John F. Kennedy School teachers crowd around Judy Diaz, wearing a black blazer, who will be the principal at the school next year. Courtesy of Judy Diaz
John F. Kennedy School teachers crowd around Judy Diaz, wearing a black blazer, who will be the principal at the school next year.

Courtesy of Judy Diaz
John F. Kennedy School's principal is retiring at the end of the month, and stepping up to take his place is none other than his second-in-command. The Port Chester school board unanimously appointed Judy Diaz to take over for Lou Cuglietto on Wednesday, May 27.

Diaz, 38, could not be more thrilled to serve as the top educator at the district's largest elementary school.

"The minute I became a teacher I knew that was the right thing for me," Diaz said. "It's where I belonged."

Diaz started at JFK in 2006 as a special education teacher after four years in New York City.

"I was given a lot of great opportunity at Kennedy (School) by Mr. C, who developed not only my pedagogy and my skills but [allowed me] to start taking on some leadership roles and responsibilities in the building," she said.

Those opportunities coincided with the opening of JFK's Early Learning Center.

"I just wanted it to be successful. I just helped as much as I could and supported Mr. C and the teachers and supported the kids," Diaz said. "It was during that time that I realized that I could be an instructional leader in the building."

Learning from Lou

She started an administrative program and when the opening for assistant principal at the school came along, she jumped at it.

"I was fortunate enough in 2012 to become the A.P. and that was fantastic because I got to work under Lou (Cuglietto) and see him in action and learn from him and watch him and every aspect of what it means to be a leader," she explained.

"Not just a leader for the building," she added, "but in terms of what it means to lead an entire community, what it means to have a vision and what to do with that vision and create partnerships with parents and provide resources for teachers and students."

From Cuglietto, Diaz said she learned how to bring together a school that spans three buildings on two campuses and feels up to the challenge of continuing that. Diaz, who speaks Spanish, explained that her language skills will help create "a sense of comfort for our large Latino population."

Her goal, however, is to embrace the entire school community by working with district administration, teachers, parents and students.

The best of the bunch

Her vision for the school impressed the Board of Education that interviewed Diaz following a thorough application process that involved internal and external candidates.

"I think everyone was very pleased that she was appointed," said Carolee Brakewood, the school board president. "We feel very confident that the school will be in good hands."

Following the appointment of Diaz, the school district quickly started work on hiring a new assistant principal for JFK. Brakewood said that some of the other candidates who applied for the principal position may be under consideration. Whoever the search committee selects from the internal and external candidates, the board will interview and possibly appoint as early as the next meeting on Tuesday, June 23.

"They want to have everything in place because there is a lot of work that happens over the summer," Brakewood said. "The sooner, the better."

Unlike the other elementary schools, the size of JFK warrants two administrators. As the assistant principal, Diaz spent most of her time overseeing the ELC.

"It's a big jump, but she's been working under Lou (Cuglietto), and she knows what he does and what it takes," said Brakewood, who described Diaz as organized, put-together and an "all around dynamo."

Diaz, who lives in Port Chester, is aware of the work involved and said she has the support of her family, including her three children ages three, seven and nine. Her husband, Edwin, is a Port Chester High School graduate who "bleeds blue." As a fellow educator-he teaches math at White Plains High School-he gets it.

"He is very understanding of the fact that we went from having three kids to having 903," Diaz said.