Sunset Park Elementary School welcomed a new face on campus last week following the departure of former Principal Jane Bittick.
Jay Gangwisch, formerly the assistant principal at Millennia Gardens Elementary, has taken the helm for the Eagles. He replaces Bittick, who was tapped as the new principal for Eccleston Elementary.
Gangwisch was named principal during the Orange County School Board’s Jan. 22 meeting. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting and a master’s degree in education from the University of Central Florida, as well as an education specialist degree from Barry University.
After working in the business and finance industry for UPS, Gangwisch soon realized his love for sports and coaching and decided to veer into the education field.
Throughout his 24 years in education, he has served at the former Page Private School, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School and Seminole County Public Schools’ High School Transition Program.
“I’ve been in private schools, Catholic schools, public schools in Seminole County and public in Orange County at all different levels, from age 2 up through high school,” he said. “I also taught business law at Full Sail University. I’ve taught from ages 2 up to 22.”
When the opportunity at Sunset Park became available, the Bishop Moore Catholic High School graduate couldn’t resist.
"What I’m trying to do is increase proficiency across the board with all our students and narrow the gap between students who need the extra help and the high-performing students.” - Jay Gangwisch
“It was a great opportunity,” he said. “They’re a high-performing school. It almost seemed like a perfect fit. I heard they have a great reputation — for their family involvement, for their staff and how dedicated they are — and when I saw it online, I did a lot of research on the school itself, and it just seemed like the perfect fit.”
During a meeting for Sunset Park parents Tuesday, Jan. 15, Orange County Public Schools officials asked what they hoped to see in a new principal.
Many Sunset Park parents said they hoped their new principal would be encouraging and strong in collaboration. The ideal candidate would value communication, bring consistency to that which the school already does well, be open-minded to structures currently in place, and be student-centered, personable and charismatic.
Gangwisch recognizes all of those as vital to a successful school.
“When you’re a family, you’ve got each other’s backs,” he said. “The staff’s hearts are in this school, and that’s why they’re so high performing. The community and the parents are involved. We have a dedicated staff that cares and families who want to be a part of it. My whole thing is about family, and that’s what I’m trying to facilitate here.”
Gangwisch also has a heart for special-needs students, having helped Seminole County ESE students transition into finding jobs and learning job skills.
“I’ve always loved working with the special-needs population,” he said. “There’s so many things we can do to reach them, and a lot of times, people don’t have that background. I get the biggest joy out of those students. … Sometimes, they’re the students that need us the most. Then again, high-performing students need special things, too. What I’m trying to do is increase proficiency across the board with all our students and narrow the gap between students who need the extra help and the high-performing students.”
Gangwisch said he is determined to ensure every student succeeds and reaches his or her full potential. He is open to bringing in different strategies and new ideas to provide the best education experience possible for his students and teachers.
“Everything is coming at (our students) so fast, and we have to be ahead of the curve and challenge our kids,” he said. “(Superintendent) Dr. Jenkins’ thing is we want to be the top producer of high-performing students in the nation. … Every student can succeed. It’s just a matter of how we reach them.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know the community and culture here,” he said. “You don’t fix something that isn’t broken. The idea now is to come in, know the culture and get ingrained in it and see what I can do to keep us moving forward.”