Tony Sinanis, Principal of Cantiague Elementary (Photo: by Tony Sinanis)

It is my absolute pleasure and honour to introduce you to Tony Sinanis, a great educator I have connected to recently on Twitter and admire for his passion and excellent work with his staff and students. Tony is Principal at Cantiague Elementary School, in Jericho, New York which has been nominated for a Blue Ribbon, about which he will be talking about in this interview. 

He blogs about his school experiences at:

http://leadingmotivatedlearners.blogspot.com/

Tony is married to Kelly – they are both first generation Americans of Greek origin and have a seven-year-old son, Paul.

If it is in the best interest of children, then it is the right thing to do!

Vicky: Tony, you have been in education for fifteen years. Can you give us some background as to how you chose to pursue a career in education?

Tony: Initially I went to college to become a pediatrician but after a few science courses I realized that it was not for me – dealing with sick kids seemed depressing to me so I switched majors and became a theater major (talk about switching gears). As a member of the theater program I had to complete a certain number of community service hours so I decided to do volunteer tutoring at the local elementary school in their after school program. Within a few weeks all I could focus on was these kids and the whole theater thing became unimportant. I looked forward to my tutoring sessions each week and making a difference in the lives of the children was so important to me. So after discussing it with my family and friends, I realized I could put this passion to good work by switching my major yet again and devoting myself to the field of education. My focus was Early Childhood and Elementary Education, where I was one of only a few men in the program.

Vicky: Very interesting! I did not know the turn your studies took. One thing is for sure: education is happy to have you! Moving on to you role, this is your fifth year being an administrator. What do you like the best about your work? 

Tony: The highlight of my work as an administrator are my many opportunities to interact with my kids, staff and the community at large. I often say that I am not the best administrator because I am not always timely with “administrative” tasks but I am 1000% devoted to the instructional end of my work because if we can implement the best and most current instructional approaches in our school than we are doing what is best for kids and that is my main goal each and every day. Additionally, I think the social/emotional well being of our kids and staff are of the highest priority – if people feel good about themselves and feel supported they can accomplish ANYTHING! So my goal is to serve and support the Cantiague Elementary School community.

Vicky: Each job comes with its own challenges. What are the challenges for a school administrator?

Tony: Yes, there are many challenges I face as a school administrator. There are budget issues, federal and state mandates and standardized testing requirements just to name a few. With that being said, I think my greatest challenge is time… finding the time to accomplish everything I want to accomplish for our kids, staff and school in general. There are so many things I want to do.. and so many things I need to do that finding the time to get through it all is such a challenge! And then consider my family and the doctoral program I recently began, I might have to find a way to invent the 48-hour day! 🙂

Vicky: I would love for that type of day to be invented as well! I am sure educators who are also parents need a lot of time to balance family and schedule. You are a dad to Paul who is seven – how does being a parent tie in with being an educator?

Tony: I can honestly say that being Paul’s dad has redefined me as an educator. My son is my heart and soul outside of my body – everything I do in life is for and about him. So, when I see my students in school, I know that someone at home feels just as strongly about them as I do about Paul and that is so important to remember as an educator. Every decision I make is one that I consider as the building administrator but also as a dad. The bottom line is this… if it is not good enough for Paul, then it is not good enough for our kids at Cantiague. I want Cantiague to be the most amazing elementary school in the world because that is what I want for my own son! Layer on top of that the fact that my son has various medical issues and requires additional support in school and I am extremely sensitive to the needs of our special education students. I strive to make sure that every child in our school has whatever they need to provide them with a level playing field because I know that has made a difference for my son.

Vicky: Your school has received a great honour, Tony – it has been nominated for a Blue Ribbon. Can you tell us more about that? 

Tony: Our Blue Ribbon nomination is such an exciting opportunity! The state of New York nominated 19 schools to the United States Department of Education for the national Blue Ribbon award. The nomination is based on the fact that our school has performed extremely well on standardized assessments over the last few years. Although I don’t put much stock in these test scores, I know that our kids do well because our teachers are amazing – their instructional approaches and techniques go far beyond preparing our kids for a test and the results support this idea! In regards to the Blue Ribbon, we find out in the next month or so if we won it, which would be so exciting because the entire community – staff, kids and parents – were apart of the application process we completed after being nominated.

Vicky: You told me during a short discussion that your school has integrated the Bucket Filler philosophy – I would love to know more about that and I am sure our readers would too.

Tony: The Bucket Filling philosophy we have adopted at Cantiague is anchored in the text Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carole McCloud. The idea behind the whole philosophy of Bucket Filling is that people carry around imaginary buckets with them all day, every day. And when we are good to other people not only do we fill their buckets but we fill our own, which feels great. On the other hand, when we are not nice to others, we are being bucket dippers because we are taking out of someone else’s bucket, which is not nice! Our Bucket Filling philosophy is rooted in the idea of the Big Five… we must always remember to Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Safe, Be Positive and Be Kind because if we follow the Big Five, we ensure that we are filling our own buckets and those of the people around us. Each week at Cantiague we celebrate Bucket Fillers of the Week who are nominated by teachers or other kids – and Bucket Fillers of the Week are kids who do something that fills the bucket of another person. I can honestly say that the Bucket Filling philosophy has changed our way of life at Cantiague. Bullying issues have decreased, incidents of harassment are down and our kids are using a common language, which is very child-friendly, about what it means to be a positive and successful kid in our school. I highly recommend reading this book and thinking about the importance of adopting this way of life at any school!

Vicky: I love the idea and the values that it creates for children! I believe it is a great idea for other administartors to incorporate in their school culture. Moving on to your newer colleagues, what would you advise an administrator starting now?

Tony: For any educator considering entering the world of administration at this point, they need to be in this for the kids. Being an administrator is not about being the boss or a figure head. It is about advocating for the needs of the entire community – kids, staff and the community at large. You need to understand that you are there to serve others and be their voice when needs are not being met. You have to be passionate about learning and teaching – a building administrator must be the lead learner of a school – not just a paper pusher. We have to model and espouse what we expect from those around us.

Vicky: You have a very busy, but pleasant and creative day. What does your day look like when you are not busy in school?

Tony: I am usually in the building by 7am each day where I spend about an hour checking email, checking out what’s going on in the Twitterverse, assigning subs and chatting with staff who are in early. By 8am I am connecting with the Main Office staff to review what needs to get done that day. Then at 8:15 our kids arrive and the day just moves in fast forward from there. I try and spend the morning in the classrooms and then I am in the lunchroom on most days and outside at recess playing games with my kids as much as possible. Spending time out of my office is always my goal during the school day. After recess I usually have some minor issues to address and then before I know it, it is almost 2pm and we begin getting ready for the dismissal process. After all our kids are safely on their buses, at about 3pm, I spend some time checking phone messages and getting back to parents. I also usually meet with teachers and staff after school because that is when it is quiet. Then after everyone is gone, at about 4:30pm, I go into my office and get all my administrative stuff done – emails, memos, etc. I usually leave school around 6pm on any given night.

This was such an interesting interview! It gave us a great insight into you as a personality and an educator. Tony, thank you so much for this interview! I hope to meet you in person some day.