Saying Alla Prossima to Mrs. DeSantis

Mrs. DeSantis is retiring after nearly twenty years of being an assistant principal at East. Photo by Natalie May

By Armita Rohani, Angelina Tang

Everybody at East has seen Mrs. DeSantis before, whether it be in the Main Office, or perhaps at the assemblies at the start of the year, or perhaps just in the hall or the Commons. But, how many of us students really know our wonderful Assistant Principal? As Mrs. DeSantis is retiring, we at the ESN want everybody at East to get to know her a little better and send her off with fondness and happy wishes!

Mrs. DeSantis has been an Assistant Principal at East for 20 years, paving the way for students and teachers alike so that East can be the school we have grown to love. “My job is to create the conditions for teaching and learning to happen, which means we are smoothing the way so that kids can learn and teachers can teach. The other thing that administrators do is support:  kids, families, teachers, everyone in the building. That’s our job.” Prior to the pandemic, she was in charge of the freshman and sophomore classes, and as such, she always made it a point to learn every student’s name. “I knew everybody by name and could pick everybody up,” she recalled. “Yearbook [club] used to come to me with pictures, asking if I could identify all these students, and I would.” Back then, East was even bigger than it is now, housing a total of about 1,100 students as opposed to our current 1,000, making the feat of knowing everyone’s names even more impressive. Nowadays, since students are sorted by last name among the Assistant Principals, she doesn’t get to interact with the entire student body–something she said that she misses.

Mrs. DeSantis grew up in Fredonia and went to Fredonia High School, where she was a part of the swim and track teams. “I always said I wanted to stay in high school forever, because I loved it,” she said; a prophecy come true, perhaps. Subsequently, she went to SUNY Cortland for her bachelor’s degree and received a master’s degree at Canisius University. She began teaching Health and Physical Education  at Pembroke Junior-Senior High School, in addition to being a swim coach there, for seven years. It was at Pembroke that she discovered her knack for administrative work, as a superintendent there had her take on a slew of admin roles, since it was a fairly small school and the staff needed to take those extra jobs. She was the Director of Health and Phys-Ed, the Healthy Schools Leadership Institute Coordinator, the Drug-Free Schools grant writer, and the Athletic Director. Thanks to her superintendent’s support, after she left Pembroke to work at Fredonia High School, she pursued an administrative certification program at SUNY Fredonia. “It was a good opportunity because I wasn’t coaching anymore, wasn’t doing all of the extra stuff I did at Pembroke, so I felt that I had time to do it at Fredonia. And I did!” she said. However, she never expected that she’d take on a full-time administrative position in her career–“I always thought, ‘maybe I’ll work at the district office or on the curriculum.’ If someone had told me back then that I’d be an assistant principal for twenty years, I would’ve said, ‘No way!’ But here I am!”

Indeed, life is never what you expect–not even when you think you’ve got everything planned out. Mrs. DeSantis came to East following her job at Fredonia High School, partially because she had an interest in pursuing a doctorate at UB and working so close to the campus made things more convenient. However, once she got to East, she found herself satisfied with her position and busy schedule, and instead decided to devote her free time to working out and participating in triathlons. She lives down in Chautauqua county; while the hour-long daily commute (“For twenty years!”) is certainly impressive,  she is happy to be surrounded by nature in her home. “We love our paddleboards,” she said, “and I also love to waterski.” She’s excited to take some lessons and improve her waterskiing in retirement! In addition, of course, she still loves to work out and participate in triathlons. 

Of course, the busy life associated with being here at East has unfortunately dominated Mrs. DeSantis’s schedule for the past few decades; as such, she says that what she is currently looking forward to the most is having her own schedule and the time to do the things she wants with her loved ones. “Time is so very valuable, and so precious. [I’m looking forward to] doing things with my husband and our family.” Her husband, who used to work as a manager for the National Grid for about 30 years, has now been retired for six. He is also Italian, so they’re interested in traveling to Italy and immersing themselves in the culture there, from the food to hiking at the Cinque Terre to staying in a villa in a small town. “I’ll have to learn some Italian. I’ve got some work to do there!” she admitted. The only foreign language she has some level of understanding in is Spanish–she started out as a Spanish Major at Cortland with the idea of becoming a Spanish teacher in mind, and some of you have likely seen her dropping by your Spanish class to attempt to communicate with the phrases she still remembers. “I can only muddle through a few words, but they understand, and that’s the part I think is super cool,” she recalled fondly. “You don’t have to be perfect to get your point across, and it’s fun. I get to make a little fool out of myself, and it’s all good.”

As for the rest of Mrs. DeSantis’s family, they mostly live in the Northeast or along the East Coast, so she is eager to be able to spend more time with them. “I have a bunch of nieces and nephews to visit, see their athletic events and just be a part of their lives a bit more,” she added.

From East’s open walls and vibrant halls, there’s no surprise as to why Mrs. DeSantis loves East. “I love our openness, I love the way I can sit here and kids walk by and I see the action. I see teaching and learning happening walking around the building, and that’s super helpful.The quality of the education we provide, and the importance students and parents place on their education have really made this job more meaningful and–I guess–easier. East’s lack of heavy enforcement is also a reason as to why Mrs. DeSantis loves this school; the absence of hall passes gives our school a more “non-oppressive environment,” fruitful to both teachers and students. “It feels more collaborative with the students,” she says. Furthermore, the structure of our school makes it so much easier to collaborate with peers; “It’s easy to shine at East.”  

Being in the same job for 20 years, at the same school, is an incredible feat that most people can’t wrap their heads around–Mrs. DeSantis is not one of them. Her passion in her career stemmed from her fond memories of her childhood–high school was the way to go, as inspired by her own experience. “I was not a terrific student and had to work super hard, but I loved everything social about high school. I loved my group of friends… It was a great experience. I had great teachers.” What makes it even better is the many clubs and activities our school fosters, forging even more talented and exceptional students. It’s really heartfelt and sweet knowing that all students have a friend in Mrs. DeSantis, that she sees the feats, the strengths, and the good in everybody–how she cares and is proud of her students’ dedication. 

Being at East for 20 definitely makes you learn a trick or two about overcoming high school. Mrs. DeSantis wants all students to know that their teachers and administrators are there for them and that you can talk to them. More importantly, she has always advocated for students to just be themselves. “High school is a short time. Even if things don’t go perfectly smoothly, you can still continue in a positive direction. it’s just a small slice, but we can see such amazing growth in that small slice… High school’s a time to explore all those different interests and opportunities, but at the end of the day, be true to you.” She even has a post-it on her desk at all times with the phrase “Be You!” on it.

The question that remains is, what happens next? Not only will Mrs. DeSantis spend a well deserved and long awaited retirement, but the East administrators will be shifting roles until the district hires a new assistant principal.  “It’s still the same East, which is great, and it will continue to be. Things will fall into place as needed, and East will continue to be awesome.” There’s only one Mrs. DeSantis in the world, and it is impossible to replace her. And, of course, one final word from her we think every East student should hear: “When people ask me if I have kids, I say, ‘Yeah! I have a thousand that I care for and that I treasure every day.’”

Talk about pulling the heartstrings. 

Mrs. DeSantis will be dearly missed by both students and staff alike. Some teachers have sent along messages for her–encompassing her grit, irreplaceable demeanor,  and positivity–to publish here. Mrs. Azzarelli-Brown writes,  “Thank you for inspiring us to be better versions of ourselves and for your many years of dedication to East. You will be missed.” Mr. Huber says, “I’ve worked with Mrs. DeSantis for my entire career and there are so many ways she’s demonstrated her support for me. I’ll never forget the thank you cards she left in my mailbox after events like the Unity in Diversity assembly or the open mic Coffee House nights. She always reminded me that what I do doesn’t go unnoticed, and sometimes that’s all I needed to keep pushing forward when times got tough. I’m so happy for her to finally take a breath and begin new adventures!”

Additionally, Mr. Wright says, “I have been so lucky to work with Ms. Desantis almost my entire 20+ year career. She is a tremendous leader, has been incredibly compassionate towards East students and an incredible person. Good luck in your next chapter!” Dr. Redmond writes, “Mrs. DeSantis always exudes optimism, even in challenging times. She always just makes you feel better.”

We at the East Side News wish Mrs. DeSantis a happy retirement and many wonderful memories to be made! We will miss you dearly. You have left a wonderful impact upon this school and its students, and your memory will continue to improve this school for years to come.

(“Alla Prossima” means “See you again” in Italian. It has a connotation of anticipation for the future–you don’t know when you’ll see each other again, but there is a hope that it will be soon.)