New high school principal's warmth and work ethic noted

LAKE GEORGE - Two hours before dawn on weekdays, people driving past Lake George High School in the dark may see a curious phenomenon. There's a lanky figure at the principal's desk, busy at his computer, reading or typing reports and answering emails. It's Francis "Fran" Cocozza, the new principal at Lake George Junior-Senior High School, getting a customary head-start on his long day at work. Monday, Cocozza explained his nocturnal work habits, which began at the end of December when he became the school's new principal. "I come in early to get all the paperwork done," he said. "If I'm behind my desk during school hours, I'm not doing my job appropriately -- I need to be 'out and about'." During school hours, Cocozza is circulating in the halls talking with students, greeting staff and teachers, and occasionally dropping into classrooms to keep his finger on the school's pulse. "I'm really impressed with the academic reputation and tradition that exists here," he said. "The teachers are fully committed to this school, the students and the community." Lake George Superintendent of Schools Mary Cahill said Cocozza's long hours demonstrate his commitment to the students as well as his strong work ethic. "Fran has a really strong sense of fairness and consistency and he's warm and engaging," she said. "He has a deep understanding of curriculum -- and he has a sense of what's good for kids," she said. Cocozza was chosen from 40 job candidates after a lengthy screening process that included 30 students interviewing the finalists, Cahill said. Cocozza was drafted from South Colonie School District, where he was middle school principal for five years. Before, he taught social studies in schools elsewhere in the Capital Region. He is a graduate of Siena College, and earned his Masters degree at SUNY Albany. Cocozza said he always had his sights on a school administration post in the Adirondacks. In prior positions, he had a large, detailed map of the Adirondacks on on his wall, reminding him of where he'd like to be, he said. "I always had the idea that someday I'd work within the 'Blue Line' of the Adirondack Park, and now, by golly, I'm here," he said. "I love the mountains, the clear air, and no traffic -- it's just gorgeous." Cocozza is an avid runner, and spends an hour or so after school running alongside roads near Lake George. Cocozza and his wife Laura, who enjoy hiking together, live in Gansevoort with their children Joseph, Jonah and Anthony. The couple is expecting another child, and the delivery date is in August. Cocozza said among his top work priorities at Lake George High School are strengthening drug and alcohol prevention programs and encouraging parents to get even more involved in school life. He also cited pursuing continuing improvements in information technology and fine-tuning special education services. "The business and technology departments are exceptional," he said. "They are 'off the charts' compared with other schools." He also said he was impressed by the school's partnerships with Adirondack Community College and SUNY Albany, where students can take college-level courses. "These courses and our AP program put our students ahead of the ball when they enter college," he said. But Cocozza's also impressed by the atmosphere at Lake George High. "I love the classical music playing in the hallways," he said. "This quaint and unique atmosphere gives our school such a strong feeling of family."

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