Sag Harbor Board Member Goes Out With Style

Stephanie Bitis during her last board of education meeting. Christine Sampson photo

Stephanie Bitis made it clear long ago and in no uncertain terms she would serve just one term on the Sag Harbor School Board, and at the close of Monday’s regularly scheduled board meeting — her last — she offered a memorable goodbye speech in which she called teachers “heroes” and said being a school board member was “overwhelming.”

Elected in the spring of 2015, Ms. Bitis, whose children will be in the twelfth and eleventh grades come September, said she has “chosen to spend as much time as possible with them at home at the dinner table.”

“I had no idea what being on the Board of Ed meant when I ran,” she said, “and after the excitement of the appointment wears off, the reality of this job is overwhelming. The jargon alone … takes a year to fully understand.”

She thanked the current and former board members who were her colleagues and said, “Unless you sit here, you have no idea the sacrifice a board member makes.”

Ms. Bitis announced she knew “the secret” of “what goes on inside” the school buildings, and said she wasn’t afraid to share it.

“The very important board of education and the very important administrators are not the VIPs,” she said. “As we sit around debating policy, contract renewals, sidewalks, trees, district calendars, snow days, start times and paint colors, the real heroes are our teachers. … The teachers in our classrooms, fighting traffic to get here, the teachers spending the day with our children are the VIPs.

“They are well aware they are the topic of conversation at most dinner tables in Sag Harbor because of their influence,” she continued. “Our teachers in this district educate, inspire, mentor, love and enjoy helping our kids.”

Ms. Bitis, who commuted to New York City for work for many years, said she “changed the course” of her life to be able to send her kids to Sag Harbor Elementary School. “I firmly believe the foundation you provide every child in that building is precious,” she said to principal Matt Malone and assistant principal Betty Robelis, and then sang a couple notes from the birthday jing-a-ling song.

She said she has learned a lot from Pierson Middle-High School principal Jeff Nichols, and said Pierson High School assistant principal Michael Guinan is “a perfect role model.” She called Brittany Carriero, the middle school assistant principal, “the future of Pierson.”

She said superintendent Katy Graves leads “with the biggest heart on the planet,” said board president Diana Kolhoff leads with “grace and diplomacy,” and thanked the administration and custodial staff.

The board and administration thanked Ms. Bitis for her service.

“I have really enjoyed serving with you and I love what you brought to the board,” Ms. Kolhoff said. “Your straightforward candor, seeing what the big picture was, getting things done, your forward thinking was all very much appreciated.”

Monday’s meeting was teeming with congratulations and recognition as a few retiring faculty members were recognized as well.

Elizabeth Ayres retired after a long career as a teaching assistant with a special expertise as a reading specialist at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Mr. Malone called her “a wonderful support” to the students at the school and said she will be missed.

Linda Sendlenski retired after about 23 years as a math teacher at Pierson. “She is a true professional,” Mr. Nichols said. “She sets very, very high standards for her students, in everything from AP Calculus to seventh-grade math. Those students who have had her always point to her as one of the finest teachers they have ever had.”

Barbara Bekermus, the director of pupil personnel services, retired after a 23-year career with the district, where she first started as a teaching assistant and held various positions, including middle school assistant principal, over the years. Ms. Graves said Ms. Bekermus “leads with her heart.”

“She will stay for as long as it takes, bring her team together and make sure that by the time that child is 35 they are going to be leading a happy life,” Ms. Graves said. “Nothing is short-term with Barbara. … She has done a wonderful job building programming for every single child.”