Mary Kate Lonergan loves her job. Currently employed as a social studies teacher at Cazenovia High School, her position was in jeopardy last month, when initially listed as a possible cut in the Cazenovia Central School District Board of Education’s tentative 2012-13 budget.
On April 16, the school board unanimously adopted the district’s proposed 2012-13 spending plan, which did not include any cuts to academic programming or teaching positions — a decision both Lonergan and her students were happy to hear.
“I love Cazenovia, and I love teaching here. It’s my dream job,” Lonergan said. “Every single day I have a moment of gratitude, where I think how lucky I am to have this position, to be at this school district, working with these kids … I’d love to be here for a while, but it’s frustrating; I can’t plan for my future because this will happen next year. Unfortunately, it’s like that across the state.”
In addition to teaching social studies to several classes of eighth, ninth and 12th graders and assisting numerous students as an Academic Intervention Services (AIS) instructor, Lonergan has also coached the Cazenovia Mock Trial team since starting at the high school in September 2008. She is a co-advisor for student government, a member of the school’s Student Success Team and a faculty trainer for literacy strategies.
At the April 2 board of education meeting, numerous students and colleagues spoke in support of Lonergan, telling board members she would be a valuable asset to lose.
Social Studies Department leader Kurt Wheeler said the positive impact she has on students is far-reaching throughout the district.
“Mary Kate has been a magnificent asset to our department and school. She is not only extremely skilled as an educator — knowledgeable, organized, creative — but brings exceptional enthusiasm to her job,” Wheeler said. “Her colleagues, her students and their parents are all delighted that the district was able to find the resources to retain her services. Her loss would have been a major blow to our academic success … The Social Studies Department has averaged 95 percent passing on the Global History Regents and 99 percent passing on the United States History Regents over the past three years. We owe a huge part of that success to Ms. Lonergan.”
Two former students, freshmen Nafisa Ibrahim and Kate Sullivan, publicly addressed board of education members during the April 2 budget work session. The two girls professed Lonergan has been an instrumental part of their education, motivating them to do well on a daily basis.
“Finding that [Lonergan might have been cut] gave me a huge reality check, it made me really grasp what a difference she has made in my life. Ms. Longeran has been the best teacher I have had so far,” Ibrahim said. “Her passion for teaching has really affected my learning, and I have had nothing but great experiences in her class. She gets the class very motivated and she truly makes me look forward to global studies.”
“She has always been one of those teachers who you have a special bond with. She has taught me not only social studies, but how to write a good essay. Watching her position being put on the line was something I could not simply sit back and watch,” Sullivan said. “I knew I had to take action … [She is] not only an amazing teacher with a ton of energy in the classroom, but a teacher I can trust and know that she can always help me. She goes out of her way to make time for me and my classmates, and going into [exams] I feel very confident thanks to her.”
While Lonergan’s dedication and enthusiasm is evident in the websites she made for each of her classes, students and fellow teachers say her work as an AIS instructor has been one of the most important duties she handles each day. Hoping to take a proactive approach toward pupils with wavering test scores, Lonergan meets with students one-on-one, and in small groups, to help them better understand difficult social studies concepts. Without her specialized assistance, the district would be unable to achieve such high passing percentages on state examinations.
Another area that has improved due to Lonergan’s presence is the mock trial team. She reports the squad of freshman “rookies” made it to the semifinal round of the regional competition this past year before falling victim to the single-elimination format. Ibrahim, a member of the team, said Lonergan has helped shape the members into “professional young adults,” and the difference between the season’s first and last competitions was “an incredible improvement.” Lonergan plans to reprise her role next season, along with legal advisor Elizabeth Koennecke.
Currently enrolled as a graduate student at SUNY Cortland, Lonergan is working toward her master’s degree in social studies adolescent education. When she isn’t working or studying, she can be found walking her golden retriever/border collie “Honey” around the village, or kayaking on Cazenovia Lake.
Raised in South Buffalo, Lonergan graduated from Mount Mercy Academy and attended SUNY Fredonia, receiving her degree in history and social studies education in 2008. Lonergan said she has always wanted to be a teacher, and going to college to study history was an easy decision. She only hopes her job security at Cazenovia is not threatened when budget season comes around next year.
“The community is phenomenal and the kids are great … It was touching, and meant the world to me that [students] spoke to the board in my favor,” Lonergan said. “[When it was decided no teaching positions would be cut] I felt reserved enthusiasm. I had to wait for the proposed budget and it is still contingent on whether the budget passes, so I don’t want to get my hopes up. But it was definitely a relief.”
Pierce Smith is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at 434-8889 ext. 338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.