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5. Changes at the top for local schools

January 15, 2013
By CHRIS KNIGHT, CHRIS MORRIS and JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writers , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Big changes in administration made headlines this year in all four of the public school districts the Enterprise covers.

Superintendents in Saranac Lake and Keene announced they were retiring. The Lake Placid school board opted not to renew its superintendent's contract and saw two other administrators depart this year. And in Tupper Lake, the school board decided to end a year-and-a-half-long experiment in which Superintendent Seth McGowan also took on the role of middle-high school principal.

The pending superintendent vacancies led to serious talk among some of the districts that they should consider sharing superintendents, although that didn't come to pass.

Article Photos

Cynthia Ford-Johnston
(Enterprise photo)

In early March, Keene Superintendent Cynthia Ford-Johnston announced plans to retire by the end of the 2011-12 school year. She had held the position, along with principal and business manager, for the district since 1996.

Then in May, Saranac Lake Superintendent Gerald Goldman said he planned to retire at the end of the 2012-13 school year. He has been the district's superintendent since February 2008.

The following month, the Lake Placid school board opted not to renew Superintendent Randy Richards' contract after a lengthy dispute between him and middle-high school Principal Katherine Mulderig that resulted in Mulderig accepting a settlement to leave her position - in the middle of spring break. At about the same time, middle-high school Assistant Principal Dan Mayberry left Lake Placid to become principal at Keene Central School.

The departure of Ford-Johnston and the pending departures of Goldman and Richards sparked a discussion in the pages of the Enterprise and among school board members in each district about whether they should share superintendents.

School board members in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid agreed to explore the idea. In August, each board met with Beverly Ouderkirk, the shared superintendent of the St. Regis Falls and Brushton-Moira school districts, to get a feel for the logistics of what it's like to work for two districts, along with what she felt were the pros and cons of the shared position.

That led to a joint meeting of the two school boards in early September when, after about 20 minutes of talk, the idea of sharing a superintendent was shelved. Saranac Lake board members are nervous about putting additional burdens on their district's administrators, given teacher evaluation and other state mandates they were facing, while Lake Placid board members noted that, at the time, they didn't have a high school principal and assistant principal to support a combined superintendent. However, the two boards agreed to begin a dialogue on other ways to share services, a conversation that continued into the fall through a series of joint meetings of district staff, teachers and administrators.

The Saranac Lake school board then began the search for a new superintendent, enlisting the help of Franklin-Essex-Hamilton Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Stephen Shafer. Applications are due Jan. 11.

In December, the Lake Placid school board announced that former Lake Placid school guidance counselor Roger Catania would take over as interim superintendent when Richards leaves at the end of the school year.

Earlier in the year, former administrators were appointed to fill the vacant leadership posts at Lake Placid Middle-High School: Greg Camelo as high school principal, and Rick Retrosi as middle school principal. Both were reappointed in December to serve out the remainder of the 2012-13 school year, but Camelo opted not to return.

Lake Placid appeared poised to hire a new high school principal in November, but the candidate pulled his application and the search continues. Meanwhile, school officials are considering whether they want to retain the two-principal model or return to having a principal and assistant principal.

In Tupper Lake, McGowan took over as principal of the middle/high school after the retirement of Pam Martin at the end of the 2010-11 school year to try to save costs. This October, McGowan told the school board he couldn't handle both jobs anymore, especially with the state's new teacher evaluation requirements that are monopolizing the time of school administrators across the state.

McGowan recommended that the board hire someone from within the school system to start in January, so they appointed guidance counselor Matt Southwick to the principal position temporarily to finish out the current school year. The district plans to start a full search for a permanent superintendent at the beginning of 2013.



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