New Year, New Faces: South High Welcomes New Staff


Ms. Farzana Aziz

By Sarah Sun

When she was a child, she would put her bag on her shoulder and stroll out the door, pretending to be a teacher on her way to school. Now, she has been teaching for 28 years, and for 21 at Great Neck. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Mrs. Farzana Aziz joins us this year in the special education department under Mr. James Morrow at South High.

In her home country of Pakistan, Mrs. Aziz was still a student when she started teaching. While high school students in America can work in restaurants or stores, in her home country, she was given the opportunity to teach kindergarten when she was in tenth grade. Over the years, she gradually taught higher grades, from elementary school to grade 6. She was so young that the sixth graders would sometimes mistake her for another student. Her mother, also involved in education, opened a school where Mrs. Aziz later worked in management (involving schedule-making and handling the staff). Her husband grew up in the United States, and she came with him to America.

Through teaching, Mrs. Aziz learned about different cultures, traditions, and types of education. In Great Neck, she started at the elementary schools, transferred to Parkville, South Middle, North Middle… and finally to South High. Of all the grade levels she taught, high school is her favorite. “In high school, the kids want guidance, and it’s easier to communicate with them,” she said. “The kids know they have a future in front of them, and so they respect teachers as they develop, grow, and think about their professions and passions.”

Over the weekend, Mrs. Aziz loves having fun with family and friends, and spending time with the older generation, like her uncle, aunt, and neighbors. “If there is anyone who needs my help, I try to be there for them,” she said. “Otherwise, I clean my house, cook with my husband, or go to parties. But it’s mostly cleaning and cooking—I’m a housewife too.” Mrs. Aziz is also an avid fan of nature and gardening, and occasionally hikes or goes to parks with her son and family. She is intrigued by natural beauty, old buildings, and trees. She also enjoys decorating her house, as well as music and singing.

Since she was young, Mrs. Aziz knew she wanted to spend her life mentoring the younger generation and helping others, and she is glad to be doing so here at South High. “I’m very happy because the principal, the assistant principal, and the teachers in my department are all very sweet,” she said. “I just started this year at South High, but I feel like I’ve been working here for a long time. I don’t even feel like I’m new.”

Ms. Holly Barbarossa

By Dylan Kim

Imagine growing up surrounded by math your whole life. Your father was a math professor, and you graduated from a top national university with a math degree. After over 20 years spent consuming, studying, and tutoring math, you are faced with the difficult decision of choosing a career. Do you want to be an accountant? A financial analyst? A math teacher? The possibilities seem endless. When faced with this same dilemma, Mrs. Holly Barbarossa somehow ended up becoming a high school counselor. 

“At first, I decided to choose math because it was my best subject,” said Mrs. Barbarossa. “But I was never really passionate about it, which led me to be unsure about where my career path was going. My parents suggested that math had flexibility because logical thinking is valuable in any industry.” After graduating from Villanova University with a degree in mathematics, Mrs. Barbarossa dabbled in many different jobs. She worked in radio sales and in banking, but no career felt quite right for her. Upon reflection, Mrs. Barbarossa said, “I felt like a fish out of water.” However, inspired by her sister, who was pursuing a master’s in school counseling at the time, Mrs. Barbarossa decided to enroll at St. John’s University for a school counseling degree.

“Helping kids find their path made complete sense,” Mrs. Barbarossa said. As someone who always struggled with the burden of finding her path, Mrs. Barbarossa truly understands how difficult it can be for students to find their own paths. During her time at Great Neck South high school, she hopes to aid her students in discovering and pursuing their career paths. Mrs. Barbarossa makes an effort to learn about students’ hobbies and passions to help steer them in the right direction early on. “I never thought that your hobbies could lead to career paths. I always thought that it was more about how I could make a lot of money,” said Mrs. Barbarossa. Now, she is a big believer in pursuing your passions, traditional or not. 

Even as a wife and mother of three girls, Mrs. Barbarossa finds time to explore her artistic side. “You know, I appreciate art, music, and things that ignite creativity,” she said. Mrs. Barbarossa likes to get out of her comfort zone and learn new varieties of expression that interest her. In the future, she hopes to learn how to crochet. 

Mrs. Barbarossa is motivated to provide her students with the guidance that was lacking in her own education and to expose them to more career opportunities they can feel truly optimistic about. “I feel like I can lead [my students] towards something that’s really exciting.”

Mr. Brendan Beutel

By Madeleine Lennox

Don’t let a “Good Morning!” in the middle of the day confuse you. For Mr. Brendan Beutel, one of our newest Rebel faculty members, this is not an error in speech. This is Mr. Beutel’s motto: “Every second [and every morning] is a new beginning.” His positive outlook has enabled him to adjust well to his new position at South Middle and South High.

Mr. Beutel—the “Know Your Car” teacher at South High and a technology teacher at South Middle—always felt drawn to the mechanical world. Mr. Beutel’s interest in building and mechanics began at a young age, playing with LEGOs and Minecraft and working at his grandfather’s tool-and-dye workshop. Even now, a typical Saturday for Mr. Beutel consists of working on his car to keep learning more for his “Know Your Car” class.

As a high school student, Mr. Beutel thought about working in the tech field and first considered becoming an architect or an engineer. With his mother’s encouragement to attend SUNY Oswego, Mr. Beutel grew his passion, learning to work with many materials, such as polymers (plastics) and metals, and learning to fold, mold, and weld. Later, however, he realized he wanted to pursue teaching to motivate students with the same enthusiasm for technology he first experienced. As Mr. Beutel puts it, “This is my dream job; I’m helping people become inspired to create things for the future.”

Along with his mother, Mr. Beutel has had many mentors who have helped him pursue his goals. In college, his swim coach (and professors) encouraged his success in both swimming and school. He recalls his coach being a prominent advocate for his future, and he continues to keep in contact with his mentor, occasionally having a meal together to reflect and reminisce.

Outside the classroom, Mr. Buetel loves to boogie board and surf. After a storm, you can always expect to see him riding the waves. Mr. Beutel also enjoys an exhilarating mountain bike ride and the feeling of being surrounded by trees and steep uphill climbs. At home, he enjoys spending time with his two dogs, Harley and Casey, who are polar opposites of each other: Harley is full of energy, and Casey likes to sleep. 

Mr. Beutel’s fascination and interest in technology is a large part of his life. “The whole human-made world sprouts from technology. If we didn’t have technology, we’d be sitting under trees.” Because without our ability as humans to innovate, design, and create, where would we be?

Dr. Scott Honig

By Justina Hom

He’s a comic fanatic with over 20,000 comics in his collection. He’s interned at the Marvel Comics. He’s befriended the grouchiest of teachers. It’s the amazing Dr. Scott Honig! 

After spending 16 years teaching at North High, Dr. Honig has come to South High School for a change and to reconnect with friends on the faculty. Coming from a family of teachers, teaching was always an option for Dr. Honig’s future. This possibility grew as he entered high school and gained strong connections with his teachers, especially his tenth- and twelfth-grade English teacher, Mr. Hermann. “There was something about him being cranky and me being sort of peppy and upbeat all the time that we just kind of took a liking to each other,” said Dr. Honig. 

Dr. Honig always tries to bring his A-game, be prepared, and greet his students with a “Happy (weekday)!” He presents himself as an upbeat person and doesn’t bring his outside problems into the classroom. “I want people to feel good and safe when they walk into my classroom. I want them to feel like I care about them—because I do—and I want them to know with 100% accuracy which version of Dr. Honig they’re going to  get.” He explained that he wants to be the kind of teacher whose class you’ll love no matter what he’s teaching.

As a fan of comics, Dr. Honig teaches the Graphic Literature elective and feels delighted to teach something in his area of expertise. He’s been reading and collecting comics since he was 12 years old; X-Men was his “gateway drug.” In college, he started analyzing these mediums on a deeper level, thinking about an artist’s illustrative decisions or why the writers chose specific wording. While getting his doctorate at St. John’s University, Dr. Honig wrote all of his papers—including his dissertation—on comics and graphic novels.

In the little free time Dr. Honig has, he enjoys reading from the collection of 20,000 to 25,000 comic books that live in his office. After selling his first collection of single-issue comics, Dr. Honig began collecting the paperback versions of those comics so they could be shelved with their spines facing outward. This approach has made them easier to organize and lend to people, which Dr. Honig loves doing. “I love my collection. It’s nice to work in my office and just look around and see the whole collection,” Dr. Honig confessed. In addition to collecting comics, Dr. Honig writes and illustrates his own, though he laments not having enough time to do so. 

 “Sometimes you need a change of venue, a change of classes, a change of creativity just to renew and reinvigorate your practice,” Dr. Honig said about his transition to South High. He said that his transition period has been smooth: his colleagues are supportive, knowledgeable, passionate, and eager to help and answer questions, while the students are “lovely, welcoming, and [as] supportive of me as I’m trying to be supportive of them.”

Mr. Thomas Kelly

By Kalli Zhu

Mr. Thomas Kelly has remained close to home throughout his life, spending the entirety of his childhood attending Great Neck schools. He grew up with his brother and six cousins, who all attended Great Neck schools as well, thus cementing his ties to the district early on. 

After graduating, he attended Queens College and eventually became a social studies teacher at Glen Cove High School before deciding to return to Great Neck. He is currently a special education teacher’s assistant, who spends most of his day working with three freshmen. “I had a great experience here,” he said, “I wanted to come back here because I like [this school].” He hopes to be a positive force in his students’ lives. He firmly believes that the teachers and students of South High create a great environment, allowing him to give back to the very school that left such a positive impact on his adolescence. 

Even so, his jobs didn’t always involve teaching. While he was getting his education degree, he worked in the home renovations industry to help pay off his tuition. He became familiar with plumbing and construction work during this time.  

All the same, Mr. Kelly knew that he wanted to work in a school from a young age, whether it was through teaching academic courses or coaching sports. From the start, he had a special affinity for social studies and baseball and made the decision to make them both major aspects of his life. This has remained true—in addition to his teaching job, he coaches baseball year-round, including at Great Neck North High, drawing from life-long experience from his childhood and his involvement in college baseball. At one point, he also considered becoming a guidance counselor. 

He cites his brother as a big role model in his life, saying, “He’s done a lot for me growing up, taught me a lot of things that I know.” Similarly, he believes that many of the teachers at Great Neck South contributed greatly to his development, especially those in the social studies and technology departments. They continue to inspire him today, even as coworkers. “It’s weird to call them by their first name now,” he remarked. 

Mr. Kelly has thus far been motivated by the people of South High—both teachers and students alike. He looks forward to meeting new people and teaching here for years to come. “Everybody’s trying to help each other out, which I really appreciate. And the students I, unfortunately, don’t know too much about because I’m in [my classroom] for a lot of the day. But just from walking the hallways, everybody seems very nice.” 

Ms. Yelena Kostochko

By Alyssa Sheti

She is an immigrant from Belarus, a mother to a five-year-old girl, and she has been a cardiac care nurse for over a decade. Introducing Ms. Yelena Kostochko, a new nurse at South High.

Ms. Kostochko was born in Belarus; her family emigrated to the United States when she was just eight years old. Although the move was tough for her parents, Ms. Kostochko remains fond of her childhood. It was during her childhood that she realized she wanted a career helping others and saw a future in the healthcare industry. She considered working in a pharmacy or as a physical therapist, but after attending SUNY Binghamton and trying out their nursing program, Ms. Kostochko knew she had found her calling in life. 

Before she became a nurse at South High, Ms. Kostochko worked in the city as a cardiac nurse. “It’s very challenging: You didn’t know what you were coming into. I recovered patients after heart surgery, so it was definitely very exciting, sometimes a very heavy sector but also extremely rewarding. You see people get better and you build relationships with them.”

Ms. Kostochko then applied to work at South as a school nurse in order to stay close to her daughter, who just started school in the area. Ms. Kostochko has had a positive experience at South High so far. “Just meeting you guys, everyone here is so nice. The kids are great, and it’s just so nice to build relationships with everyone,” she said.

During her spare time, Ms. Kostochko enjoys doing yoga as a way to relax and de-stress. She also spends a lot of her time with her daughter, taking her to parks, museums, and other places that might broaden her horizons.

The kindness and positivity that Ms. Kostochko experienced, as well as the joy she feels working in a field she has always loved, made coming to South High a smooth and comfortable adjustment for her.

Ms. Victoria Manuel

By Abby Varughese

Growing up in a family that emphasized creativity and the arts, she found that her passions as a bibliophile and a musician came naturally. From bedtime stories and church choirs to teaching and tutoring English six days a week, Ms. Victoria Manuel has remained faithful to her childhood dreams. 

With the exception of a short-term paleontology obsession, Ms. Manuel has consistently wanted to be an English teacher for much of her academic life. “I started making mental notes pretty early on about what I liked and what I didn’t like, and what I wanted to do and what I definitely did not want to do when I became a teacher,” she said. As music was more of a hobby for Ms. Manuel, she was more directly inspired by an energetic ninth-grade teacher who fostered her passion for English and allowed for the potential for fun in a classroom. “She was always thinking about keeping the students engaged, and she had such a fun personality too—she was really energetic and joked a lot of the time, but she could still be serious. So she was an inspiration in terms of keeping the students in mind, because they’re your audience,” Ms. Manuel said. 

The hustle of Great Neck South High has not particularly fazed Ms. Manuel, as she’s found that the culture here is similar to that of her former high school. She says that she’s constantly adopting new techniques and strategies to cater to different students, and she understands the pressures stressed high-school students held to high standards are under. 

Ms. Manuel hopes her students achieve many things, but mostly that they see the beauty of writing and the intricacies of each author’s thought process. She thrives on the small moments when her students really begin to grasp the meanings that distinct words and stories hold. She enjoys working with high schoolers because of their deep-thinking minds, and because of the conversations that begin to unfold with the level of depth that English brings. “Especially as a teacher, it’s really important to keep in mind how you felt about things when you were in school, what you were going through when you were in school, what engaged you and what didn’t,” says Ms. Manuel. “When you grow up, you should never forget what it was like to be a child.”

Mr. Daniel Moriarty

By Evelyn Won

You may have seen him on Say Yes to the Dress with his wife while flipping through television channels. Perhaps you came across his name while scanning the alumni of the USA Under 19 Rugby Team. Maybe you spotted him on the football fields of North Middle School as a coach. Or you may have simply passed him while walking through the halls. This mysterious new figure is one of South High School’s newest faculty members, Mr. Daniel Moriarty, a special education teacher.

Mr. Moriarty found his passion for special education during his senior year of high school, where he did community service at a local special education school. After graduating from Providence College with a degree in history, he reflected on his senior-year summer experience and remembered how much he enjoyed working in special education. Drawing from this experience, he decided to work at the local school during the day and attend classes at Lesley University at night. This busy schedule was rewarding; it allowed him to get his masters degree in special education. Although he didn’t imagine himself working in this profession when he was a kid, he realized that he “loved working with the kids and really enjoyed [himself.]” 

Mr. Moriarty grew up in the Boston area and originally began his teaching career in Massachusetts. After teaching at the special education school and public schools in Boston, he decided to move to New York, where he spent two years teaching in Greenwich Village. He made the move to Long Island with his wife and began teaching at Great Neck North High School, where he taught for the last seven years. The opportunity to develop an offshoot program at Great Neck South inspired him to begin teaching here. “It’s been great here. Everyone is very nice, very welcoming, and it’s been a great transition,” he said. Now, he is working on growing the new special education program.

The new system, called the ACE program, originally began at North High. It made its way to South High this year. It prepares students for life after high school; teachers instruct students on the same subjects as a regular high school, but they also expose them to vocational activities. This includes money counting, budgeting, food service, and more. “They’re getting an education as well as functional academic skills that will be useful for students in the future,” he said. “I’m excited to see how it grows over the course of the next few years.”

As a former college rugby athlete and club hockey member, Mr. Moriarty has a strong interest in sports. He coached the North Middle and South Middle School football team until the pandemic hit, along with the wrestling team at North High School for a few years. Nowadays, Mr. Moriarty finds himself busy taking care of his five-year-old daughter and 10-month-old twin boys. “There’s not a lot of time for hobbies,” he said. However, he tries to help out as much as he can with their activities, being the coach for his daughter’s softball team and encouraging her interest in soccer and dance. 

Still, he maintains his legacy as number two in the country for rugby players under 19. One more cool fact? He’s Irish. “We do one of those 23&Me things, and it’s literally just Irish,” he said. “100%.”

Mr. Dane Nordland

By Annie Yao

After a long day of riding coast to coast, a salt-sheened surfboard is tucked under one arm as fourteen years of lifeguard certification is stashed in the other. The jeweled sea catches the light each time it ebbs, its gleam and glimmer reminding him of tides he’s visited elsewhere in the Caribbean. Meet Mr. Dane Nordland: traveler, mentor, and South High’s newest addition to the Special Education and Social Studies departments.

Coming from Riverhead, Long Island, the water pulled him to explore what the world offered, so through journeying nearly two dozen countries in the Southwestern Hemisphere, Mr. Nordland’s love for history arose. Originally, he majored in business and sales but shifted upon realizing his passion lay elsewhere. He then entered education as a coach after being inspired by his own sports career during high school. He is currently a wrestling coach, a role he had held for the past eight years. As a student, Mr. Nordland was actively involved in athletics and extracurriculars, which he hopes to continue doing at South High. He combined his affinity for traveling with his desire to be more engaged in the school system and his enthusiasm for the school community to become a full-time teacher.

When asked about his experience coming to South High, Mr. Nordland smiled earnestly. Having worked in another Long Island district for seven years, he said, “It’s always nerve-racking to start a new job, but I’ve had a lot of support from my department and colleagues. It’s been a really easy transition, and a really good one.” He’s indefinitely inspired by those who have taught him before, especially the few who made an effort to connect with him through rapport and friendliness. “I try to do the same with my kids—make a connection as a person first, then take the rest from there.” Fondly referring to his students as “his kids,” Mr. Nordland highlights them as the best part of his day, adding, “There’s nothing but a positive impact.”

Ms. Kerri Rodriguez

By Sarah Sun

We welcome a new face to the Special Education Office this school year: Mrs. Kerri Rodriguez, a teaching assistant at South High who has walked the worlds of finance, education, and parenting alike.

Growing up in Brooklyn and moving to Franklin Square, where she met her husband, Mrs. Rodriguez worked as a trading assistant in Manhattan. “It was exciting—the whole commuting, getting dressed up, fast-paced kind of job,” she said. “If I didn’t have kids and become a stay-at-home mom, I would probably still be in the city working in finance.” After having her first daughter, and later twins, she became a stay-at-home mom. However, she still worked in the Notre Dame school her kids attended. She ran the lunch program until last year, when her last child graduated, and found herself with a lot of free time since then. “I can’t stay home,” she said. “I needed something to do, so I put out a bunch of resumes on Indeed, went on the website OLAS, got pulled here, and the rest is history.”

Aside from joining South High’s family, Mrs. Rodriguez takes care of her own family at home. With three teenagers, she puts effort into navigating teenage attitudes and supporting their various passions, especially through the common parental pastime: transportation. “I feel like I’m their Uber,” she said with a laugh. “What children don’t understand is they make a lot of plans for people who don’t drive. Everybody wants to go everywhere, but nobody can drive, so the mom has to take them. I feel like I live in my car.” Mrs. Rodriguez also remarked that by working in a school environment, she can understand her children better, and relate to them on a school level.

In the past, she enjoyed not only teaching, but also being around elementary school kids, where she cherished the connections she made with them. This year, coming to a high school was a first for her. Having worked in a Catholic school for over 10 years, a public high school is a completely different world. But Mrs. Rodriguez is grateful for South High’s welcoming “family atmosphere” and her immediate integration into the community. “This school is very beautiful,” she said. “The kids are well behaved and from all different kinds of backgrounds; the campus and classrooms are beautiful—everything kind of just flows. It’s a nice feeling to come here every day, and I feel safe and comfortable. Everybody’s a family here.”

Ms. Madison Sachs

By Raymond Zhang

A conversation emerges from the dinner table. Mom and Dad describe in detail the life of a teacher: the rewarding work and the endless spontaneity of guiding a young mind. This is a conversation that new special education teaching aide Ms. Madison Sachs has gone through many times. Growing up around role models who were educators, Ms. Sachs is equipped and ready to guide a new generation of young learners.

Spending her whole life around educators, Ms. Sachs was shaped and influenced by these role models. For example, she chose to pursue psychology in college because of an influential college professor. From her parents to this professor, she will always be thankful to educators. 

Ms. Sachs has always been an active part of her school community. In Montauk Point, she was the girl’s dance routine captain for the school’s sports night. She also participated in the school’s softball, cheerleading, and bowling teams. After graduating high school, Ms. Sachs attended SUNY Oneonta to pursue a degree in education and later decided to go into school psychology. After graduating in May, Ms. Sachs worked as a waitress before applying to and getting her job here at Great Neck South High School.

In the future, Ms. Sachs sees herself in a school setting, hopefully as the primary teacher of a classroom. As a teacher, she would mainly use visual components like play-dough to help her students grasp difficult or abstract concepts.

Ms. Sachs enjoys reading, hanging out with friends, traveling, and creating art during her free time. In high school, Ms. Sachs enjoyed picking art-related electives, saying that if she wasn’t in school psychology, she would have liked to be an art teacher. “[Art] just helps me clear my head a lot,” she said, “almost like an ‘art therapy’ you could call it.” Ms. Sachs also implements different aspects of art, such as creativity, patience, and visualization, into her teaching.

After being guided by influential educators her whole life, Ms. Sachs is ready to implement her life lessons and wisdom to a new generation of students. If she had one piece of advice to give her students, it would be “to be patient, to make sure you focus and you might not feel like this is a very important time in your life, but it is, and it does shape your future.”

Mr. Eric Saur

By Elizabeth Chow

The former football player now spends his time coaching high school football. After an unfortunate injury prevented him from making college football history, Mr. Eric Saur found another way to include history in his life. South High’s new social studies teacher is very passionate about and dedicated to all things he does.

Mr. Saur studied history at L.I.U. Post and worked at a law firm, initially planning to become a lawyer. Although his original goal was to pursue law, his strong desire to help students learn inspired him to pursue teaching instead. He credits his college advisor with helping him change careers and teaching him an important lesson: “Do what you are passionate about.” This would become a framework that he follows to this day. 

After having several opportunities in teaching and coaching children, Mr. Saur landed a job at Great Neck North before coming to South this year. “I made the right choice, and I have never looked back,” he said. His passion for history began when he was a student himself. He enjoys reading biographies and learning about people from the past. He seeks to teach the students new concepts in hopes that they will discover something they are passionate about.

Mr. Saur, as someone who pursues his own passions, wants his students to do the same. His favorite part of teaching is when students are engaged in new topics. In his classes, he hopes to improve his students’ knowledge and impart new ideas. Not all students share similar interests or backgrounds, but “it is all about adapting and being flexible.” Mr. Saur aims to help individuals learn more about themselves and explore their own interests. 

When he’s not at school, Mr. Saur coaches football, plays golf, and goes to the gym. As both a coach and teacher, he hopes to share his knowledge with his students and “open them up to new perspectives and possible new interests.” 

 Mr. Stephen Tibensky

By Olivia Gu

The sound of his sneakers hit the pavement as he goes on his run. Although his main sport was swimming, he participated in cross country, two seasons of track, and two seasons of baseball back in high school. On the weekends and throughout the week, he enjoys watching stand-up comedy and following politics. He comes home to his dog, a Shih Tzu named Gryffindor. Introducing Mr. Stephen Tibensky: an athlete and the physics and marine science teacher at Great Neck South High School.

Growing up in Vestal, New York, Mr. Tibensky first became exposed to teaching through his father, who is also a teacher. While working as a student teacher during his time at Teachers College at Columbia University, he fell in love with teaching. If he had not loved teaching, Mr. Tibensky would have become a coach. He stated that “Teaching and coaching share many similarities.”

Mr. Tibensky has felt very welcomed by the South High community so far. The science department welcomed him with open arms and made sure he was settling in. Mr. Michael Dipasquale, the science department head, has been especially helpful answering the “thousands” of questions that he’s had. Mr. Tibensky’s favorite teacher was his own high school physics teacher, Mr. Klimas. He recalls that Mr. Klimas was truly a “master of his craft,” tiptoeing the line of being professional and relatable and giving off an energy that kept students engaged. Inspired by Mr. Klimas, Mr. Tibensky wants his “students to be as engaged as possible and [he] want[s] them all to feel like they can succeed.” Giving advice to other new teachers, Mr. Tibensky said that by developing a good classroom culture and getting to know your students better (for example, asking what extracurriculars they do) new teachers can create an engaging experience in their classrooms. He hopes that by the end of the year his students will leave with not only knowledge with physics but also the ability to apply some of the skills they learned to their future careers and personal lives.