Jeffrey R. Rabey
Bachelor of Science in Education '92
When Jeffrey Rabey strolled into his new office as superintendent of the Lakeshore Central School District in November 2005, he immediately noticed that the highly trafficked lobby’s walls were barren: “No murals, no decorations, no nothing,” Rabey recalls.
Change came quickly and soon those empty walls began providing a colorful testimonial to the artistic talents of Lakeshore students, whose creative efforts are in full display for peers, faculty, parents, and visitors of all types.
“We wanted to recognize our young artists,” Rabey relates. “Unlike our athletes, students in the band, or those who perform on the stage, our young artists don’t have much opportunity to perform. This gives them an opportunity to do that,” he adds.
To some it may be a small thing—unless it’s your talent on display. But that simple act goes to the heart of what Daemen College’s Jeff Rabey has been all about since his 1992 graduation with a Bachelor of Science degree in education.
“It’s all about the kids,” is an operating philosophy he frequently repeats in one form or another. “We base all our decisions on what’s good for the kids.”
Rabey has been on a fast track in educational administration since he left Daemen; he was believed to be the youngest school superintendent in New York State when he accepted the position at Lakeshore in 2005. Just 38 at the time, he now views his youthfulness as an asset -- coupled with the fact that he and his wife, Tracy, have five children of their own, ranging from seniors in high school to the toddler phase.
“I think my youth is a positive because I bring in new ideas, I’m a quick learner, and my family experience is of considerable value. I have kids entering college and one entering kindergarten, so I understand parental commitment. It does help me to relate easier to both the parents and the students here,” Rabey says.
(Of his five children twin boys Jordon (cq) and Jonathan are high school seniors, son Alexander is 12 and in the seventh grade, while daughters Eleanor and Cora are four and two, respectively.)
With Lakeshore Central, also known as the Evans-Brant School District, one of Western New York’s youngest districts, Rabey is only its third superintendent. It’s considered a large district with about 3,100 students and a faculty/staff of about 575. This year’s budget is about $49 million.
The sprawling suburban/rural district covers the towns of Evans and Brant, a small piece of Eden, and the villages of Angola and Farnham, plus the Lakeshore hamlet of Derby and some of the overlapping Cattaraugus Indian Reservation. It’s situated on Lake Erie’s southern shore 20 miles south of downtown Buffalo.
Rabey’s district has five elementary schools, a middle school, and a senior high school. It recently completed an $18 million program to modernize its buildings, increase classroom space, add a new gymnasium, library, track and fitness center, and install a BOCES vocational and technology center on the senior high campus.
Academically, Lakeshore ranks 16th out of Western New York’s 97 school districts in terms of Regents’ diplomas, with 95.3 percent of its graduates earning one, according to Business First of Buffalo’s “2006 Guide to Western New York Schools.”
Eighty-eight percent of its graduating seniors go on to a two-or four-year college, and another four percent enter the military. The guide considers the district a slight over-achiever based on its socio-economic demographics but its cost-effectiveness is below average – something Rabey intends to fix. And there are opportunities for inter-cultural training.
“About 250 of our kids come from the Seneca Nation of Indians Cattaraugus Reservation,” Rabey notes. “But, even though they blend in with the general student body, beginning with the elementary level, the idea is not to assimilate people into the Anglo-Saxon culture, but to have the entire Lakeshore community understand Indian culture as well.”
As a step in that direction, he points out that “We offer a course in the Seneca language in high school starting this year. It’s another reason to stay connected with school.”
“Staying connected with school” is a familiar Rabey phrase. “One thing we struggle with is the dropout rate. We have to be showing kids the relevance of staying in school. We have to show the relevance of what kids are studying today to what is important for their future careers.”
A cornerstone of that is Rabey’s effort to facilitate the design and development of career academies, to link with career pathways and possibly avenues to college.
One example is a “finance academy” beginning in the 10th grade. “Students would take specialized classes such as accounting, marketing, or word processing,” Rabey explains. The program is coupled with “job shadowing” where a student spends time in a business under the wing of an employee/mentor, or internships in advertising, accounting or insurance agencies, for example.
“My goal is exploring and implementing partnerships with post-secondary schools so students could get college credit for some of the work….This is still a work-in-progress for Lakeshore,” Rabey observes.
“This is just one of the mechanisms to get and keep kids connected to schools. We have to make sure we have mechanisms in place to keep kids in school because it’s all about literacy—English and math in particular,” he says, emphasizing that the problem is systemic, not confined to Lakeshore.
Rabey is also a staunch believer in doing academic interventions with struggling youth “before they fail. Otherwise, you’re just reacting, as is too often the case.”
“We talk a global economy but we all suffer if we don’t change how we educate students…We have to connect kids to the educational system; that’s why we’re building a career academy, to make it relevant. We need to step up to compete,” Rabey declares. From a student standpoint, “If I don’t find school relevant what do I have left? I have a lot of time on my hands and do risky behavior. When kids are bored and left to their own devices, there’s trouble,” he continues.
Like many successful professionals, Rabey’s path is quite different from his original plan, a career in physical therapy.
“My first time exposed to teaching involved my sister, who has a severe brain disability and I saw her struggle,” he recalls. Later, in high school he began coaching soccer and working with children with such disabilities as cerebral palsy at Buffalo’s Cantalician Center for Learning.
After graduating from Holland Central High School in southern Erie County, Rabey enrolled at the University at Buffalo, but not for long.
“There were 97 in my high school graduating class but when I went to UB there were over 300 kids in my first class. I was very uncomfortable in that environment,” he said. Simultaneously, Rabey’s career interest, based on his youth work, helped him change majors to elementary and special education. He also changed schools.
“I had some friends who went to Daemen and they loved it, so I applied and transferred over. Daemen had a smallness that was so inviting. It was a very good and pleasant experience.
“All through I knew I was getting a really good education; I knew I was getting that because it was so challenging. It encouraged me to work harder,” Rabey continues.
He is particularly indebted to two key advisers, Dr. Edward McMahon, and Virginia Schula, (sp?) his student teaching supervisor, for guiding his academic career. “They were very caring and supportive.”
Rabey pointed out that almost immediately after graduating from Daemen in December, 1992 he found work in education. “I was out in December and employed in January in special education. Once I left I have been employed ever since. The education I received at Daemen set me up for what I do today; all the way through I had the support of good mentors and advisers,” he believes.
Rabey was a middle and high school special education teacher for the Pioneer Central School District in Yorkshire, Cattaraugus County, from 1992 to 1994, when he became school counselor for the district’s middle school until 1997.
At that time he advanced to administrator of Pioneer’s middle and high school through 2000, save for the 1998-99 academic year when he held a similar position with the Forestville Central School in Chautauqua County.
Rabey’s first principalship came in 2000, only eight years removed from Daemen, when he assumed the helm of the Warsaw Central School District’s middle/high school in Warsaw, Wyoming County.
In 2003 Rabey was appointed director of secondary education for the Lancaster Central School District in suburban Buffalo, where he was responsible for the education of 3,100 students and supervision of a staff of 242, including administrators. He remained there until moving to Lakeshore.
Rabey combined employment with education, earning a Master of Science degree in education counseling from St. Bonaventure University in 1995. After finishing at Bona, Rabey returned to UB where he completed the Leadership Initiative for Tomorrow Schools Program for school administrators and supervisors.
Rabey realizes that change in school districts frequently comes at a glacial pace and that he’ll have a tough row to hoe in dealing with some sticky wickets, such as making the district more cost effective while improving academic performance. However, he is counting on community involvement and strong communications to help.
That involves bringing parents, faculty/staff, the district’s business community, and others together to examine district problems and offer solutions.
He calls it a “key communicators’ group” of about 30. “They share information with the community and they share it with me. That helped immensely in this year’s budget process,” Rabey says.
He points out that this year’s budget is up 4.2 percent and for the first time ever Lakeshore made staff cuts, eliminating about 20 positions.
“The district has had a significant enrollment decline, losing over 700 students over the past 10 years. But, there have been no teaching or staff cuts; there had never been a layoff here. However, we are going to be fiscally responsible, and my goal is to be fiscally responsible within five years,” he declares.
Nevertheless, Rabey continues, “We will base all decisions on what’s good for the kids. That’s why I wanted to be in this position, because I want to make decisions on a wider venue. I can make decisions good for over 3,000 kids. I’m not a top-down leader, but a collaborationist. I talk to my administrative team about options because we have to work as a team.”
He also emphasizes a commitment to return all phone calls and emails within 24 hours. “I believe in being very transparent. For too long, education has been viewed (by the public) as something done behind closed doors. If the public doesn’t understand what you’re doing, how can they help?” he asks. “When you make things difficult to understand people aren’t going to help you and you and your budget will fail.”
Rabey also takes time weekly to visit the schools to see what’s happening. “It’s important to see the kids and what’s going on in the trenches. And I attend many extra-curricular activities—sports, art shows, concerts, and others,” he says.
He also makes it a point to personally observe all non-tenured teachers. “If I’m going to recommend tenure to the board, I need some knowledge of the person,” Rabey says.
Rabey and his large family—made larger by the presence of two hundred-pound Labrador retrievers and “an inherited blue-fronted Amazon parrot”—live in East Aurora. “The only one who can touch that parrot is my wife,” he laughs.
Much of his free time—what there is of it—is spent in family activities. “I come to work to relax,” Rabey quips.
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