I Interviewed Councilman Doctor Bennardo: A Reflection on the Pandemic, Insight into his Position as Huntington Town Councilman, and More…

Dr. Dave Bernardo—Image from Huntington Now

Dr. Dave Bernardo—Image from Huntington Now

These past two years have been a whirlwind of change. Not only did COVID-19 sweep through the district and cause a variety of changes from hybrid days to virtual schooling, but we saw new additions made to our district’s administration, such as the introduction of our new superintendent, Dr. Vito D’Elia, who replaced Dr. Dave Bennardo. However, this is not the last we will be seeing of Doctor Bennardo in our community, as he is now a Huntington Town Councilman. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with him, and discuss his reasons for running for this position, and his time as former superintendent. 

Town Councilman Bennardo revealed to me that he has a natural inclination towards a life in civil service. He told me, “my professional and personal background has always leaned towards public service.” Bennardo, who has served time “teaching, coaching, or participating in neighborhood committees” felt that it was only natural that he transitioned from being a superintendent to a town councilman.

“Once I decided to retire as a superintendent, the thought of running for the Town Board and working for the entire township felt like a perfect fit,” he commented. And he couldn’t be more correct. Councilman Bennardo and his wife “have been residents of Huntington for more than 20 years.” Prior to being our superintendent, he also served as Harborfields High School’s principal, which adds to his well-versed leadership experience in the town of Huntington.

Dr. Bennardo also told me his ultimate goal as Town Councilman is to “bring a tone of civility to town government.” This is an admirable goal, seeing the political division that exists across all levels of government. He believes that “we need to replace partisanship with partnership and conduct the people’s business in a way that makes our community proud of their government.” This is also a lofty goal, but hopefully, Councilman Bennardo will be able to follow through with it, especially given his experience as a superintendent during COVID-19, which was undoubtedly an immensely challenging experience. 

In fact, he called the pandemic “the most intense time in all of [his] years as a public educator.” However, it was not the difficult safety measures or even the unknown dangers of the virus that proved most difficult. Apparently, “the health and safety measures, which were high stakes and difficult to manage, were much more predictable than the politics that somehow managed to cloud the issue.” This is quite unfortunate, especially given the gravity of the issue, but Bennardo notes that the political pressures were not solely found within the South Huntington School District, but on “both national and local levels.” In retrospect, Dr. Bennardo revealed that these experiences helped him “understand how balanced, thoughtful leadership needs to calm the political waters, rather than fuel the fires.” 

And it’s this valuable knowledge that has given him unique insight into this position. He explained that “the superintendency and principalship provide a unique leadership perspective because they require you to serve every student, staff member, and parent.” If this isn’t difficult enough there is also “a heightened sense of importance in school district leadership because people are sending us their most prized possession, which is, of course, their children, and expecting us to treat them with the care they would receive at home.” In short, “school district leadership requires a person to work on solutions that serve everyone,” according to Dr. Bennardo, who shared that it’s his “hope that it transfers effectively to the town board.” 

In light of his recent election successes, I asked Councilman Bennardo what message he would like to give this year’s Whitman graduates who will soon be pursuing their own goals.

“I would tell the Whitman graduates that they are about to enter an incredible time in their lives where they hold in their hands the power to improve their communities, build beautiful families, and make this country a better place than it is today. I have been blessed to watch this graduating class work, play, and lead for years and have every faith in their ability to carry the torch forward.”  

So, if you’re reading this Class of 2022, now is our time to shine brighter and create a better future. It’s up to us to make efforts to change the face of politics, medicine, the environment, communities, and the world. And hopefully, like Councilman Bennardo, we will achieve our goals and make an impact as well.