Humanities Chair Joe Leavy Discusses 2016/17 Focus

Class of 2014 member Molly Brambill collects a National History Day award from Lauren Desiderio and Joe Leavy.

September 13, 2016

Joseph Leavy is a nuts and bolts type of guy, but he looks for the big picture, too. The Huntington School District’s chairperson of humanities is a longtime educator and a history buff. He especially loves all things Theodore Roosevelt and even served as a tour guide at Sagamore Hill, the former president’s Oyster Bay estate.

Mr. Leavy likes to dissect the craft of teaching and examine its technical components and what works and what doesn’t. He’s also a fan of trying new strategies, but isn’t so loyal to them that when it’s clear something isn’t hitting the mark he’s afraid to change directions.

The Huntington administrator is currently preparing to make a presentation at the 36th annual conference of the Long Island Council for the Social Studies on “deliberative democracy,” a topic near and dear to Mr. Leavy’s heart. He’ll be joined by his frequent collaborator and close friend, Hofstra Professor Michael D’Innocenzo.

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Chairperson of Humanities
Joseph Leavy.

An experienced teacher and administrator, Mr. Leavy approaches every new school year with a list of initiatives and ideas he feels will improve the classroom experience for students and make teachers in the departments he oversees more effective.

“The focus in English and in social studies during 2016/17 will be the continuation of implementing best practices in instruction,” Mr. Leavy said. “Just as important is promoting the ongoing collegial work with the faculty in the departments to guide student learning focused on motivated inquiry, individual student curiosity, passionate research and mastery of understanding. Within the departments, teachers continue to focus on student understanding of historical decisions and the intensity of literature as a means to realize the human experience.”

Departments are on the move

The veteran educator offered a few examples of “what we have been doing and where we intend to go,” including:

• A curriculum across grade levels and in both social studies and English that “intentionally spells out the necessary skills, content and deep, enduring understandings that emanate from constant questioning, to uncover truth,” Mr. Leavy said.
• New challenging higher level courses starting this year, including AP Seminar and AP Macroeconomics, as well as the reorganization of Global 9/10 Regents in line with the new state social studies frameworks and the twelfth grade AP social studies offerings in government and economics.
• A fully articulated research skill set generating from Finley and developing through the high school in both disciplines with the foundation laid through English classes. “Cooperative efforts with the librarians at Finley and the high school are key to the success of this worthwhile endeavor,” Mr. Leavy said.
• The use of “Harkness” debates; deliberation as a tool for citizen engagement and real democracy as it should work; evening forums with a focus on significant issues; and the National History Day competition expanding to Finley.

Now in his twelfth year as a member of the Huntington School District’s administrative team, Mr. Leavy became chairperson of humanities, 7-12 in July 2011. During the previous six years he served as district director of humanities, K-12.

Mr. Leavy began his career in the district in September 1997 as a social studies teacher and has worked at both the middle school and high school levels. He currently supervises secondary grade level English and social studies teachers and the 7-12 curriculum and programs in both academic disciplines.

“Make interpersonal experiences a priority”

Like all educators, Mr. Leavy faces challenges in his position. “I feel disappointed often in not being able to stay as long as I would like with conversations with students, teachers, and fellow administrators,” he said. “Aware of this challenge, one of my personal goals is to make these interpersonal experiences a priority, while also maintaining a laser-like focus on the administrative support I need to provide teachers as they implement sound and effective instruction.”

Like his fellow department leaders, Mr. Leavy is working with English and social studies teachers to improve academic performance on every grade level, including on state exams.

“I would like the community at large to remember the way individual teachers of English and social studies have positively affected the lives of students,” Mr. Leavy said. “This occurs daily and is often overlooked or under realized.” “I would also like for the community to learn more about the district’s secondary school program of humanities by responding to the information presented here and by contacting me with feedback on how we can move even further in making learning real,” Mr. Leavy said. 

A spring in his step

As he walks around hallways at the high school and J. Taylor Finley Middle School there is a spring in Mr. Leavy’s step. Despite always seeming to be in a hurry, he takes the time to verbally engage with students and teachers along the way to his destination.

Mr. Leavy, who was his high school’s student government president, graduated from St. Pius X Preparatory Seminary in 1984 as class valedictorian. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in history with a minor in philosophy in 1988 from Adelphi, where he also earned also earned a Master of Arts in social studies education in 1991.

Always hungry for intellectual growth and challenge, Mr. Leavy obtained his administrative certification through SUNY Stony Brook. In 2010 he worked as a summer school principal for Western Suffolk BOCES.

Mr. Leavy engaged in private language study of Mandarin Chinese at Fu Ren University in Hsinschuang, Taiwan from September 1993 to June 1994 and later went on to earn a second Master of Arts degree in Chinese studies in 2000 from St. John’s University, where he conducted research into the 19th century Taiping Rebellion. He has served as a Chinese language translator for communications with parents of Huntington students.

Prior to coming to the district, Mr. Leavy taught at St. Thomas the Apostle School and The Windsor School, worked as an instructor in the Hope for Youth at-risk program and in January 1992 became the first American to teach English at Ta Hwa College of Commerce in Hsinchu, Taiwan. He worked there through June 1994.

Has traveled extensively overseas

An admirer of Theodore Roosevelt, Mr. Leavy worked as a tour guide for the National Parks Service at the former president’s home at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay. He maintains memberships in a number of historical and professional societies and won the Clio Award from the Phi Alpha Theta Society for “outstanding research” on the role of Ireland’s neutrality in World War II.

Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Mr. Leavy has traveled extensively throughout Europe and Eastern Europe, Asia and Southeast Asia, including China, Russia and Japan.  

“I would like the community at large to know that the programs of study in the humanities, both at Finley and the high school are the result of constant and intense teacher planning, individually and collegially, of courses that promote engagement and serious academic growth,” Mr. Leavy said. “Examples include intentional academic and content-specific vocabulary acquisition, learning and practice in the social sciences, in depth literary analysis, and student choice in many courses of study.”

In addition to the traditional English and social studies courses that every high school across the state offers, Huntington students also have access to Theater Arts, Women’s Studies, Creative Writing, AP Human Geography, Criminal Justice, AP Psychology, AP Micro and Macro Economics, Asian Studies, AP Literature and Composition, Participation in Government, AP Language and Composition, African American Politics, Mystery Literature, Bible Literature, Sports Literature, Film/Short Story and AP World History, plus several other interesting classes. 

Students can also participate in the English and History honor societies, the literary magazine Etcetera and the Dispatch student newspaper. Leadership and public service opportunities exist with the student government.

Contact Mr. Leavy at [email protected] for more information about Huntington’s humanities program. 

(This story was written and edited by Katherine DeGennaro, a Huntington High School sophomore who is interning in the district’s Office of Public Information.)

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