Christopher Coughlin is poised to become Scarsdale Middle School’s new assistant principal, with a four-year probationary period starting July 1 and a base annual salary of $183,000.
Coughlin, 44, is currently the director of health, physical education and athletics in the Bedford Central School District, where he has also served as a teacher, coach and dean of students. He has logged 20 years in the district, and said he’s ready for a new challenge.
“It’s just time for a change for me,” Coughlin said. “I love where I work, and the people I work with now are amazing folks ... but the [Scarsdale] district is, I think, correctly regarded as one of the most progressive districts in the country. That’s [a] pretty attractive proposition to join.”
Coughlin holds an M.S.E. in educational leadership, administration and policy from Fordham University, an M.S. in criminal justice from Suffolk University and a B.A. in political science from Hartwick College. He holds New York State certifications in social studies for grades 7 to 12 and school district leadership.
His responsibilities as assistant principal — which include master scheduling and addressing discipline issues — will carry over from his many years as an administrator, which included working with students, parents, faculty and clinicians for at-risk students. In that vein, Coughlin said he strives for visibility and approachability as an administrator.
Yet Scarsdale schools will offer a different climate. Bedford is more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, Coughlin said. Thirty percent of the district consists of students learning English as a second language and many students use the option of free or reduced lunch.
“We have poverty here; we have children who are homeless,” Coughlin said. “And we also have the other side, where the children come from the highest economic classes.”
Scarsdale students may belong to another demographic, but Coughlin said he sees overlap. “Children, regardless of race or socioeconomic class, many of them will have the same developmental issues,” he said. “The backdrop is a little bit different, but the issues are very similar, and being able to work with kids and families at that critical age is important.”
Despite Coughlin’s notable career in education, he almost took a different route, opting to pursue law school or politics. A few friends encouraged him to consider teaching.
“They really gave me the hard sell,” Coughlin said.
In hindsight, all three career paths centered on helping others. “I wanted to have some meaning in my career and see the results of positive work,” Coughlin said. As an educator, “The results we see are direct and daily, and you get to really impact the lives of children and have a really enjoyable career, because you’re surrounded by kids finding their way.”
Coughlin will replace assistant principal Lawrence Chatzinoff, who will retire at the end of June after 19 years in the district.
SMS Principal Meghan Troy praised Chatzinoff’s diligence and dedication, adding he will be missed. “He’s unbelievably responsive, whether [to] a parent or a student or a faculty member or me,” Troy said. “He’s always willing to respond quickly and get the job done, which, given everyone’s busy schedules, has been a wonderful support at the middle school.”
Drew Patrick, the assistant superintendant for human resources, said the team considered more than 100 applicants for the position before whittling the pool down to 28 in-person interviews. Through several more phases of interviewing, Coughlin rose to the top.
“He’s got an excellent record as a strong educator and excellent teacher,” Patrick said. Additionally, “He’s a coach; he’s a dad. He’s got really a great sense of kids and students and what they need and how they learn.”
Coughlin lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut, with his wife, Amy Coughlin, a fifth-grade teacher, and their three children.
Coughlin said he was drawn to Scarsdale’s progressive, outward-facing pedagogy, which focuses on independent learning and social responsibility. Reflecting on his days as a student, “Education was more spoon-feeding information,” Coughlin said, “and today it’s very different. We try to encourage as much active learning as possible, including [with] technology; it’s exploratory.”
Speaking to people at SMS and finding “they’re not just words on a page” sealed the deal, he said.
Coughlin also hailed Scarsdale’s STEAM programs, which are integrated in the district’s elementary schools through the high school.
“We’re very excited to welcome Chris to the middle school,” Troy said. “In talking to his references and just getting to know him ... it really was clear he’s a person of integrity and will meet students where they are.”