The first time Michael Grimaldi got to know the Great Neck school district was when interviewing for a principal position in Lakeville Elementary School in the 2016-17 school year.
He didn’t get that job.
But the very next year, after becoming an assistant superintendent for curriculum in the Eastport-South Manor Central School District, he saw a job posting for principal of E.M. Baker Elementary School.
Come April, the Board of Education appointed Grimaldi to the position. And in August, he officially started.
“One goal was to get closer to home,” Grimaldi, an Eastport resident, said in an interview. “But I quickly realized for me, my passion and my work is in a building with teachers, children and families.”
Grimaldi, who has served as a special education teacher, assistant principal and principal at other school districts, became the new principal of E.M. Baker Elementary School following the retirement of Sharon Foughner.
Grimaldi, who transitioned into his August start date, said he quickly found the Baker community to be among the strongest advocates for public education he had ever seen.
“I’m pinching myself everyday waking up coming here,” said Grimaldi, who was wearing a purple bowtie as part of the “Bowtie Friday” tradition at E.M. Baker.
Hints of the style Grimaldi hopes to bring to E.M. Baker could be found around his office, which is lined with children’s books from past jobs, photos of his family, and motivational signs like “kindness matters.”
Among the books are “Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?” and “This School Year Will be The Best!,” which seek to tackle the first day of school jitters. Grimaldi also keeps a copy on his desk of “Together Is Better” by Simon Sinek, which he said emphasizes collaboration and trust in leadership.
“If there’s a common theme between all of these books or most of the books, it talks about friendship, working together, supporting one another, and just being good, kind people,” Grimaldi said.
Grimaldi said that, as a leader, he wants to make people he’s working with feel safer, build an environment of trust, and fully immerse himself in the cultures of E.M. Baker.
“My style is not a top-down type of leader. I don’t micromanage,” Grimaldi said. “I believe in servant leadership – I’m here to help serve the community and staff, and if I empower them, hopefully they’re going to want to work harder.”
Grimaldi said his daughter Addison, a third-grader, also taught him important lessons he applies day to day – particularly the importance of “being present and being in the moment.”
“I think first and foremost for my daughter, she’s really taught me what’s important in life, and spending quality time and devoting time to her or any child is really important,” Grimaldi said.
“She’s taught me to sort of put things away, take a deep breath, and be present in the moment,” Grimaldi added, then tapping on his laptop. “You’ll see me often when I’m in the classroom, in the hallways interacting, I leave this here because I don’t want any distractions.”
Ultimately, Grimaldi said he is glad to be working in Great Neck – where his two older siblings were born and his “family sort of started.”
“I refer to Great Neck as a unicorn – I didn’t think school districts like this existed until I became a member of it,” Grimaldi said. “And I said I’m going to regret it if I don’t at least go through the process again.”
In addition to his principalship, Grimaldi has worked as a lecturer at Teachers College at Columbia University.
He holds a Doctor of Education degree in school administration, leadership and research from Dowling College, a Master of Art in literacy from Columbia University, and a Master of Science in education from Hofstra University.