School district changes, staff transitions
WATKINS GLEN-- The Watkins Glen Central School District has undergone significant administrative, staffing and scheduling changes for the 2018-19 school year. At the same time, the district has unfolded philosophical and cultural initiatives designed around the theme of "From Ingenuity Comes Triumph."
Now in his second year as district superintendent, Greg Kelahan, with board approval, has spearheaded a new branding of the school and a format he believes will guide the district in developing ingenuity in children. Kelahan believes it is ingenuity that will best prepare students to excel in college and the workforce. He believes literacy is key to the district's mission and all students should benefit from a curriculum that promotes mastery. While staff voices support of the district mission, Union President Travis Durfee said the many changes will require time, professional development, and patience.
Kelahan verbalizes a team approach to decision making. In the most noted administrative change, he tapped Kristine Somerville to become assistant superintendent, creating a new position in the district for the former middle and elementary principal. She was previously director of student services and curriculum and professional development. Somerville's new position gives Kelahan an administrative partnership he believes will strengthen the operation of the school.
Another notable change was the appointment of Kai D'Alleva as Pre-K-12 principal with newly hired assistant principals Rhonda Underhill and Jeremy LeRoux sharing administrative duties. Former elementary principal Rebecca Trank resigned in July. Rod Weeden, former elementary principal who has served as athletic director and data coordinator since 2016, has been moved out of the athletic position and is wholly responsible for district data. Former physical education teacher Craig Lattin, who has been on assignment as dean of students, is acting as athletic manager and overseeing sports programs. He is also responsible for managing bus discipline. The administrative team also includes Technology Director Melanie Chandler, Business Manager Gayle Sedlack, Facility Director Gerald Harriger, Transportation Director Michelle Clark and Food Service Manager Rob Cole. Amy Miller is the chairperson of special education.
In the area of staffing, the district has experienced the most changes in special education and student services, though many departments have undergone assignment, personnel shifts or resignations. During the 2017-18 school year, the district hosted a forum for the public highlighting the well-staffed team of counselors, social workers and psychologists as a major component for school safety. Since then, one school counselor was laid off and a second counselor left the district. One psychologist is now shared with the Bradford school district. The special education department has experienced the resignation of three teachers, Abby Tormey, Chris Clark and Rachelle Simmons. Additionally, the business department at the high school has been reduced to one teacher, Kaz Popovich. Eileen Malaney, a business teacher with 34 years experience and yearbook advisor, has been moved to the elementary school and the yearbook adviser position remains unfilled.
When asked about the changes, Kelahan said there is a shortage of educators across the state and a competitive market which creates normal movement and opportunities. At the same time, Kelahan said the district has been overstaffed and needs right-sizing.
The district has been wrestling with declining enrollment and the challenge of maintaining programs for students with class sizes that are significantly smaller. Class sizes range from 58 to 91 with an average size of 78. The total student body is 1,017 students with 581 at the elementary (pre K-6) school and 492 at the high school (7-12). While declining enrollment is an issue across the state, Kelahan also voiced concern over the number of high school students attending BOCES. He believes all students at WGCS should be prepared for the best schools and the best jobs and should be leaving high school with associate degrees. In that vein, Kelahan is working with Corning Community College to develop a closer partnership. Kelahan said he was also pleased with developing some new community and business relationships.
Students are noticing changes also. A recent school newspaper (The Seneca Times) article highlighted the impact of the student schedule changes at the high school. In the article, students expressed concern over the limitation of choices and wondered if the extra time for classes was worth it. Students also questioned the mandate of physical education classes for athletes and suggested that because daily practices provide exercise, PE classes could be replaced with other courses.
Kelahan said it is the school's challenge to develop a curriculum, instructional approach and schedule that supports perseverance, creativity and critical thinking. He believes it is imperative to identify teacher leaders and to share their knowledge and skills across the grade levels. Subsequently, the district now has literacy, math, technology and writing coaches with schedules that allow for the collaboration and support of fellow teachers. Kelahan said elementary teachers have been expected to teach every content area and create the foundation of learning that extends throughout the high school years. They now have a non-punitive support system that is a formative professional model of working together. The district has also implemented a new literacy program for teachers to mesh into their curriculums.
Durfee commends the creative use of personnel and believes bringing bright minds together to address challenges will move the district toward success. He notes a major challenge for teachers is time to plan, collaborate and offer student feedback. He says it is a waste of a master's degree to send a teacher on supervisory duties when the greater challenges of curriculum development and collaboration need to be met. Elementary teachers struggle daily to find time for planning.
Kelahan said he wants a unified vision where teachers have a common goal and embrace the district mission. He said the district is loaded with talented and wonderful staff and wants to create an environment of optimism and positivity. He said culture trumps strategy anytime and morale grows from daily positive interaction.
Durfee says, "I want this school to be great. I want my children to attend this school and be proud of it. Teachers will continue to do what they have always done--roll up our sleeves and lift each other's spirits while we support our students as best we can. We only have one option here, and that is to succeed beyond expectations."