Posted on May 5, 2021
RANDOLPH, N.Y. — May 5, 2021 — After 36 years of serving the Randolph Academy Union Free School District, including 15 in the role of superintendent, Lori DeCarlo will retire from her post at the end of this school year. 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.
Since 2006, Mrs. DeCarlo has led this 200-student, two-campus district which supports, empowers and educates children with emotional and mental health disabilities. 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 to give students many options for rewarding careers and successful adult lives.
Randolph Academy was established as a Special Act Public School District by the New York State Legislature in 1985 — the same year DeCarlo joined its staff as a teacher. She steadily became more involved in administrative work, and was eventually chosen to lead the district 20 years later.
DeCarlo has since positioned the school as New York’s foremost expert in Restorative Justice (“RJ”) within the K-12 landscape. This sociological model focuses on building and strengthening relationships and community. It uses a process of regularly engaging students and educators in structured, open communication – called Circles – incorporated into the daily classroom routine to get students comfortable with talking about events and relationships inside and outside of school.
“I’ve always believed there were better ways of responding to students’ problem behaviors,” said DeCarlo. “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.
DeCarlo has taken this expertise far beyond Randolph Academy’s walls. Since 2018, she’s been the lead trainer for the New York State Education Department’s RJ training initiatives, statewide. 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. In addition, she’s 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 from hundreds of miles away 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 Board of Education Vice President Brad Sande. “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.”
DeCarlo has distinguished the district in many other ways, too. She was a driving force in its expansion, acquiring the former Hopevale UFSD in Hamburg in 2011 to create the current Randolph Academy footprint. 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,” added Board President Mary Myers. “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 (B.S., ’84, M.S. ’90), DeCarlo is a past president of the Western New York Educational Service Council (2016-18) and the New York Council of Administrators of Special Education (2014-16). She has also been named a U.S. Department of State Fulbright Specialist.
Following her retirement DeCarlo will continue her RJ work, as she joins the staff of the University of San Diego’s Center for Restorative Justice. There she will lead intensive training and certificate programs in RJ and Leadership, leveraging the expertise she has developed within the regional and national education landscape. 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 added. “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.”
About Randolph Academy
The Randolph Academy Union Free School District supports, empowers and educates children in grades K-12 who have a variety of emotional and mental health disabilities stemming from various causes and conditions. The nearly 200-student district is comprised of a residential campus, whose origins trace back to the 1860s in Randolph, N.Y. and serves students from throughout the state, and a day school in Hamburg, N.Y., which serves students from dozens of districts across Western New York.
With a flexible structure and non-traditional classrooms, it focuses on the power of relationships to help students achieve academic progress, with the goal of graduating high school and preparing for life as productive adults. Its staff are experts in Normative Culture, a sociological method using positive peer pressure to influence behavior rather than a system of rules, and Restorative Justice, an alternative to suspensions and other punitive approaches. To learn more, visit www.randolphacademy.org.