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Education's Impact on Full Display at Oakdale L.E.A.D.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Great educators change the world, and at the Fifth Annual Leaders in Education Awards Dinner (L.E.A.D.) – held at St. John’s University’s Oakdale location – five outstanding administrators were honored for the impact they’ve had.

Honorees included:

Anthony Ambrogio ’06Ed.D.
Administrator for the Arts and Human Resources, Manhasset Public Schools

Gary D. Bixhorn
Chief Operating Officer, Eastern Suffolk BOCES

Serafino M. Celano ’09Ed.D.
Assistant Superintendent for Personnel, Garden City Public Schools

Scott T. O’Brien ’08Ed.D.
Principal, Rocky Point Middle School

Florence D. Simmons ’11Ed.D.
Principal, Uniondale High School

Jerrold Ross, Ph.D., Dean of St. John’s The School of Education, noted that this year’s group of honorees, through their tireless dedication to teaching young men and women, exemplifies the University’s own educational mission.

“These individuals have already achieved a notoriety that others can only hope to attain,” Ross noted. “They have paved new roads on which the engines of learning can travel, and that’s precisely what St. John’s also strives to do. And here at Oakdale, we continue to serve as an academic center for intellectual exchange, with tonight’s honorees fully exemplifying that same noble goal.”

Indeed, this year’s L.E.A.D. award recipients hailed from a variety of different educational specialties and fields. Throughout the night, each reflected on their unique personal journey which led them to the field of Education.

“For me, it was the simple act of mentorship,” said Ambrogio, who, before becoming an educator, studied with the percussion section of the New York Philharmonic. “I spent time with them and observed all that they did,” he continued. “I think that’s what codified in my mind what leadership is all about: a living model, not simply barking orders. That led me to discover that I myself enjoyed being a mentor to young people.”

O’Brien, meanwhile, talked about how his passion for education began the very first time he stepped in front of a classroom – an opportunity that, surprisingly, came on a whim.

“It was completely unexpected,” he recalled. “I took an elective class in Education, and one of my first experiences had me in an elementary school classroom. I picked up a book, started a lesson, and immediately thought, ‘Wow – this is amazing. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’” Ultimately, O’Brien would go on to specialize in Special Education, which he has found incredibly rewarding.

“I never thought I’d be doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I’ve been able to have an impact on children who truly need additional support, so this has been the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Many of the honorees also spoke of the community atmosphere surrounding St. John’s, the way the University emphasizes a personal, one-on-one relationship with professors, especially at the Oakdale location. Celano, for example, discussed what initially drew him to St. John’s, and how it profoundly influenced his career.

“Simply put, the professors treat you like family here,” Celano noted. “My time here was a transformational event in my life, in terms of my professional growth and career path, so to be recognized tonight is such an honor.”

Once the awards were distributed, Linda Faucetta ’75Ed, Administrative Director of The School of Education, Graduate Division, pointed out that educators are not often recognized for their achievements. That, she explained, is what makes the L.E.A.D. events so vital, and what makes the St. John’s community so special.

“Our honorees tonight are among those who are leaving a legacy for future leaders,” she said. “They are models of educational excellence – and if we don’t honor them, the public may not realize all that they do. They create so many opportunities for those they educate, and they take their students into their hearts and souls, and we are so very proud of them.”