and we have received students from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and also, domestically. I'm very proud of that legacy, that we have opened worlds for kids that they never would have dreamed of," he said.
He is also proud of what the district has been able to accomplish in terms of test scores and the increase of the four-year college graduation rate, but Dr. Jaroslaw is the first to admit that the school experience is a cooperative effort and will miss the way in which parents of Mineola students care for their children.
"In all my career, I haven't found parents more dedicated to the education of their kids, regardless of their socioeconomic background, regardless of their ethnic origin. People truly committed to the education of their kids," he said. "There's sense that they want something better for their children."
As he looks back on his career in Mineola, Dr. Jaroslaw does so with pride and fondness. "This school district serves a diverse school population very well," he said. "I think our diversity is one of the great riches of our school district, kids coming from varying backgrounds and eventually coming together at the high school and doing as well as they do. I'm just very proud at what our staff has been able to accomplish."
He has accumulated awards in his time as superintendent and watched as hundreds of students were awarded thousands of dollars in scholarships. His long journey has been very rewarding. There will be more accomplishments for Dr. Jaroslaw and the Mineola School District in the future, just not together.
The last graduating class of his career has already tossed their caps and gathered their diplomas and the hallways and classrooms are nearly empty. In the final month of summer vacation, Dr. J will quietly leave his post so that when school opens in September, a new chapter will begin in the Mineola School District.
But just as the Mineola School District is a part of his life and the memories that make up the identity of a person are a part of him, so too will Dr. Jaroslaw forever be a part of the Mineola School District and the impact it has had on the lives of its students. It is a community that knows his name and is unlikely to forget it.