MASSENA — It’s been about month — a unique month — since Amanda J. Zullo took over as principal at J.W. Leary Junior High School in Massena.
Students are currently learning remotely until Nov. 20 after officials determined there were more staff members in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 than originally anticipated. But the learning goes on. The halls are empty, but the classrooms are in session.
“It’s been amazing adapting during this unique time. Everybody’s been great to work with. It’s different because the classrooms are online and that’s where you can access things. So you can jump into all the classrooms online just as if they were in the building,” Ms. Zullo said. “I think our kids have adapted well. We’re been working hard as a school to make sure every student and every family feels connected. Even though they’re not physically in school, they know we’re here, they know they have support, and whatever they need, we can help them with.”
Ms. Zullo comes to Massena from a position where she served as coordinator of assessment and planning at Champlain Valley Educational Services. Even with the distance from Massena, she was still aware of the school community here.
She started her teaching career as a long-term substitute seventh-grade science teacher. Later in her career, she taught high school chemistry and middle school science for 12 years in Saranac Lake.
“Having done some work at Saranac Lake, I was connected and in touch with Massena. We started our lacrosse programs at the same time and got things off the ground. Then I was our farm to school coordinator down at Saranac Lake as the community schools initiatives was also taking root here. So that’s kind of what got my attention for the great work happening here,” Ms. Zullo said.
She also worked with some of Massena’s teachers while she was doing curriculum and instruction work in the science standards for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
“They were very focused and were very motivated,” she said.
Ms. Zullo heard about the junior high opening from a friend in the community. Alan C. Oliver, who was serving as the Leary’s principal, was moved up to the high school after the retirement of Sarah Boyce, and Evelyn Fiske stepped out of retirement on a temporary basis to replace Mr. Oliver at the junior high.
Because of her contacts, she said she was aware of the community schools work led by Kristen Colarusso-Martin at Massena, as well as the district’s strategic planning, the focus for moving the school forward.
“That is what really drew me to apply,” Ms. Zullo said.
She was among 10 candidates who applied for the position, and knew it would be “a very supportive place, and a very friendly and opening and welcoming place” based on her interactions with the interview committees, Mr. Oliver and Superintendent Patrick Brady.
She learned she was correct when she sent out her first email to faculty and staff and had her first faculty meeting.
“It was just a positive response that everybody sent. It really is an amazing community of educators here at the junior high,” Ms. Zullo said.
Her mid-October arrival came while the COVID-19 pandemic was still impacting schools.
“I was concerned with how seventh- and eighth-graders would respond to the new standards with COVID and the physical distancing in the hallways. They were amazing. I can’t emphasize enough how impressed I was with the students following the guidelines and following the rules with masks,” she said. “The kids themselves have adapted incredibly well to the changing time and situations, and that’s not always easy to do. Change is hard.”