Glen Cove school chief Joseph Laria abruptly resigns

May 9, 2013 10:35 PM
By JO NAPOLITANO AND ZACHARY R. DOWDY  

 The superintendent of the Glen Cove School District -- which is under scrutiny because of an alleged cheating scandal -- abruptly resigned Thursday, seven weeks before he planned to retire.

The board accepted Joseph Laria's resignation at a special meeting Thursday night. Asked by phone Thursday afternoon about what prompted his departure, Laria said only, "I can't say at this time."

The resignation came a day after Laria allowed a 16-year-old student to drive his car with two other students in the backseat, a source said. Teachers who saw the incident were outraged, sources said.

A 17-year-old Glen Cove High School junior said he observed the incident Wednesday morning. He declined to be identified, but his legal guardian permitted him to talk.

Sitting in math class and looking out the window, he saw Laria and three students get in the superintendent's Lexus -- with one of the students behind the wheel. They rode around the parking lot for about 10 minutes, he said.

A spokeswoman said the district "acknowledges and is disappointed" by the incident. She declined to provide details.

Several parents who attended last night's meeting demanded an investigation.

"There has been some serious damage done to our community and ultimately to our children," Zefy Christopoulos said of the district's continuing problems. "We really have to heal."

Trustee Barrie Dratch called for a probe into Laria's conduct, telling the three dozen people assembled, "I promise you that this won't go uninvestigated."

Board president Joel Sunshine, citing legal restrictions, said he could not address the allegations against Laria. The board received an email from the superintendent Thursday morning and called an emergency meeting to act on his request to resign, Sunshine said.

Laria was appointed interim superintendent of schools in spring 2010. He was unanimously appointed superintendent halfway through the 2010-11 school year.

The board said in a statement that Laria "expressed deep regret for his departure, and assures us that he will remain available to assist as necessary during the leadership transition period."

Assistant Superintendent Louis Zocchia was appointed acting superintendent through June 30. The board had earlier selected Maria Rianna to serve as its next superintendent, starting July 1.

Laria's resignation comes at a difficult time for the district.

Allegations of teachers improperly coaching students on state tests at two elementary schools have expanded to alleged grade-changing on two 2012 Regents exams at the high school. The Nassau County district attorney's office is investigating.

Sources in the district told Newsday last month that any professional misconduct could potentially result in penalties ranging from reprimand to suspension without pay to firing after an impartial hearing mandated by state education law.

The district, which received subpoenas seeking information about alleged improper test coaching by teachers at the Margaret A. Connolly and Landing elementary schools last spring, vowed to "cooperate fully" with any investigation.

In another surprise development Thursday, the district announced that Glen Cove High School Principal Joseph Hinton was being replaced.

Hinton has been "absent" and will remain so for the duration of the school year because of an undisclosed illness, officials said.

He has not been publicly linked to any improper activity, but sources close to the case have said the probe into alleged changing of Regents exam grades involves at least two administrators -- a principal and an assistant principal.

Roseann Cirnigliaro, the former principal at Port Jefferson High School, was named the high school's acting principal.

Joseph Laria, Glen Cove superintendent, addresses resignation from job


May 16, 2013 10:00 PM
By JO NAPOLITANO

 The former superintendent of Glen Cove city schools said yesterday he abruptly left his post so he wouldn't be a distraction as the district faces allegations of cheating on state tests.

Joseph Laria, 70, resigned one day after he let a student drive his car in a parking lot.

In a phone interview, Laria said he regrets his decision to let the 16-year-old student drive his Lexus in the administrative parking lot near Glen Cove High School last week. He acknowledged using "poor judgment."

School board president Joel Sunshine, in a special meeting last night, announced the findings of the district's internal investigation into the matter. He said everyone connected with the incident has been interviewed and their stories are consistent.

"There is nothing here guys," Sunshine said. "There was no great crime committed."

The board said it would take no further action.

"There is nothing left to do," Sunshine said. "Would you like us to fire somebody who already quit?"

But a handful of residents said they were dissatisfied with the investigation because it was conducted in house by Laria's former colleagues.

"There was something not right here," said Karen Ferguson, union president. She called the incident "bizarre."

Laria said he approached a group of students and was chatting with them when one teen asked if he could drive the car. The superintendent obliged, and rode in the passenger seat while two other students rode in back. The student driving had a learner's permit.

"I always try to build their morale and self-esteem and have them feel better about themselves," Laria said. "In life, no good deed goes unpunished."

While some critics described the incident as a joy ride, Laria said it was a slow jaunt around a quiet parking lot within view of the school.

"We got in the car and I said, 'Here is what you are going to do: Back out of the space and go around the perimeter of the parking lot,' " he said. "He did that at about 10 miles an hour. In about a minute or so, he was back in my space."

But the trip outraged some teachers, including those who witnessed it.

Laria, who began his career in 1964 as a science teacher in Brooklyn, resigned May 9, just weeks before his scheduled retirement. The board did not ask him to resign, Laria said.

"I did not want a bogus issue of poor judgment to become the focus" during the probe into the alleged test cheating, he said. "Some individuals were trying to change the focus from the investigation to me."

The district faces allegations of teachers improperly coaching students on state tests at two elementary schools.

There is also an allegation of grade-changing on two 2012 Regents exams at the high school.

The Nassau County district attorney's office is investigating.

Laria said he's perceived by some in the district as not doing enough to defend those caught up in the scandal. He respects and admires the district's teachers, he said, but he is also responsible for reporting any alleged malfeasance -- which he did in this case.

"I have no choice," he said.

Assistant Superintendent Louis Zocchia is acting superintendent through June 30.

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