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Jun 4, 2019 4:29 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Three Longtime Montauk Teachers Will Retire

Brad Dickinson, Donna DiPaolo, and Kathy Havlik, three long-time Montauk Public School teachers will retire at the end of this school year.   ELIZABETH VESPE
Jun 4, 2019 4:47 PM

“Have you started taking your room apart yet?” Donna DiPaolo asked Bradley Dickinson as they walked through the hallways of the Montauk School, on the way to Ms. DiPaolo’s classroom, which overlooks a playing field and has an ocean view.

Mr. Dickinson said he had started to pack but added that it’s a long process—given that there is 48 years’ worth of materials and props.

At the end of the 2019 school year, Mr. Dickinson, a seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher of 48 years, along with Ms. DiPaolo, a special education teacher of 39 years, and Kathy Havlik, an elementary school teacher of 20 years, will retire. Combined, that’s well over a century of classroom experience.

On Thursday, May 30, Ms. DiPaolo sat at a table in the center of her classroom, next to Mr. Dickinson’s, and reminisced about their time at the Montauk School. Ms. Havlik was on a field trip at Suffolk County Community College with the fourth-graders that day.

Mr. Dickinson, a seventh-generation Montauk resident, grew up in Montauk and graduated from the Montauk School and East Hampton High School. He attended the State University of New York at Potsdam, and was offered a job at the Montauk School right after graduation.

His first year, he taught fourth grade. The fourth grade class shrank the following year, and Mr. Dickinson, who is certified to teach social studies, was thrust into that position, which he’s been teaching up until now.

“Back then, you wore a lot of different hats,” he said of the Montauk School’s teaching staff in the old days. “Our physical education teacher was also the health teacher during that time.”

After retiring, Mr. Dickinson plans to divide his time between Montauk and his home in Connecticut along with his wife, Claudia, and their dogs and donkeys.

Over the years, Mr. Dickinson initiated school trips to Broadway, Albany, Cooperstown, and Washington, D.C., to name a few. He remembered the year he organized the trip to Washington in the months following 9/11. The students weren’t able to visit the White House and many other monuments because of security concerns. “It was a different tone,” he recalled.

On another trip to Washington, Mr. Dickinson and the students were able to meet former President Bill Clinton. The police were escorting everyone out of the parking lot while Mr. Clinton was entering it. A New York congressman spoke to the security crew, and the students were able to stay.

“The president came over and shook all of the kids’ hands,” Mr. Dickinson said.

Mr. Dickinson explained that he was the first teacher who had also been a student there to be hired at the school. He has been working at the school one year longer than Superintendent Jack Perna.

Throughout his career, Mr. Dickinson said very rarely has he heard, “No, you can’t take that trip, or no, you can’t buy those books.”

He said he remembers most of his students—in fact, for some families, he’s taught three generations.

“I have Aiden [Kastrati] now, who’s in seventh grade,” he said. “I taught his mother [Danielle Kastrati], who is a teacher, and I taught her mother, Debbie Morici.”

“They were all my kids,” he said of his students. “The eighth-graders say they’re glad they’re going out with me,” Mr. Dickinson added of the students moving on to East Hampton High School.

Ms. DiPaolo, originally from the Bronx, first began teaching for two years in New York City, and another two years upstate New York before being hired in Montauk.

She remembered that when she first started teaching, most of the students didn’t have cable television, and most of the radio stations came from across the Long Island Sound, in Connecticut and Boston.

“All of the kids were Boston Red Sox fans,” she joked, “not Yankee and Met fans, like they are today.”

Ms. DiPaolo also said that in the 1980s, there were about a hundred more students at the school. Mr. Dickinson nodded along in agreement. “It was over 400 kids,” he added. Now, the school has around 300 students, they said.

“Back when I started, the air base was still open, and we had all of the Air Force families at Camp Hero,” Mr. Dickinson explained.

Ms. DiPaolo is retiring to take care of her elderly mother, who has become ill.

“I thought this was a good time to retire,” she explained, adding that her husband died years ago, and that her three children, Jody, Emma and Lucas, are grown and out of the house. “I was going to stay one more year and teach in another decade,” she joked, meaning in the school year of 2019-20.

Ms. DiPaolo said Montauk has always been a diverse district, and it’s been rewarding to see students from all different backgrounds come back to visit. “Some students are now lawyers, doctors, dentist,” she said with a smile.

“We’ll miss the students,” Mr. Dickinson said. “I see the students in the IGA. I see their parents all of the time. I’ll miss that connection.”

“Montauk is a special place.” Ms. DiPaolo, who lives in East Hampton, said, adding that the eighth grade graduation ceremony has been the same for the 39 years she’s been teaching at the Montauk School.

“If I came back, I would love to see it stay close to what it is today,” she said.

She and Mr. Dickinson both said they plan to visit the students, and attend school programs, such as the winter concert.

On Monday, Ms. Havlik was on lunch duty, supervising the students as they ate their lunches and played games at recess.

Originally from Floral Park, Ms. Havlik moved to Montauk in 1976. Her two grown children, Emily and Patrick, were actually students or Mr. Dickinson, she explained. “They loved him,” she said.

Although she is retiring after 20 years, Ms. Havlik will still see the students and be active in the Montauk community, as she is on the board of the Third House Nature Center.

“I’ll miss the kids, but I’m still going to be involved,” she said. “I’ve loved it very much. It has been incredible. One thing about the Montauk School is that it’s very supportive.”

Ms. Havlik and other teachers have always been able to take the students on field trips to hike for seals, or examine beach erosion. She said the district’s always been supportive in providing buses, and allowing trips outside the classroom.

“Our spirit will always be here,” Mr. Dickinson said on Monday in his classroom, which was filled with packed cardboard boxes and plastic containers.

“It’s been a wonderful 48 years. If I could turn back the clock, I would do 20 more if I could. It’s been a building filled with great kids and very supportive parents, administrators and Board of Education.”

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Best of luck to these hard working folks and thanks for the years of dedication! Brad, you especially will be missed as a "generational teacher".....You taught my parents also!
By mtkfishman (76), montauk on Jun 6, 19 11:59 AM