It’s not every day, let alone a lifetime, that you meet a teacher who has been employed for over half a century. But Gloria Sfiroudis of P.S. 229Q just might be the first NYC Department of Education Employee to be able to claim that status. Unfortunately, Gloria’s “Golden Jubilee” took place during the 2020-2021 school year, while she and many other teachers were working remotely from home. But her story is certainly one worth telling!
Gloria’s teaching career started in 1954 in North Babylon, but by 1955 she was officially a NYC DOE teacher and taught at PS123, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, until 1961 when she resigned to raise her son,
Steven, and her daughter, Christina.
By now Gloria was living in Maspeth, Queens, and her children were enrolled at P.S. 229Q where Mr. Emanuel Kaplan was the principal. It was at a PTA meeting holiday show that Gloria, who was on the board of the PTA, had to play the piano because the teacher who was supposed to play didn’t show up! Luckily, Gloria had learned to play the piano when it cost 25 cents a lesson at the Academy of Music on 14th street in Manhattan, near where she grew up. A few days after the PTA meeting, Mr. Kaplan saw Gloria sit- ting in the back of her daughter’s classroom during Open Schools Week. He signaled for her to come outside. Gloria was wondering why he was questioning her about her background and how she learned to play the piano. She didn’t want to tell Mr. Kaplan that she was a teacher because she didn’t want her children getting special treatment. When she finally admitted to it, he said, “I have a job for you! Would you like to teach here?” Gloria was overwhelmed, but felt the offer to teach where her children attended school was one she couldn’t refuse! Mr. Kaplan wasn’t going to allow her resignation to stand in the way of him hiring her, so he was able to get her reinstated, and the rest as they say is history! That was January of 1970, and you can be sure that no one would ever have imagined that by January of 2020 Gloria would be teaching pre-kindergartners remotely, through a computer using Zoom!
Gloria has held a wide variety of positions over the years at P.S. 229Q including Talented and Gifted Resource Teacher, Corrective Reading Teacher, Literacy Coach, Educational Enrichment Specialist, and even was the interim acting assistant principal for a year! But her real passion was as the school’s librarian, a position she first held from 1972 – 74, and then from 2005 until 2020, when due to the pandemic the library was closed. So Gloria’s last year was taught from home, as a fully remote pre-K teacher.
Gloria also has contributed to the school community in countless other ways. She has been instrumental in winning various grants for the school as well as writing curriculum in the form of thematic units. She has organized and conducted many parent workshops over the years, and has served on numerous committees and has won awards for her work raising money for UNICEF.
When Gloria started working at P.S. 229Q it was actually named after President James A. Garfield. But the main reason Mr. Kaplan was able to hire Gloria so easily is a fascinating part of NYC history. Mr. Kaplan had been a principal in Brooklyn, and during one of the protests of the 1960s he and other staff members were locked out of the building. The event was even printed on the front page of the newspapers. After this unfortunate event, Mr. Kaplan was given the opportunity to be placed in a brand new school. P.S. 229Q had just opened its doors in September of 1967, the same year Gloria’s children began there. It had replaced the old school building, P.S. 78, on the same site which had been demolished due to it falling into disrepair. Mr. Kaplan was allowed to bring in a few teachers of his choice, and Gloria was one of those teachers! When she speaks of Mr. Kaplan she says, “I owe him everything.”
Sadly, Mr. Kaplan’s life took another traumatic turn. Shortly after his retirement in 1974, he and his wife were killed in a car accident. The entire P.S. 229Q school community petitioned the NYC Board of Education to re-name the school The Emanuel Kaplan School, and at the re-naming ceremony Gloria gave a eulogy. Later, she commissioned a portrait to be painted of Mr. Kaplan, which hangs in the school auditorium.
Fast forward to 2017 when P.S. 229Q welcomed its 6th principal, Mr. Seth Berger. Mr. Berger, upon learning that the 50th anniversary of the school was approaching, decided to mark the occasion with various events and activities for the school community including students, staff, alumni, parents, etc. He was fascinated by the fact that he had a staff member who was present when the school opened, and Gloria was instrumental in sharing the school’s history at the various events that were held. She was also honored for her many years of teaching at the school’s Golden Jubilee celebration held in the spring of 2018 at a local club in Maspeth.
This past September, Gloria had her retirement party and she was honored with proclamations from Senator Addabbo, and also Councilman Robert Holden, whose now adult children were actually taught by Gloria! But even more impressive is that Gloria taught several students who are now employed as teachers at the school located on the border of Maspeth and Woodside. Mrs. Sfiroudis is a real institution here at P.S. 229, and will surely be missed by the staff, students, alumni and families of this very special school in our section of Queens.