Tuxedo principal to become Chester Academy principal

During Denis Petrilak's tenure, Baker High was ranked among the best in the U.S., according U.S. News and World Report

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By Nancy Kriz

— The principal of George F. Baker High School in Tuxedo is leaving at the end of the school year to become the principal of the Chester Academy, home to that district’s middle and high school students.

Harriman resident Denis Petrilak, who has served as Baker’s principal since 2001, helped oversee the creation of the school’s STEM Academy and is a member of the team developing a conversion charter school application for Baker, is expected to be appointed by the Chester Board of Education at its May 22 meeting.

In the meantime, both districts have posted announcements of Petrilak’s appointment on their web sites.

According to the Chester web site, Petrilak will take over for Leslie Hyatt, who is retiring on June 30.

Change, innovation, recognition

“Mr. Petrilak comes to Chester with extensive administrative experience,” the district said in its posting. “In his time at Tuxedo, Mr. Petrilak has introduced many new changes and programs. Some noteworthy accomplishments include the completion of a capital project that doubled the size of the school building, an expansion in student support services and community outreach, national recognition as one of the top high schools by Newsweek and US News and World Reports. Most recently, he has increased the integration of technology and led the development of the George F. Baker STEM Academy.”

Petrilak’s new role at the Chester Academy comes at a time where Tuxedo officials continue to implement plans to transform the high school.

The first was the opening of the region’s first Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics or STEM Academy last fall.

The academy’s curriculum is expanding to the 10th grade level.

Conversion charter process

The change in Baker’s principal also comes at a time where Tuxedo district officials are awaiting an application by a founding group to seek state approval to become a conversion charter school.

That application is being finalized.

Tuxedo School Superintendent Carol Lomascolo said the application’s plan is to have a “planning year” for the 2014-15 school year, with the conversion charter school opening for the 2015-2016 year.

Tuxedo and Greenwood Lake students would automatically have seats in the conversion charter school, with the balance to be filled by lottery from out-of-district residents.

“The message I would want to get out that is that our administration and Board of Education are committed to STEM and the conversion charter school,” said Lomascolo. “Denis is an amazing building leader and I wish him well. But there are many people in the district who are working on the STEM Academy and many people working on the conversion charter school who will see this to fruition. I have confidence in my faculty, the community and the business leaders who are continuing to move this district and this high school in a direction as planned.”

This fall also marks the last year of Tuxedo’s contract with the Greenwood Lake School District to provide a high school program for its students because Greenwood Lake doesn’t have its own high school. Lomascolo anticipated contract negotiations would also begin this fall.

For almost 30 years, Tuxedo solely provided a high school program for Greenwood Lake students up until this last contract period.

That’s when the Greenwood Lake Board of Education decided to offer residents a three school choice option of Tuxedo, the Warwick Valley High School or the Chester Academy - where Petrilak will now be principal - after often times tumultuous and tense public meetings.

By an overwhelming majority, Greenwood Lake resident chose Tuxedo, followed by Warwick. A handful of students chose Chester.

“We wholeheartedly believe the conversion charter school and the STEM Academy are the right direction for this high school,” said Lomascolo. “Our plan is to move ahead and fill that (principal) position quickly so we can continue to move on.”

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