Randolph Academy superintendent retires after 36 years | Cattaraugus County

RANDOLPH — Lori DeCarlo will retire from the Randolph Academy Union Free School District after 36 years, including 15 in the role of superintendent, at the end of this school year.

Since 2006, DeCarlo has led the 200-student, two-campus district. During her tenure, Randolph Academy has assisted thousands of students from across the state, providing counseling, behavior management, a Regents diploma curriculum and vocational training.

Randolph Academy was established as a Special Act Public School District by the New York State Legislature in 1985 — the same year DeCarlo joined as a teacher. She steadily became more involved in administrative work, and was eventually chosen to lead the district 20 years later.

DeCarlo said the schools have since been positioned as New York’s foremost program in restorative justice. Its sociological model focuses on building and strengthening relationships and community, regularly engaging students and educators in structured, open communication as part of the daily classroom routine.

“I’ve always believed there were better ways of responding to students’ problem behaviors,” she said. “The potentially devastating effects of even one out-of-school suspension, coupled with the school-to-prison pipeline that threatens many at-risk students, led me to research more proactive, positive responses to student behaviors and conflicts.”

DeCarlo dove deep into this approach, researching and developing the concept to its current form and culture. She convinced her board of education of its merits, then led her faculty and staff through a years-long transition to a Restorative Practice system in 2015, a process that requires a true paradigm shift across an entire organization.

Since 2018, DeCarlo has been the lead trainer for the New York State Education Department’s Restorative Justice training initiatives. She also co-chairs Western New York’s Youth Justice Team and has presented at dozens of conferences, including those of the National School Boards Association, New York State School Boards Association and New York State Council of School Superintendents.

DeCarlo has encouraged her staff to share their expertise with anyone interested in adding restorative practices to their classrooms. Together, they’ve designed workshops and learning labs that have drawn dozens of state educators to their two campuses. They also travel to other Western New York districts to help them learn and implement restorative practices into their cultures.

“Lori DeCarlo’s influence is evident in every corner of Randolph Academy,” said Brad Sande, school board vice president. “Our modern school buildings, classrooms, technology and recreation facilities; our students’ outstanding performance on state tests and Regents’ exams; the success of Restorative Justice and our stable fiscal condition are all the result of her leadership and vision for the potential of the Academy’s students and staff.”

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DeCarlo was a driving force in the district’s expansion, acquiring the former Hopevale UFSD in Hamburg in 2011 to increase Randolph Academy’s reach. She has also instilled a strong academic program which generates Regents exam scores that consistently exceed the state’s averages for students with disabilities.

Perhaps most importantly, she has steadily emphasized the importance of Randolph Academy students maintaining a visible presence in the community, so that neighbors and key influencers never saw them as dangerous or “bad kids.”

Volunteer partnerships with organizations like the SPCA, Oishei Children’s Hospital, community centers and nursing homes have allowed students to put their vocational skills to great use in a service-learning capacity — and improve people’s lives in the process.

“Lori’s impact was most recently summed up eloquently by a parent of a former student,” Mary Myers, board president, said. “Upon learning of her pending retirement, she said, ‘You have been there for so long — and always put our kids first.’ That sums up Lori’s character and approach perfectly, and we wish her decades of health and enjoyment in her well-earned retirement.”

An alumna of Buffalo State College, DeCarlo is a past president of the Western New York Educational Service Council and the New York Council of Administrators of Special Education. She has also been named a U.S. Department of State Fulbright Specialist.

Following her retirement, DeCarlo will continue her work by joining the staff of the University of San Diego’s Center for Restorative Justice. She’s also looking forward to spending time traveling with her husband, Joe, and spending time with family and friends.

“It’s been a privilege to have a career which allows me to carry out my passion — to support, empower and educate our students, allowing them to discover their personal greatness and succeed,” DeCarlo said. “While I look forward to this new phase with excitement, serving Randolph Academy has been my highest professional honor. Its mission, my colleagues and our precious students will remain in my heart, always.”

The Board of Education is currently reviewing applications and expects to appoint a new superintendent on or about June 1. The new individual will assume his or her duties on or about July 1.

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