HHS Says Goodbye to Mr. Barry Cohen

The Clarion Staff

Hawthorne High School will be saying goodbye to their beloved principal, Barry Cohen, on April 30, 2014.  The legacy he has left on HHS will always be remembered by the students, staff, administration, and countless others he has touched.

photo 2Throughout his years at HHS, Cohen has played an influential role in the lives of his students. One of the greatest qualities Cohen possesses is his ability to connect with his students in a way that makes every student feel like he or she is an important part of the school. This is one of many traits that makes him a phenomenal principal.

Freshmen Madison Perry understands this and thanks Cohen for making HHS an accepting place for her to begin her high school career. “Mr. Cohen made the school welcoming to all the freshmen this year. I felt like I was right at home.” Sophomore, Ian Bruinooge, adds to this testament, recalling, “I always wanted to come to the high school and have [Mr. Cohen] be my principal, so he [gave] me something to look forward to.”

JJ Occhipinti, sophomore at HHS, also has experienced Cohen’s effect first hand. “When I was in eighth grade, I did not know where I wanted to go to high school,” Occhipinti recalls. “As a result, Mr. Cohen asked me to come in and shadow a student. He made me feel like I was a part of the HHS family. Without Mr. Cohen, I most likely would not have come to HHS.”

In addition to being a welcoming and encouraging principal, Cohen has also been a mentor to many students at HHS.  “Since freshman year, Mr. Cohen has taught me to ignore the [negative] temptations in life. He led me on the right path, and I would not be the student I am today if it was not for him,” reflects junior, Francesca Lupo. Another junior, Taylor Carbone, also sees Cohen as a guide: “Mr. Cohen has enriched my life in a positive way. He really gets on a personal level with students, and that is the thing I admire most about him.”

Senior Katie Blauvelt also remembers how Cohen has influenced her. “[Mr. Cohen’s] many decisions have shaped the school to be a great place for all students. His support and love for the faculty and students is a great model for how people should live.”

“Seeing Mr. Cohen retire just makes graduating all the more real. It is an end to an amazing era. However, I am very happy to have shared these past four years with him,” said senior and Student Council president, Chase Knepper.

Throughout his career, Cohen has been involved with and encouraging of the activities of students and teachers alike. Cohen has been a strong leader of the faculty and staff. He has been a source of guidance for many and has always gone above and beyond the job requirements of a principal to support those who rely on him.

Danielle Russo, art teacher at HHS, commented on how Cohen was always there to support her: “As co-coordinator of Student Activities, I have worked closely with him on all the events that take place each year. He has shown much support for all my ideas, and especially my craziest one…Mr. Hawthorne! He has enhanced the school community, and I believe both staff and students will deeply miss him.”

Likewise, history teacher, Katherine Lyness, expressed gratitude for Cohen allotting time in his busy schedule to also be involved in the smaller occurrences at HHS. For example, he helped raise awareness and supported the ability of the Contemporary World Affairs class to raise over $1,000 for a program that seeks to stop sex trafficking.

Many other teachers expressed how under Cohen’s leadership, HHS has grown and evolved. History teacher, Christopher Ward, commented on this, saying, “Our school has moved into the 21st [century] under his guidance.” This is verified by his support and role in the renovation of the HHS computer labs and Library Media Center and the introduction of the modified drop schedule.

Library Media Specialist Theresa DiGeronimo added on to this point, saying, “Mr. Cohen is leaving his mark on HHS. The wide range of initiatives implemented under his reign is remarkable, for example, the transition of the library into a modern Media Center. I am sad for the loss of his strong leadership, but I am glad that he is proactively taking care of himself and his health.”

With an open-door policy, Cohen created a welcoming environment between administration and staff where anything from innovative ideas to matters of concern could be exchanged and discussed. HHS history teacher, Wallace Masiak, reflected on this, saying it is Cohen’s “very humanistic approach when dealing with students, parents, and staff” that has led him to create such a positive environment here at HHS. Masiak continued by saying, “Whether you are a prince or a pauper, you are always treated with the same dignity and respect. He is truly an affable and courteous gentleman.” Masiak went on to say, “I am very sad to see him leave our high school family. After working with him over the past 15 years as my department supervisor, athletic director and as principal, I have many fond memories.”

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Cohen with long-time secretary Sue Minimi

Due to his empathetic nature, many members of the faculty and staff don’t only view Cohen as a well-respected superior, but also a friend. Sue Minimi, Cohen’s long-time secretary, says she will truly miss his enthusiastic and encouraging spirit. Minimi has worked with Cohen since he first entered HHS as the Athletic Director. She said, “I thoroughly enjoyed working with Mr. Cohen even before he became our current principal, and our positive working relationship has continued throughout the time I have been his secretary. Mr. Cohen is a talented and compassionate educational professional, and his ability to make the changes necessary for the growth and needs of the students is impressive. I will certainly remember Mr. Cohen as a great boss, and he will continue to be a great friend. Mr. Cohen is a very kind and gentle man and the students and staff at HHS were very fortunate to be able to call him their principal.”

Another teacher and friend with fond memories of Cohen is HHS business teacher, Gus Schell, who said, “Away from work you’ll find out he has a pretty good sense of humor, and it’s funny to see him when he sees my daughter, the way he talks and plays with her. I wish I could have videotaped him and shown the staff.”

Cohen will be greatly missed by those who worked closest with him, the faculty and staff at HHS. “He will leave a legacy [of] compassion and kindness,” said math teacher Cheryl Smith. “So, I will try to continue that legacy during my everyday interactions with my students and my colleagues.”

Aside from the countless students and teachers who have been touched by Barry Cohen’s time here at HHS, Hawthorne’s administration was affected as well.

Superintendent Dr. Jill Mortimer was one of them. She said, “Mr. Cohen’s willingness to explore new ideas inspires me… He is always looking to improve the educational experience of our students… He is an excellent communicator, and his interpersonal skills are admirable.”

The admiration of Cohen also comes from HHS vice-principal Dario Sforza, a close friend and colleague. “I admire his work ethic and visionary leadership style…I’m inspired by his ability to carry out strategic-oriented decisions, while increasing the performance and goals of the school,” said Sforza.

Even though Hawthorne’s Director of Education, Darlene Markman, has known Cohen for only a short period of time, his “dedication” and “presence” has made an everlasting impression on her: “To pinpoint one area as his greatest accomplishment in a career as distinguished as Mr. Cohen’s is nearly impossible.  I can only say that he will be missed, and I truly wish him many years of health, happiness and relaxation in his retirement,” said Markman.

Head of Guidance, Jennifer Basilone, also reflected on her time working with Cohen and how he has impacted her career: “He has a very high professional integrity and requires that you work your hardest and are always at your best.  This quality has helped me strive to be more—both personally and professionally.”

The impression Cohen left on the administration of Hawthorne is truly impressive and inspiring. Even after he leaves, the imprint he has left on the administration will help them lead HHS further in evolving into an even stronger high school.

While students, staff, and administration alike are deeply saddened to see Cohen go, we all wish him the best in his retirement.