On The Beach...
On The Beach...
Talking With Robert Spata
Since I have only resided in Rockaway for merely 10 years and I do not have children who attend public schools, I was rather unaware of Mr. Spata until his name was brought before the Saint Patrick's Day Parade Committee as our honorable grand marshal for our parade 2001. I was quite impressed that once his name was mentioned, it brought a unanimous nod of approval from the 50 members of the committee. Not an easy task, I assure you! So, when Mrs. Rosemary Sullivan provided the introduction, I was most eager to meet Mr. Spata and perhaps interview him for this column.
As soon as we began, I wondered whether my pen would be able to keep up! He is as articulate as he is fit. He speaks with passion and the pitch of his enthusiasm is utterly contagious. One can only imagine the enduring effect he has had on so many of his students. To many who attended J.H.S. 180, just the mere mention of Mr. Spata's name, brings a smile and some unique memory of a very special and talented educator.
Bob Spata's story began right here in Rockaway. His parents moved here when he was two years old. He attended kindergarten and the first grade at Saint Frances de Sales; and then when his parents moved to Arverne, he attended Saint Camillus, and then Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn (the same high school as our esteemed Mayor Rudy Giuliani). He attended Long Island University in Brooklyn and he obtained his advanced administrative degrees at St. John's. Upon completion, he returned to Rockaway and brought with him a passion for education that has sustained a 35-year career.
In an era when the climb up the ladder of success very often means that people do not tend to stay with their jobs for very long, Bob Spata's loyalty to his profession, as well as to the community is indeed rare; yet truly most important in the field of education where continuity is so integral a part of the education process. He began as a science teacher at 180 in 1965 and rose through the ranks, as dean and assistant principal, and then on August 20 1980, he became principal of 180 where he has been beloved and respected for the past 20 years.
Although his 35 years at 180 speaks volumes, I can only merely fathom the unique blend of resilience and fortitude of this man. His career in education is a remarkable and delicate balance of leadership, mentor, motivator, and collaborator. "Education doesn't begin and end in the classroom," states Spata. "It is a collaboration with parents, our civil servants, our clergy, and it involves a multi-dimensional perception and understanding of the multi-ethnic student body."
Daily News columnist Bill Reel shadowed Bob Spata for a day several years ago for his piece entitled, "Learning From Rockaway Beach J.H.S. 180." In it Bill Reel assesses Mr. Spata as being at the same time revered, respected, and approachable. He also marveled at the safe and sound environment at 180 under Spata's leadership. A self-proclaimed "General Omar Bradley" style of leadership, Bob Spata instills and shares his respect, discipline, and passion for education. He has truly been an asset to the community and an icon amongst students, parents, colleagues, and civic leaders.
Among his many distinguished honors, he has been president of the N.Y.C. Middle School Principal Association and president of the prestigious New York Academy of Public School Educators. Mr. Spata is extremely proud of the Academy whose members rank from educators from kindergarten to post graduate. "We've honored Reverend Harrington, president of St. Johns, as well as the United States Secretary of Education, Richard Reily." In addition, Bob Spata was honored recently by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, he was also Middle School Principal of the Year. He recently received notification at the annual Communion Breakfast of the N.Y.C. Catholic Teacher's Association.
These days Bob Spata is running for the presidency of the N.Y.C. Council of Supervisors and Administrators. He explains his reasons for running. "People need to understand how valuable educators are; and not be maligned by other forces. No organization can be successful with out the success of its leaders. Confidence in our leaders has eroded. We entrust our leaders and educators to apply their capabilities, skills, and talents; yet there is this ‘look over your shoulder’ and a kind of ‘gotcha’ mentality that inhibits the ability of leaders to be leaders and role models. We entrust them with their role and their abilities to make sound judgments; yet at the same time, we tie their hands." Spata feels that this will inevitably hurt the education process.
The Rockaway Saint Patrick's Day Parade Committee is proud to bestow this much-deserved honor to Robert Spata. I am certain that many of his former students will be out to line the parade route on March 4 to honor this most honorable man.
***Happy Birthday wishes to Alison Lane!