Rip Van Winkle, awakened from sleep after 40 years. When he returned home, he found the world had changed around him.
By Mitch Silver
Rip Van Winkle, awakened from sleep after 40 years. When he returned home, he found the world had changed around him. For Joe Isola, it’s been only 25 years since he was last coaching at Rye Country Day School, but the changes have been equally profound.
Isola is currently Assistant Director of Admissions and Director of Financial Aid at the school. When the bell goes off at the end of the school day, he changes clothes and becomes the varsity golf coach, the same job he had when he was last a member of the Rye Country Day faculty in the 1980s.
Isola grew up in the Rye Neck section of Mamaroneck and played varsity soccer and ran track at Rye Neck High School from which he graduated in 1976. After receiving a B.A. in Psychology from SUNY-Albany, he earned a Master’s in Teaching at Manhattanville.
“I first walked onto the Rye Country Day campus in August 1985 to teach math, P.E., and coach soccer,” he remembered, smiling. “I added varsity golf the next year. This is my first year back as coach.”
So how have things changed? “As far as the golfing kids, the good ones are more likely to specialize in one sport today. Someone like our co-Captain Theo Humphrey, who’ll be playing at Vanderbilt next year, will golf all year-round. My kids didn’t really do that way back when.”
But it’s the student body that’s really changed, according to Isola.
“We’ve always had great people on the faculty and staff; and the main focus is still on academics, as it should be. No, it’s the student body that’s changed. We have a diversity now that we didn’t have 30 years ago. And that’s a good thing.”
He sees his job of Financial Aid Director as a promoter of that diversity. “We work with groups that seek out bright kids from economically challenged families. Our school supports their work, and they in turn recommend us to the kids who can handle the academics here.”
Isola’s eyes lit up as he said, “We make a commitment to everyone in the RCDS community — and that’s what it is, a real community — to find and appreciate what makes each individual unique, to value those unique qualities.”
He met his wife, Lori, when they were both working at the Purchase Community House. In 1989, Isola took a job as Dean of Students at Fairfield Country Day, closer to their then home in Stratford. After ten years at Fairfield, they picked up stakes and moved to North Carolina, where he became Middle School Principal of Durham Academy.
The Isolas, who have a daughter, Melanie, 22, and a son, Austin, 19, returned to the area when he became Middle School Principal at Ridgefield Academy, settling in the Sandy Hook section of Newtown. “Yes, we knew some of those people there, the school psychologist Mary Sherlach especially. She died trying to protect the kids.” They still live in the Newton area.
On a lighter note, what brought him back to Rye Country Day? “The job of Middle School Principal opened up. That was eight years ago. Now, after 28 years in middle schools, I’m challenging myself to do Admissions work, and I like it.
“And I still get to work with young golfers. I tell them the only way we’ll improve as a team is if we improve as individuals. That’s not just golf; that’s life.”