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Story - Education

Feb 10, 2010 11:01 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays taps Clemensen as its new superintendent

Feb 10, 2010 11:01 AM

Lars Clemensen, the 29-year-old principal of Hampton Bays Middle School, was officially appointed as the new superintendent of the Hampton Bays School District on Tuesday night.

At a Board of Education meeting that evening, board members voted 3-0 to name Mr. Clemensen as the superintendent-elect, and authorized School Board President Doug Oakland to execute the district’s five-year contract with Mr. Clemensen. District officials said they expect to finalize his contract as early as this Friday.

Following the vote, Mr. Oakland stated that the two board members who could not attend the meeting—Chris Garvey and Warren Booth—also supported Mr. Clemensen’s hiring.

“He’s a great community guy,” Mr. Oakland said of Mr. Clemensen after the meeting. “He’s got great community support. He’s got our support.”

At the same meeting, the School Board also accepted the retirement of outgoing Superintendent Joanne S. Loewenthal. District Clerk Anna Marie Rojas choked up as she read the resolution out loud, and Ms. Loewenthal had tears in her eyes as Mr. Oakland and School Board members Marie Mulcahy and George Leeman cast their votes. The measure was approved, 3-0.

Mr. Clemensen is expected to start his new job on July 1, after Ms. Loewenthal retires at the end of the current school year, according to district officials. On that day, Mr. Clemensen will take the reins at Southampton Town’s largest school district, which employs about 200 people and serves almost 2,000 students.

School Board members on Tuesday declined to say how much Mr. Clemensen will be making, explaining that his contract has not been finalized yet. Ms. Loewenthal earns a base salary of $213,500, plus benefits, for total compensation of $265,713 as district superintendent.

Mr. Clemensen, who lives in Hampton Bays, was hired in 2006 as an assistant principal at Hampton Bays Secondary School, and was appointed principal of the district’s new middle school when it opened in 2008. He has held that position since that time, and will remain there until he becomes superintendent this summer.

Ms. Loewenthal announced her plans to retire last August, and the School Board has been searching for her replacement since then. Mr. Clemensen was one of 39 people to apply for the position this fall. The School Board whittled down that pool in a series of interviews throughout the winter, and came to an unofficial agreement on Mr. Clemensen during an executive session on January 23.

In the next few years, Mr. Clemensen stands to face some challenges, like looming state aid cuts, a growing district population and the task of passing the annual school budgets in a rough economy. Ms. Loewenthal said she has confidence in Mr. Clemensen because of his deep roots in the district and the connections he has made with school staff and residents during his tenure as principal.

“If anyone can convince the community of the importance of what we’re doing for our children, it’s Lars,” she said. “He knows their desires and limitations.”

In an interview on Friday, February 5, Mr. Clemensen said that he thought his familiarity with the district and his knowledge of the community helped clinch his appointment, despite his young age.

“It’s my community,” he said. “It’s my home.”

Mr. Clemensen said that he grew up in Hampton Bays until he was 14 years old, passing through Hampton Bays Elementary School and attending Hampton Bays Secondary School until the eighth grade, when his family moved to Dallas. He said he always had family members in the hamlet and visited them frequently.

While pursuing a degree in American studies at the University of Texas, he worked as an aide to Texas State Senator Jane Nelson and Texas State Representative Brian McCall. In those positions, Mr. Clemensen said he developed an interest in education policy, which prompted him to pursue teaching.

After college, Mr. Clemensen entered the Teach for America program, and was stationed as an English teacher at PS-11 in Paterson, New Jersey. He rose to become the executive director of the New Jersey branch of Teach for America at the age of 24, and received a master’s degree in educational leadership from Seton Hall University while he held that position.

After returning to his home district, Mr. Clemensen said he enjoyed being involved with plans to open a new middle school in Hampton Bays. “We started this almost as a blank slate,” he said. “That gave me a unique opportunity.”

As superintendent, Mr. Clemensen said he plans to continue the work that Ms. Loewenthal started. He explained that one of his first initiatives will be to institutionalize the practice of exposing students to the idea of college as early as elementary school.

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