Telling Our Story: Lee Avenue

Telling Our Story: Lee Avenue
Posted on 01/08/2021

“During these difficult times, we truly see goodness and kindness from everyone,” said Lee Avenue Principal Stephanie Stam. “I know if we continue to work together we can get through this and any other obstacles that may come our way in the future.”

It should serve our community with some comfort that Hicksville’s fascinating history speaks to its durability - through wars, famines, recessions, and the Great Depression - Hicksville, and its school system, have survived and grown stronger. So, too, as the District moves forward with our children’s educational future, we will see this challenge make us stronger as a community and a people.  

Lee Avenue Elementary - the school building itself - dates back to 1951, and sits like a stately anchor at the end of Seventh Street. The school was expanded in 1956 with two additions to accommodate the burgeoning population of families who moved to Hicksville at that time. Backing up to its namesake – Lee Avenue – the six-acre property continues to provide a playground and plenty of green space on which children can run and play.

Lee Ave.

As Principal, Stephanie Stam has brought many new programs and initiatives to Lee Avenue Elementary. “I like change and I feel you grow with it.”

In her twelfth year as Principal at Lee, Mrs. Stam brings a wealth of experience to her leadership role. She graduated high school and started college at 16 years of age, attending C.W. Post and Hofstra for accounting. After volunteering with a youth group, she discovered that she “loved working with children.” She earned her teaching certification in Elementary Education, Business, and Math, and began her career teaching at the middle school level in Queens. Mrs. Stam taught in Michigan for one year while her husband attended law school before moving back to NYS where she has taught middle school math in Sachem CSD for four years, earned her Administration Certificate at Queens College, and spent one year at South Woods Middle School in Syosset as the Math and Science Chairperson. After one year as Assistant Principal at Monroe-Woodbury High School, Mrs. Stam spent four years at Selden Middle School in Middle Country CSD. Her last position before joining the Hicksville family was to serve for two years as the K-5 Principal in New Lane Elementary in Middle Country.  

Since becoming Principal, Mrs. Stam has brought many new initiatives and contests to the school, challenging teachers and students alike to bring their very best efforts each day. Posters, bulletin boards, and banners won by the students fill the hallways at Lee. “The best part of my job is that I was able to bring in a lot of new programs,” she explained. Mrs. Stam introduced the Bucket-Filler Student of the Month and Lee-O’s Laws program to highlight students “caught” in acts of kindness and support. She began a Safety Patrol, Student Council, and a Site-Based Team to provide students with a voice in daily school operations. She began the Mileage Club to keep kids physically fit, and worked with the PTA to purchase a “Buddy Bench” to encourage inclusiveness. 

Lee Ave.

Lee Avenue Principal Mrs. Stephanie Stam is pictured with current fifth grade Safety Patrol students. These student volunteers assist younger students as they arrive and depart the school by bus.

“Children love to compete so I’ve started a lot of competitions and entered Lee students into others, such as The Stock Market Game.  We have won that competition three times at the Elementary Level for Long Island.” 

Lee Ave.

Mrs. Stam stands next to one of the three Stock Market Game banners Lee Avenue students have captured.

 Even as students are divided between in-school and remote learning under the pandemic, Mrs. Stam seeks out seeks out contests of all sorts to involve students in causes bigger than themselves. Lee students have participated in the Humane Society Essay Contest, the LIRR Slogan Contest, the Stop World Hunger Essay Contest, the Cerebral Palsy of Nassau County’s Trivia Challenge, the Scrabble Tournament, Bubble Gum Day (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital), and the LI Duck Essay Contest. Many of these are for humanitarian and animal rights causes. “I became the biggest animal lover through the work our students have done to save endangered animals.”

Lee Ave.

 In alignment with the district’s Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, these Lee students won adorable stuffed animals from the lobby’s “Acts of Kindness Elf” holiday tree for designing beautiful paper ornaments adorned with special kindness wishes.

 “The children love all the wonderful programs Mrs. Stam has brought to the school,” commented Mrs. Joanne Pietzak. Mrs. Pietzak has served as a secretary at Lee for 22 years and, having come full circle, Mrs. Pietzak is, in fact, a “graduate” of Lee Avenue. What was it like to come back to work at the school? “Everything seemed so much larger when I was a child here. Lee Avenue went up to sixth grade back then, and I remember that there was a gigantic air raid button next to the intercom in the Main Office. It was still there when I started working here in 1998!”

 Also coming full circle is kindergarten teacher Jennifer Leone. “I feel that I never really left!” Mrs. Leone actually teaches in the same classroom at Lee where she spent her kindergarten year. She concurs, “I always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, and it just happened to work out that way. I was hired as a Teaching Assistant for one year before the District hired me as a teacher. Many of the same teachers from my childhood were still here when I was hired, so it felt like home to me. It’s a warm feeling – it feels like a family.”

Lee Ave.

 Standing in the same classroom in which she was a kindergartner at Lee Avenue, kindergarten teacher Jennifer Leone shares her class photo that she’s kept since she was a student. “Everything seemed so much larger back then,” reflected Ms. Leone.

 Also an integral part of the Lee family, physical education teacher Daniel Luu attended the school as a child. In his fourth year at Lee, now as a teacher, Daniel explained, “I became a physical education teacher because of the great experience I had at Lee with then physical education teacher Ed Denaro. I admired his way of thinking. He is very intelligent and was able to reach every student.” Mr. Luu has served as a Girls Soccer coach at the middle school and JV Boys Basketball and JV Boys Lacrosse at Hicksville High School before the pandemic suspended sports. “I remember as a student that ‘family’ was very important and now, as a staff member at Lee, that same ‘family’ feeling persists.” 

Lee Ave.

 Lee Avenue alum and physical education teacher Daniel Luu is pictured with a few of his current students.

Lee Ave.

 Mrs. Joellen Smith, secretary at East since 2010, is also a graduate of Lee Avenue.

 Also a part of the Hicksville family with a long family history in the community, is Mrs. Joellen Smith. Mrs. Smith’s grandmother attended the Nicholai Street School and she, herself, was a member of the first kindergarten at Lee when the school opened in 1952. “I remember I attended in the morning session,” Mrs. Smith explained. “There was a sandbox in the classroom and we did splatter paintings. We took a field trip one day to visit the crossing guard at Seventh Street and Jerusalem Avenue. I also remember that we had air raid drills on a regular basis.” Mrs. Smith graduated from Hicksville High School in 1965. 

 Two Board of Education leaders have strong ties to Lee Avenue: Kevin Carroll and Carla Hoene. Mr. Carroll, who retired in June, 2020 after three terms serving on the Board, attended the school from 1969 to 1976. At that time, Lee housed grades K-6 and the District had embarked on “Project Plan,” a forward-thinking educational shift that involved breaking down walls (literally) and utilizing independent and small group learning. “It made a difference for me as I’m an independent worker but also worked well in groups – it was ahead of its time,” commented Mr. Carroll. “It also had a lasting effect on how I approach my life.” He, too, remembers the air raid drill button, and that the drills were commonplace back then. His family never strayed too far from the school: “People don’t leave Hicksville.” He actually purchased his parents’ home and raised five children there – all attending Lee Avenue, like their father. His youngest child graduated with the Class of 2020. “I’ve had someone attending school in the District for 26 years.” While he concluded his term on the Board on June 30, 2020, Mr. Carroll wants to remain involved. “I will miss everyone. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with the community and Administration – I will miss everyone and the interactions we’ve had over the years.”

Lee Ave.

 Recently retired Board Trustee Kevin Carroll is pictured here holding his bus pass when he was a second grader attending Lee Avenue.

 Board of Education Secretary, Mrs. Carla Hoene, also had a child graduating with the Class of 2020 and another who is a sophomore at HHS – both of whom attended Lee Avenue. Mrs. Hoene was elected to the school board in 2016. She, too, got her start in leadership while being a parent at Lee Avenue. “I found a family in the PTA at Lee,” shared Mrs. Hoene. She became involved when her son entered kindergarten, rising through the PTA to serve as Lee’s PTA President and the President of Hicksville’s Council of PTAs. “I could never have done it without my Lee family. I was never alone – that’s where I learned what it was like to be part of a community.”

Lee Ave.

 Board Secretary Carla Hoene is pictured with her son in the left photo on moving up day at Lee Avenue and last June when he graduated with the Class of 2020.

 Mrs. Hoene recalled one lasting memory from Lee: “When my son graduated from fifth grade, Mrs. Stam lovingly created a video documenting the class’s elementary years, set to the beautiful song ‘Home’ by Philip Phillips. I’ve never forgotten the moment she played it at the ceremony, and will carry it with me. I know that he’ll remember that Lee Avenue and Hicksville are home.” She continues her service to the District as a Co-Chair of the Board’s Policy Committee and a member of the District’s Communications Advisory Committee.  

 “Home” certainly was a frequently used word when speaking with those connected to Lee Avenue or, it seems, with any of the schools in the Hicksville School District highlighted as part of the district’s “Telling Our Story” series. Being part of a school community where students, parents, and staff use the word “home” interchangeably when speaking of school is perhaps the highest compliment of all. 

 To learn more about the District’s “Telling Our Story,” mini-series, please visit: https://www.hicksvillepublicschools.org/departments/public_information/__telling_our_story__series