Dr. Catherine Knight bids farewell to school district
The Class of 2019 commencement ceremony held on Saturday, June 29, was Dr. Catherine Knight’s last day as an employee of the Garden City Public School District. After spending the last 11 years as the district’s public information officer, the lifelong educator was hanging her camera up for the last time. Ever since starting in that position back in 2008, Knight has written more than 2,000 press releases (many of which include one or more photos) that have been published in myriad publications regularly (including Garden City Life), attended and documented hundreds of district events (including an average of 30 to 40 evening events annually) and managed the content and uploaded thousands of photos and documents to the district’s eight websites. All this on top of implementing the district’s social media presence on Twitter, created 45 videos for the district and received 21 state and national awards for school communications from the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and the New York School Public Relations Association (NYSPRA). And that doesn’t take into account numerous other tasks and achievements that include the wildly popular and successful annual Afternoon Teas that she created a decade ago as a means of providing an intersection for the community’s seniors, students, past and present parents. While one would expect Knight to be exhausted from the sheer amount of work involved with her job, it’s something the tireless administrator fully embraced in her role.
“School public relations is such an integral part of school operations. If you’re doing wonderful things, but nobody is telling the public, how are they to know?,” she said. “It’s my job to trumpet everything—every student achievement, whether it’s a small or a huge thing. They all need to be trumpeted and encouraged. They need to know that they are special, they have a unique quality and education is an important part of them growing up in the world. Somebody has got to be out there constantly saying that.”
For Garden City Public School District Superintendent Dr. Kusum Sinha, Knight’s retirement is a particularly sorrowful loss.
“Dr. Knight has showcased our district and students through many media and community events. She has brought a great deal to the district especially with connecting our senior citizens to our schools, most notably through the annual Tea,” Sinha said. “Catherine has made an impact on our district through connections she has made with everyone in our school community. We will miss seeing her around our district at events with her camera.”
Knight’s roots go back to growing up in Bethlehem, PA, where creativity was a major component of her family’s everyday life. Her late father was a structural engineer for Bethlehem Steel, her brother is an engineer and Knight herself grew up tinkering and taking things apart. Between having babysat since she was old enough to do it and possessing a lifelong love of art, going to school for art education seemed to be the next logical step. With steel mills closing around that part of the state and the family being hit particularly hard by the southbound economy, Knight put herself through school. She transferred to Kutztown University after spending a few semesters in community college. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in art education, Knight moved to Long Island and took a job with East Woods School in Oyster Bay to be near her future husband Tom (The couple has a son and daughter and celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary on June 14). The pursuit of higher education eventually found Knight earning a Master of Fine Arts degree at C.W. Post while going down a career path that included stints at districts teaching art to mostly middle schoolers in Cold Spring Harbor, Hicksville and the Harbor Country Day School in St. James before landing in Garden City in 2008.
The idea of getting hired on a part-time basis was appealing to Knight as she was then pursuing a doctorate in education from Fordham University. It was a program that not only significantly informed how she did her job, but one she continues to be grateful for having gone through nearly a decade after the fact.
“I’m so happy I did my dissertation on school public relations because it has not been studied,” she said. “Fordham University is a great school and what they fold into every single class are the questions of what are you giving back? How are you helping the community? When you start the dissertation process, you have a hypothesis of 12 and I had 15 going into it. You have to defend that and they don’t call it a defense for nothing. They look at you and ask, ‘Who cares?’ You’re presenting your heart on your sleeve—this is what I want to study and they ask who cares? Because I was a teacher, my work has always been very personal to me.”
When asked her favorite and most rewarding parts of her job, it came down to interacting with the students, staff and parents. (“That love of learning….for me…it just filled my cup up every single time.”) And given the great ride Knight has had in the past decade-plus, she has particular love for the board of education.
“I couldn’t have done what I did here, whatever that might be, without the support of the board. When I say I love this district, that includes the board,” she said. “They get it and understand. When we went through the whole branding process when we were really trying to take a good look at what we stand for and how we take our mission statement and make it compact. How do we live it every day and share with people that we live that every day—they were right there and very supportive.”