HUDSON–“I’ve learned everybody in this community wants what’s best for our children. I just need to give them time, space and, resources to support them.” said Antonio Abitabile, principal of Hudson High School, who will leave November 22 to become superintendent of the Lansingburgh Central School District near Troy, after six and a half years in his current position and 17½ years with the Hudson City School District (HCSD).
“We’ve taken great strides to re-establish trust between the district and the community. When I started, there seemed to be conflict between the district and the community; some doubted we had the children’s best interest at heart. Now the relation between the school and the community is the best I’ve ever seen and still getting better,” He said in an interview by phone October 2.
Dr. Abitabile said the best and brightest point in his tenure as principal was in February 2016, when the state Education Department removed the HCSD from the list of Focus School Districts. Since then, the district has been classified as a district in good standing. Before this, the district had been given every label possible to describe it as substandard. Though there were many reasons, “the main reason was the High School graduation rate. We’ve improved things at the high school. And we haven’t gone back since,” he said.
At Hudson High School, for the Class of 2013 cohort the four-year high school graduation rate was 61%, according to New York State data. For the class of 2018, the graduation rate at Hudson High School peaked at 89%.
“I learned a lot as principal,” Dr. Abitabile said. “This job taught me patience and humility.” Though he had spent years in the district as a student and a teacher, the principal “can influence things differently,” and he had to get used to the new dynamic.
Dr. Abitabile said his worst experiences were the deaths of two students: one by suicide of a then-current student in 2014 and the other an alumna and student at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica last year. “Both students I knew before I became principal. I was personally close to both.” As principal, he said, “You have to put your personal emotions aside. You still have students and adults who are looking to you for leadership and guidance.”
When asked if he had advice for his successor, Dr. Abitabile replied, “Make sure to take the time to embed yourself in the culture of the school and the community. Before making changes, listen to their concerns. Listen to what they think is right, wrong and important. Hudson is a well-established culture and community. One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to enact changes without knowing the community.”
Dr. Abitabile lived in Hudson all his childhood and attended HCSD from kindergarten through high school, graduating in Class of 1994. He got a BSE in Secondary Math Education from SUNY Cortland, an MSE in Teacher Education and CAS in Educational Leadership from the College of St. Rose, and taught math in Catskill and at Taconic Hills for two years each.
Then in 2002 Dr. Abitabile came to Hudson High School as a math teacher. Early this decade, he spent a year and a half as assistant principal of both the intermediate school and the junior high school, which together had 3rd through 8th grade. From that position, he moved on to become interim principal of the high school in September 2012 and full principal in the summer of 2013. While principal, he got a doctorate of education from The Sage Colleges, where he researched the effect of leadership on teacher retention.
One change Dr. Abitabile has experienced are fluctuations in high school enrollment. When he graduated from Hudson High School, it had 568 students in grades 9-12, according to state data for the 1993-94 school year. During his first year as principal, 2013-14, it stood at 585. Now, he said, it has plunged to 470, “which is the lowest I’ve seen.”
Dr. Abitabile said the Lansingburgh Central School District is similar to the HCSD, so his time in Hudson has prepared him well for his next step.
Meanwhile, he plans to stay connected with the HCSD. His family will remain at their current residence, his wife, Meghan, plans to continue teaching social studies at Hudson High School, and his children will continue going to Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School. They are in kindergarten and third grade.
He is leaving earlier than originally announced because the superintendent of the Lansingburgh District is departing that post ahead of schedule. Dr. Abitabile will be replaced in Hudson by Assistant Principal Robert LaCasse.