OLD BETHPAGE, L.I.—As she walks the halls, greeting students by name, it’s no wonder Suzanne Gray has held the title of New York State principal of the year.
A mother of four, she leaves her own kids everyday, to help nurture and grow 400 other children at Old Bethpage Elementary School.
"We think about our principals, 20, 30, 40 years ago. They were intimidating, you didn’t ever want to go to the principal's office. I wanted to make the office a place where kids wanted to come," Gray said.
Her unique way of leading is just one of the reasons she was recognized.
Moving away from what she calls a “paper pushing manager” to an instructional leader who puts kids’ voices at the forefront.
"It's really just about getting to know kids, getting to know your staff," Gray explained.
"I love that she’s kind. And whenever someone has a problem, she doesn’t just put it on pause, she does it like right away," Gabriella said.
And it’s through this process that programs like “Mindful Mondays” have come about, separating Old Bethpage Elementary from other schools.
"We sit in our chairs and its like yoga, except much more soothing," Logan explained.
"Just giving kids the time to reflect and take a deep breath. I felt that that was an important aspect to their growth and well being," Gray said.
Initiatives like “No Place for Hate” to combat bullying and encourage kindness.
"We made our school a hate free zone. Those are the chains of respect," 4th grader, Jacob said.
"We have awesome assemblies. Yesterday, someone came in, he was like a motivational speaker," Dylan added.
And events that teach kids to give back to the community.
"It's not about the scores, its about the process. We need to prepare our kids with life skills, When somebody says good morning to you, well, you say good morning back. Sometimes you actually have to teach those skills," Gray said.
When you walk past the classrooms, there’s learning going on, but not in a “sit down and read from a book” kind of way.
"If I looked at the point of knowledge that I get. My dad says I got way more knowledge than with his school," Logan said.
"I taped myself to the wall for a PARP challenge. Next day, they came back to school and I was still taped to the wall and they were concerned, did you eat? I've done such silly things to motivate them and to show them that their hard work pays off," Gray reflected.