Community News Continued

New Principal for Howitt Middle School

Farmingdale School District is proud to announce the selection of Michael Gavalas for the position of principal of Weldon E. Howitt Middle School. The Farmingdale Board of Education is expected to officially appoint Mr. Gavalas at the next board meeting, scheduled for May 6, 2020. The current principal, Mr. Luis Pena, will be retiring at the end of June. 

Mr. Gavalas is a veteran educator with over 20 years of experience, most recently as the Assistant Principal of Sanford H. Calhoun High School in Merrick, NY. He served as Assistant Principal at Hauppauge High School from 2012-2017. Prior to becoming an administrator, he taught social studies for twelve years at Hauppauge High School and two years at Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, NY. 

Mr. Gavalas earned his Master of Science in Education and his Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Social Studies Education from Queens College, NY. He also holds an Advanced Certificate in School Building Leader from Queens College. He is married with two boys, Gianni and Pano, and resides in Astoria, Queens. 

“The hiring process for such a critical position during a pandemic was challenging,” said Assistant Superintendent Glen Zakian. “We began the process in early February, bringing in a group of candidates for screening interviews with the Superintendent’s Cabinet,” he explained. “The school closing forced us to continue the interview process online. There were four additional rounds of interviews to be completed, with numerous members of the faculty and staff participating in a committee format. The selection committee narrowed the candidate list to a few finalists who then met with Superintendent Defendini and eventually the Board of Education. There were a lot of steps to this process but it was well worth it.” 

Mr. Gavalas feels well suited for the middle school environment, a challenging time for most students and a place he remembers as being “scary” in his youth. “There’s a certain safety that exists in elementary school, but when you leave and enter the middle school you leave that safety,” he said. “Your competencies get questioned and the big message is that you need to use this time to get ready for high school. Consequently, the middle school experience gets lost. I see this time as an opportunity to build resiliency and make students focus on the here and now. I want them to find joy in this growth period of their education.” 

“I was as much interested in learning about Michael as I was watching our constituents respond to him during the interview process,” said Superintendent Paul Defendini. “He had a way of deeply connecting with the groups even though it was done on a virtual platform. He will make a great addition and I am very excited to welcome him to the Daler family.” 

Mr. Gavalas will begin his tenure July 1, 2020, but hopes to get some face time with faculty and staff before that, either virtually, or in meetings that practice social distancing if the school is permitted to do so. “I want to meet everyone, learn what’s on everyone’s minds, and hear about their dreams for the school,” he said. 

“I was impressed by all the final candidates,” said Board of Education President Michael Goldberg. “They all brought something different to the table but there was an immediate connection that we felt to Michael. The board agreed that he’ll do a great job as our next middle school principal.” 

“During the time I was under consideration for the position, I took a ride with my family to explore Farmingdale,” he said. “We went into the village and drove around and I got that sense of community I had heard about.” But words spoken during an early conversation with Superintendent Defendini and all the assistant superintendents had already sold him on joining the district. “They told me that their fundamental mission was to do what is the absolute best for the students, the teachers, and the community. Right then, I knew this was where I wanted to be.” 

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