Dr. O’Hara Honored as a “Champion for Equity” with a Humanitarian Award
Dr. Dennis O’Hara has dedicated himself to the field of education for over 26 years, most recently as the Superintendent of Schools for of the Hauppauge Public Schools (HPS).
Dr. O'Hara's career began as a Middle and High School science teacher, where he served students not only as a classroom teacher, but spent time working with at-risk students, coached wrestling and track, and acted as a class and club advisor.
His administrative career began when he served as Science Department Chairperson at Hauppauge Public Schools on Long Island from 1998-2001, and then as Assistant Principal in HPS from 2001-2003.
From 2003-2016, Dr. O'Hara served as Principal at Oyster Bay High School. As an educational leader, Dr. O'Hara focused on the professional development of his staff. He implemented a Peer Coaching program, established a 3-year cohort-based staff development program, crafted a school-wide professional development program called "Small Learning Teams", and encouraged the use of student-centered teaching methods and team teaching. In addition to furthering the professional development of his own staff, Dr. O'Hara served as a Secondary Education instructor at Long Island University and Dowling College.
Dr. O'Hara's most noteworthy contributions, however, have been in the betterment of the students in his care. As an Assistant Principal, he launched an interdepartmental program in collaboration with the guidance and athletic departments aimed at improving the academic performance of student-athletes. He has also worked to improve special education and ESL programs to improve the quality of education provided to these populations. Dr. O'Hara's primary focus has been on encouraging students to graduate high school and pursue higher learning.
Dr. O’Hara’s compassion, innovation, and leadership has been recognized and honored by organizations at home and nationwide.
In 2011, The State University of New York at Old Westbury honored Dr. O’Hara as their choice for the 2011 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year Award. Dr. O’Hara was chosen for this recognition due to his dedication to his students, faculty and the entire community at large. Not only does he provide the leadership for students to excel, but he also fosters innovative ways of teaching for students to be well prepared to face their future academic endeavors with confidence.
In 2014, Dr. O’Hara was honored with “The William U. Harris Award of Excellence.” The William U. Harris Award of Excellence recognizes an individual from a College Board member institution who has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in the field of education, has inspired, prepared and connected young people to college, and has shown a genuine commitment to mentoring education leaders in an environment that supports their development and growth.
On February 15, 2018, the American Association of School Administrators, known as AASA, The School Superintendents Association, honored Dr. Dennis O’Hara as a “Champion for Equity” with a Humanitarian Award at the AASA’s 2018 National Conference on Education at the Music City Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
This award recognizes leaders who exemplify the qualities modeled by the late Effie Hall Jones, an educator and former AASA associate executive director. These distinctive attributes included her professional and personal commitment to diversifying the field of education with high quality leaders and ensuring the best education for all students.
The 2018 recipients are:
- Martha James-Hassan, school board commissioner, Baltimore City Public Schools and an assistant professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.
- Dr. Dennis O’Hara, superintendent, Hauppauge Public Schools, Hauppauge, N.Y.
- Valeria S. Silva, educational consultant and former superintendent, St. Paul Schools, St. Paul, Minn.
Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA said, “I congratulate our three honorees. Each has demonstrated the qualities that Dr. Jones would be proud of — a steadfast commitment to equity and excellence, and a will to make social justice a reality in our schools and our society. Dr. O’Hara, Superintendent of Hauppauge Public Schools, has been an educator for more than 26 years. He launched an interdepartmental program, in collaboration with the counseling and athletic departments, aimed at improving the academic performance of student-athletes. As the principal of Oyster Bay High School, he created a College Awareness program igniting a college-going culture and, through creative fundraising, ensured that all students could participate in college visits. Graduation and college-going rates during this time increased among all subgroups.”
Assistant to the Superintendent for Educational Services and Student Outcomes, Ms. Carolyn Probst, wrote a letter to nominate Dr. O’Hara for this honor. Below are excerpts from that letter. Click here to read the letter in its entirety and other testimonials.
Ms. Probst wrote, “I have known Dr. Dennis O’Hara for sixteen years. I met Dr. O’Hara when I was a senior in high school and he was my assistant principal. Even as a young student, it was readily apparent to me that Dr. O’Hara was dedicated, caring, compassionate, and fair. Dr. Dennis O’Hara is a professional and a person of the very highest caliber. Dr. Dennis O’Hara provides leadership development through coaching, mentoring, modeling and networking.
Dr. O’Hara encourages a growth mind set as seen in a sign saying, ‘THIS IS IMPORTANT! With the right effort, you can do it. I will not give up on you!’ Dr. O’Hara gives these signs to teachers in his school district when they complete the Research for Better Teaching (RBT) course, which focuses on skillful teaching and is grounded in the belief of a growth mindset. This evidence-based professional development is an initiative and an investment in teachers that Dr. O’Hara brought to the Hauppauge School District. RBT emphasizes the belief that all children can learn and that they deserve access to the most rigorous instruction they can handle. This is one of many initiatives Dr. O’Hara has led in an effort to address equity issues among children.
Dr. O’Hara began created a College Awareness Program. The program takes eighth graders on a three-day trip to visit three college campuses in Philadelphia. When asked about the inspiration for the trip, Dr. O’Hara stated, ‘While at Penn I learned that the role of educators is to change the life trajectories of their students. The ‘College Weekend’ is designed to generate for students a vivid image of what college can be. It is deliberately intended to help students see the infinite opportunities that are created as a result of enrolling in and completing college.’ Dr. O’Hara knew that less than 20 percent of the nation’s eighth graders were on track to be academically prepared for college. It was important for him to alter that statistic for students in his charge. Bringing students to visit colleges before the high school transcript clock started to tick motivated students to pursue more challenging coursework. The eighth-grade college awareness weekend was followed by a college awareness trip for tenth graders that included visits to twelve colleges as far south as North Carolina. This program, and its impact have been recognized by the College Board and the New York State School Boards Association. Most importantly, evidence of this program’s impact can be seen in the college-going rates of his graduates, which have reached 100 percent and have not budged below 97 percent since the program’s inception.
Dr. Dennis O’Hara promotes innovative structures to achieve goals of equity and excellence. Dr. O’Hara has dedicated his career to increasing opportunities for students, specifically through the creation of a college-going culture. All college awareness trips were sustained through fundraising efforts. No student was ever left behind due to inability to pay. No student was ever left behind because they were not deemed ‘college bound.’ He de-tracked many courses at Oyster Bay High School in an effort to remove barriers and increase enrollment in Advanced Placement courses.
As a Principal, Dr. O’Hara created programs to promote equity and excellence. In his new district, as Superintendent, Dr. O’Hara mobilizes and empowers educators to do that same meaningful work. Within his first year as Superintendent, Dr. O’Hara created a position to oversee k-12 school counseling, college counseling, education of homeless students, and the use of data to inform instruction. Thanks to Dr. O’Hara, I was appointed into this position, Assistant to the Superintendent for Educational Services and Student Outcomes, as of July 1, 2017.
Together, we are working to increase opportunities for students in our school district. In just a few short months, we have already seen a dramatic increase in the number of students applying to college, and more specifically applying early action/decision and to more selective and geographically diverse colleges. We have worked to create connections for our students to be exposed to internships and career information, to remove a barrier to college and offering the ACT to every eleventh-grade student on a school day. We are working on plans for year-round schooling. We're making progress, but we are not quite there yet. As Dr. O'Hara always reminds me, ‘If better is possible, good is not enough.’
Dr. Dennis O'Hara is the human common denominator to every professional advancement I have been able to make. A mentor who sees opportunities for others is incredibly valuable. But Dr. O'Hara does more than notice opportunities, he creates them. For Dr. O'Hara, helping others is like converting oxygen into carbon dioxide. It's just what he does. The really amazing thing is that he does it so incredibly well. Dr. O'Hara is ivy-league educated, but incredibly humble. He is so very bright, and yet, extremely approachable. He is a capacity-builder and a gap-closer - for both students and adults. Dr. O'Hara is an educator of substance and sincerity. I have watched Dr. O'Hara make tough decisions. His integrity is so powerful that regardless of the personal cost or the fall out, he will always land on the side of justice and fairness. Brave is an understatement to describe Dr. O'Hara.
Dr. Dennis O'Hara changed my life, and I am hardly the only one. To know Dr. Dennis O'Hara is to be enriched, to be valued, and to matter.”