By Mark Hallum
Dennis Farrell, the principal of Sacred Heart School for 28 years, will be hanging up his hat at the end of this year. At 69 years old, he feels he can leave his job knowing he has made a difference to the community and the students he has served in his long career as an educator.
Sacred Heart, located at 216-01 38th Ave., is a Catholic school which teaches nursery, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and Grades 1-8.
Many former students will look back at their years at Sacred Heart with the image of Farrell in their minds, standing on stage at the first grade Mother’s Fashion Show and throwing “Denny Bills,” local currency at the Catholic school awarded to kids who can later exchange them for snacks and candy. Now, according to Farrell, one of the first questions asked by students when they hear he is retiring has something to do with “Denny Bills.”
This system of rewards and common interests with students has built the foundation of Farrell’s career, which started when he began teaching social studies at Saint Leo’s School in Corona before becoming principal of St. Mary’s in Long Island City for 13 years. He then moved to Sacred Heart in 1988.
“You have to give them something about you that they own,” Farrell said. “I’m not an austere principal, but I’m giving them a part of myself that they can hold onto. If they need to come back and talk to me, we have that commonality.”
According to Farrell, he is known for his accessibility as a principal. A fact which is backed up in a New York State Legislative Resolution awarded to him by state Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside), who is an alum of Sacred Heart.
“Dennis J. Farrell is a very visible principal and is always checking in with his students on a personal level at 7:45 a.m. or during the three lunch periods. He knows each and every student he has taught by name, and he remembers what awards they earned at graduation,” the Legislative Resolution said.
Braunstein presented Farrell with the award.
“As an alumnus of Sacred Heart School, I would like to thank Principal Farrell for 28 years of exemplary service and dedication to his students,” he said.
This year alone, $1.1 million in scholarships have been awarded to students of Sacred Heart School.
One program Farrell believes has an impact on the lives of his students and their parents is the after-school Writing Club at Sacred Heart. The junior high students who engage in the activity voluntarily have the opportunity to showcase their work to parents at evening meetings. This is also a way parents can have meaningful supervision of their children beyond normal school hours.
To Farrell, the school is something special to the community.
“This school is a real treasure. I’m a part of that but not all of that,” he said, stressing the importance of contributions made by teachers and students. “The camera light is not me, it’s on our children and what they’re achieving.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall