Sag Harbor School Board Agrees to Honor Former Principal, Robert Schneider

Marian Cassata, placing a yellow Post-It note with her husband's name written on it, on the plaque commemorating the expansion he championed. Elizabeth Vespe photo

A large, brass plaque hangs in the entryway of Pierson Middle-High School, recognizing the successful completion in 2003 of the largest expansion and renovation project in the district’s history. But the plaque, which lists the names of architects, construction managers, Superintendents Dr. John Barnes and Kathryn Holden, board of education members and faculty involved with the planning, design and construction, has one important name missing: former Pierson High School principal, the late Robert Schneider.

A handful of Sag Harbor residents addressed the Sag Harbor School District Board of Education about the forgotten name at Monday’s meeting, making it the main topic of discussion during the session.

Mr. Schneider spearheaded the major expansion and renovation project at Pierson Middle-High School before his retirement in 2000, his wife, Marian Cassata, told the school board. Ms. Cassata said Mr. Schneider had a good sense of humor and would walk by the plaque and place a yellow Post-It note with his name in the corner.

“Bob provided a vision of what the community needed to prepare our kids for a future that we couldn’t even imagine,” Ms. Cassata told the board, adding that current Pierson High School principal Jeff Nichols’ name is also missing from the plaque, and should also be added.

“I’ll place this one there for him tonight,” said Ms. Cassata, holding a Post-It. “I’m asking you to please put his name on that plaque as an enduring reminder that Bob, along with the others listed, changed Pierson for the better. He needs more than a yellow Post-It.”

Mr. Schneider died at Southampton Hospital of Mantle cell lymphoma, an extremely aggressive form of the cancer, at the age of 69 on December 15, 2016.

After a lifelong career in education, Mr. Schneider became principal of Pierson in 1994, where he worked to improve the curriculum and provide students with important resources. He led the district through the major $14 million renovation of the school that provided it with a larger library, better science labs, and other educational necessities.
Mr. Nichols, served first as intern and assistant principal under Mr. Schneider before replacing him in 2000.

Mr. Schneider graduated from Brooklyn College with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1968 and took a job as a social studies teacher in Brooklyn.

After several years in Brooklyn, Mr. Schneider joined the South Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services, where he was in charge of educational communications. He later moved to Suffolk County BOCES, where he worked in curriculum development. Before coming to Sag Harbor, Mr. Schneider served as assistant principal at Riverhead High School for several years.

He was a founding member of the Sag Harbor Educational Foundation, a trustee of the Reutershan Educational Trust, and a founding member of the Sag Harbor Coalition, which seeks to reduce substance abuse among young people, on whose board he served as co-director.

Peter Solow, a Pierson teacher, former school board member, and close friend of Mr. Schneider, said Mr. Schneider changed Pierson High School for the better.
Mr. Solow said without Mr. Schneider’s efforts, the expansion bond would have failed, explaining that Mr. Schneider met with countless community members to educate them about the project and the benefits it would have on the students and community. He asked the board to “rectify an unfortunate injustice,” by adding Mr. Schneider’s name to the plaque.

“The quality of the school is shaped by its people. Bob loved our community and loved our school. He believed in the limitless potential of the students. By placing his name of the plaque, we not only honor him, but ourselves,” Mr. Solow said.

Walter Tice, a former board member and father to current board member Chris Tice, said he hasn’t been to a board meeting in several years, but when he heard his old colleague and friend Mr. Schnieder might be honored at the meeting, he had to come and say a few words.

“He was a quality person with a great sense of humor who did wonderful things for the district. This is a name we should not forget, and this is a simple thing we’re asking you to consider tonight,” Mr. Tice told the board.

Sandi Kruel, a former board member and colleague and friend of the late Mr. Schneider, said he was the “driving force” behind the expansion which the district desperately needed. Ms. Kruel said it was a serious mistake for his name to be omitted on the plaque.

Ms. Tice made a formal motion to replace the plaque, and all board members rose their hands in agreement. Ms. Tice also explained that Mr. Nichols name should be added as well.

“I came on and the hard work was already done,” Mr. Nichols said, adding that the priority should be Mr. Schneider’s name. “I think he deserves all of the credit for that.”

In other school news, Mr. Nichols, updated the public briefly on the progress of the Sag Harbor Learning Center. He said a punch list from IBI, the architectural firm handling the construction, will be delivered to the board in mid to late December and provide a more thorough explanation of what is needed before the district can take control of the building. It is scheduled that the learning center be completed in January.

In addition, Matthew Malone, the Sag Harbor Elementary School principal said that the district is drafting a formal Request for Proposals regarding daycare options for the Sag Harbor Learning Center which will be introduced at a later date.