Individuals who feel especially thankful to an institution or program usually try to express their gratitude through volunteer activities or donations. When it comes to Christopher Shields, he's made it his career. Growing up in Port Washington and attending its public schools, he felt prepared him exceptionally well for the future. Now, this appreciative educator will happily become principal of the South Salem Elementary School this fall. "To come back [to Port], and make a contribution is very rewarding," he said.
A graduate of the Merriman School (now the Pine Street Park), the Main Street School (now Landmark), Weber Junior High School, and Schreiber High School, Shields is delighted to now work alongside many of his own teachers. Mary Anne Cariello and Bob Bracken, for example, team-taught his English and Social Studies classes at Weber. "Bob Bracken especially made an impact as a teacher," Shields said. "He was a mentor for me." Other teachers of his included Charles Lehmann, Stephanie Johnson, Patty Kosiba, Ken Case (who was also his lacrosse coach), and Barbara Healy.
But education was not always Shields' career goal. A graduate of Lafayette College with a BA in government and law, he was initially interested in international finance. After two years as a financial analyst, "I didn't find the work as stimulating as I'd hoped," he said. Recalling how much he enjoyed working with children in prior summers, he began to examine education as his next career. Teaching and coaching lacrosse at a private school and later, at a public school in Great Neck, convinced him that education was the perfect match. After earning an MA in Elementary Education at Columbia University's Teachers' College, his experience in leadership roles at his Great Neck elementary school led Shields to pursue and receive his Administrative Certification from Columbia.
Shields' talents made his ascent in education a rapid one. After serving as the assistant principal in a 1200-student elementary school in Suffolk County, he applied for an assistant principal opening at Port's middle school, and was hired three years ago. "I love my job at the middle school," Shields said. "The students are going through physical, emotional, intellectual changes in such a short time. These three years are amazing."
As for his new position, Shields is thoroughly delighted and enthusiastic. "To be able to reopen an elementary school is not something every professional gets to do. It is a real privilege. It is my vision to have a community-based school that is small and tight-knit, inside and outside of the building, where each child is really understood and challenged to the highest ability. What an opportunity!" Regarding Shields' selection, Superintendent Geoffrey N. Gordon said, "Mentoring rising stars is a privilege in any profession. Chris Shields is a talent that can benefit our schools and community for decades. He is an outstanding educator, and an even finer person."
An outdoorsman, Shields enjoys swimming, sailing, hiking, and snowshoeing. He, his wife, and two daughters live in Port Washington, as do his parents. Though his name is the same as the well-known local hardware store, they are not related. But he still feels a very special bond with his hometown. "I've taught in a variety of settings," Shields explained. "And I will bring those experiences, taking the best of all of them, to create the best learning environment possible."