For students, the end of the school year marks the end of tests and classwork and the start of the long-awaited summer. But for two local educators, the end of the school year also marks the end of a career spent molding young minds. Manny Arias, principal of Westbury High School, and Marilyn Manfredi, principal of Cherry Lane School in the Carle Place School District, are both set to retire on June 30, marking the culmination of decades educating the community’s students.
Arias has been teaching in the Westbury School District for 30 of his 44 years as an educator. He began his career teaching college, before working at a private school and then becoming a foreign language teacher at Westbury High School in 1986. He became dean six years later, assuming the role of assistant principal in 1993 and then principal in 2003.
Arias said he’s always seen teaching as a canvas. After getting a taste of the profession as a teacher’s assistant in college, Arias said he went into teaching to motivate students to succeed.
“Teaching is an art. Teaching is getting the person who doesn’t want to be in your class, who is not motivated, and because of the motivation and encouragement you give them, they come to enjoy your class and want to be in it,” Arias said. “Anybody can profess to teach but to be a good teacher you have to be able to have students understand you want the best for them and give them what they need to succeed.”
Arias noted that Westbury’s inclusiveness and committed staff are some of the district’s hallmarks.
“We have challenges, but we’re all inclusive. We have a large ESL population and a large mobility rate where people are transient in the district. You’re dealing with a variety of students in all economic levels and types of backgrounds. It’s interesting to see how they adjust to the system,” Arias said. “You have great support from parents, faculty and staff. It’s not just an 8 to 3 job. The staff gets involved to help students.”
One of Arias’ strong suits has been his ability to empathize with the diverse student population. Arias was born in Cuba and lived with his grandparents in Spain until he was 12 years old when he came to New York City to live with his parents. He knew no English and found himself in a public school for the first time. It’s a story that resounds with many Westbury students, who are new immigrants.
“I can identify with coming to a new country where you don’t speak the language and being able to assimilate, not just to the language but the different cultural system,” Arias said.
Through that transitional period, Arias not only had the support of family, but teachers and staff members who were motivational. He was able to learn English in six months and achieved his dream of going to college. He attended Pace University (then known as Pace College) where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1972. He completed his Masters of Arts in Spanish and Latin American Literature and Politics at New York University in 1974 and a professional degree in School Administration and Supervision from the City University of New York, Brooklyn College in 1992.
Arias said he always stressed to students that America is a land of opportunity.
“Things may not always be the way you want them to be, but this country offers opportunities for everyone,” he said. “You just have to find that opportunity and work towards it. Nothing will be handed down on a platter. You just have to persevere and stick with it, and you can succeed.”
Arias said it’s the people, including the students, faculty and parents, he’ll miss most after retiring at the end of the month. While he is unsure of his plans after retirement, he said he hopes to stay involved in the district.
“The students have kept me young and on my toes,” Arias said. “The administrators, board, faculty and staff have been extremely supportive. And the commitment of the parents and PTA is something I’ll miss. It’s more like a family than anything else.”
Manfredi echoed Arias’ sentiments, saying that it’s the interactions and collaborations between the school community she’ll miss the most.
“I’ll miss the interpersonal interactions with students, parents and the entire Cherry Lane staff and colleagues throughout the district,” she said. “That daily opportunity to touch base with someone and make a difference in a very small way, in a very large team.”
Manfredi spent 19 of her 30-year teaching career in Carle Place, and noted the district is one where every student is cared for.
“It truly is a school community that cares about every student who enters the doors of every school,” Manfredi said. “The collaborative culture among teachers, administrators and central office makes it a very positive place to work.”
Manfredi became principal of Cherry Lane in July 1997, after seven years in the district as a literacy specialist at Rushmore and four years in the Malverne School District. She said she’s enjoyed working at Cherry Lane because of its beautiful environment and the ability to influence the district’s youngest students.
“You have the opportunity to work with young learners, and have a very significant role in preparing them for their academic future,” she said. “It’s their first experience in the Carle Place School District, so the responsibility is great. It’s the first school experience for the child. You’re certainly working not only on the academic growth of each student, but social emotional growth as well.”
She said she’s enjoyed working with all the students and faculty that have crossed her path.
“Each student is a gift. Their talents are gifts and it’s our job to peel through their wrapping to find their true uniqueness,” Manfredi said. “I have been rewarded both personally and professionally to work with such an amazing group of teachers. I have learned from them throughout the years and we have worked together to provide a unique and supportive environment for each student.”
Carle Place Superintendent of Schools Dave Flatley said that Manfredi has been the “consummate professional” as a teacher and principal.
“Under her leadership, the Cherry Lane School is known to all as a place where children grow to love learning,” Flatley said. “The entire Carle Place community will miss her warm personality and her strong leadership. We all wish her a long, happy and healthy retirement.”
Manfredi is unsure of her post-retirement plans, but said she is making the most of every day until June 30.
“I’m trying to absorb every day I’m here,” she said. “I realized from the beginning when I entered this was a very special place, and with that in mind, I’m reflecting on all the positive experiences I’ve had to enjoy every last day.”