Seaford Manor Elementary School Principal Debra Emmerich is retiring in August and will miss her treasured students. One lasting impact is the cafeteria rainbow mural with the six values that are emphasized at the school. (Contributed photo)

Seaford Principal Saying Goodbye To ‘The Best School In The World’

Standing in a blizzard, trying to kick a soccer ball into a tiny goal, was when SUNY Cortland student Debra Linkner realized that being a physical education wasn’t for her. That moment in the early 1980s sparked her switch to elementary education.

Fast forward more than 40 years and Debra Emmerich, principal of Seaford Manor Elementary School, is preparing to wrap up a long and successful career. On Aug. 1, she will retire after 18 years in Seaford, including 14 at the helm of Manor.

Her career began in 1985, with five years at P.S. 327 in Brooklyn. She then taught fourth grade at P.S. 219 in Flushing, Queens, while also earning her master’s degree at nearby Queens College. Following a break to have her two children, Ms. Emmerich taught pre-school for five years, then returned to New York City schools in 2001, as a teacher and then as assistant principal. It was during her time at P.S. 181 that she completed her family by adopting three children from Russia.

A Rockville Centre native, she stayed connected to Long Island by coaching gymnastics at her alma mater, South Side High School, as well as volleyball at Valley Stream South. In 2006, she arrived in Seaford as assistant principal for both elementary schools. After three years solely as the Harbor assistant principal, the Manor principal position opened up in 2010.

Ms. Emmerich helped shape academic, social and emotional and extracurricular programs at Manor and throughout the district. Her impact will be felt long after retirement, as she estimates she has hired 27 current Manor faculty members, as well as dozens of support staff.

“People have told me I have high expectations,” she said. “My staff always rises to the occasion. They want to do a great job.”

The keys to motivating a staff, she explained, are treating everyone as equals no matter their position in a school, empowering teachers and staff to share and implement their ideas, and showing appreciation.

The energy within the staff can also be attributed to fostering a positive school climate. Ms. Emmerich has long been a believer that social and emotional learning is an essential part of school. Students need healthy minds to learn, and that means making sure they are heard.

She was strongly involved with the implementation of several SEL initiatives in the district including Character Counts, Growth Mindset, Habits of Mind, RULER and Seaford Scholars. A point of pride for her is when Manor and Harbor were named Habits of Mind Schools of Excellence in 2021.

Discipline is part of every principal’s job, but when issues do arise, Ms. Emmerich keeps in mind that she is first and foremost an educator.

“I have the approach that everyone makes mistakes,” she said, “and when we make a mistake, it’s a learning opportunity.”

Her office contains a binder with information on every Manor student. Each summer, parents fill out surveys about their children, with information on their hobbies and interests, strengths and weaknesses, and personal and academic goals. Being a successful principal means knowing every child on a deeper level, she explained.

Ms. Emmerich has gotten to know the families well, and a few have been in Manor almost her entire time as principal as multiple siblings have passed through. She also maintains a very strong relationship with the PTA.

Several memories stand out, such as Hurricane Sandy, when Harbor School was without power. Ms. Emmerich was instrumental in devising a plan for Manor to house the district’s entire elementary population. For two weeks, each class had co-teachers and students from both schools were desk buddies. Recognizing that many Harbor students were dealing with the impacts of flooding, she made sure everyone at Manor was extra welcoming.

Every year the Autumn Classic, a fitness event at the high school track, kicks off with a rainbow photo – kindergartners in their red Character Counts shirts sit in front and fifth graders in their purple shirts stand in back with the other grades in between. In 2020 during the COVID shutdown, Ms. Emmerich and the faculty did a car parade through the Manor section of the district to see their students. When school reopened, Manor hosted teachers who led the elementary virtual classes.

She is extremely proud of the creation of the literacy lounge, a book resource center adjacent to the library. Ms. Emmerich is a strong supporter of balanced literacy and having children use books on their individual levels. Learning to read, she explained, leads to reading to learn.

As she heads into retirement, she’ll miss many annual events like playing the role of train conductor for “Polar Express” day in December, the March Madness book tournament, International Week, incoming kindergarten orientation, the fifth grade clap out and the 101st day of school for first graders, when they dress up like dalmatians and she portrays Cruella de Vil.

Ms. Emmerich thanks the four assistant principals she has had over the years – Patricia Gelling, Caroline Stringer, Mary Ellen Kakalos and Rich Schwartz – as well as the faculty, staff, students and families. She also values the relationships with the district’s other building administrators and the support from central office and the Board of Education. Those strong relationships, she noted, were the key to her success.

“I just feel very fortunate that I got to carry out my passion at Seaford Manor School,” she said. “It’s a home. It definitely is. Whoever takes over after me is going to be a very lucky person because they will have the best job in the whole world.”

–Submitted by the Seaford School District

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