2020 Nassau BOCES Education Partner Award Honoree

Dr. Dominick Palma

Dr. Dominick Palma

Merrick UFSD

As a former school psychologist and special education administrator, Dr. Dominick Palma has made the support of students’ socio-emotional wellbeing a cornerstone of his superintendency. Early in his tenure, he issued a challenge to every administrator, teacher and staff member in the Merrick UFSD, setting the stage for education for years to come; to ensure that every student in the district has at least one adult that they can rely on and trust.

Furthermore, Dr. Palma encouraged the Merrick community as a whole to foster students who are not afraid to take risks by giving each of them a champion; an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and who insists that they become the best they can possibly be.

To that end, Dr. Palma has been instrumental in the implementation of social-emotional learning programs in every classroom throughout the district. He has helped to influence professional and curriculum development to reflect the most effective practices, ensuring social-emotional wellbeing. He was instrumental in the creation of the districtwide Mental Health and Social-Emotional Learning Committee. He also created the position of districtwide school counselor, designed to conduct staff training, work closely with families, and deliver small group and individualized student strategy lessons to support mental health.

Outside of the Merrick UFSD, Dr. Palma supports mental health efforts in all 56 school districts as Co-Chair of the Nassau County Superintendents Mental Health Committee. He is the creator of the countywide Strategic Planning Committee, the sole purpose of which is to help communities manage mental health and substance abuse problems. The committee brings together trained professionals from multiple community agencies to address these issues. He also helped to organize the Nassau BOCES Mental Health Consortium, a group of professionals who design and deliver workshops on mental health and substance abuse, and provide resources to local school districts.

Dr. Palma’s outstanding work has garnered national attention. He was quoted on NBC’s TODAY show, where he challenged, “If working on having kids understand mental health isn’t your first priority, before all the academics, I just don’t understand it. This is not putting something else on the plate. This is the plate of education.”

Dr. Palma places tremendous value on special education, hiring an increased number of special education teachers, creating small class settings and strengthening integrated programs to better support students with special needs. He has also implemented professional development and parent training to reinforce what happens in the special education classroom. He created the position of behavior analyst as a resource for administrators, teachers and parents to better support students with significant interfering behaviors.

Outside of the district, Dr. Palma has served as Chairperson for the Superintendent Special Education Committee, bringing together special education administrators and superintendents for an open conversation about how best to support students with special needs. He has provided a number of opportunities for special educators to meet with the New York State Education Department’s Assistant Commissioner of Special Education.

Throughout Dr. Palma’s superintendnency, 21st-century learning skills have been a priority in Merrick schools. Since his first day at the district’s helm, he has supported initiatives that enhance teaching and learning through the effective application of technology, such as the availability of leading-edge hardware and software to every student. He established the Merrick Innovative Design Team to oversee the launch of pilot technology programs throughout the district. These programs provide practical instruction in state-of-the-art technologies including augmentative and virtual reality, robotics, coding, 3-D printing and drones.

“Dr. Dominick Palma has gone above and beyond to make an immeasurable impact on public education,” wrote his award nominator. “He exemplifies the spirit of collaboration and sharing that is essential to education. Dr. Palma embraces the philosophy that everyone has something of value to contribute and everyone has a right to belong. He is a role model for colleagues, peers and the community he leads.”