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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, November 27, 2008

Former BKW superintendent, Robert Drake, returns as high school principal

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Robert Drake, once superintendent of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District, has returned as high school principal. At a special meeting on Oct. 19, the school board appointed Drake by a unanimous vote. He started work the next day.

“These students have had several acting principals in the past few years, but we need to bring some stability back to the district,” Drake said when asked why he decided to return to BKW. “I’ve agreed to be here from now until June.”

He will be paid $400 per day as the acting high school principal.

Long-time principal Mary Petrilli was put on medical leave in October 2007. She returned in July, but was put on paid leave on Aug. 11 after being arrested at her home for menacing and possession of a weapon.

Richard Wheeler was appointed as interim principal on Sept. 2, but resigned on Nov. 14 for personal reasons.

“Mr. Wheeler did a great job, from everything I’ve heard, but he had to leave unfortunately,” Drake said. “This is my home district, and it was the happiest professional years of my life.”

Drake has had a hand in education for nearly four decades. He was superintendent at BKW from 1983 to 1999, during which the school introduced Advanced Placement courses, Distance Learning, and the Technical Education program.

He first worked as a social studies teacher at Guilderland High School from 1969 to 1972. While there, he co-created the school’s Senior Alternative Experience program, and oversaw Guilderland High School students taking part in the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Albany County Government Intern Program for High School Students from 1972 to 1983.

He later became superintendent of the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk District from 2000 to 2003, when he decided to retire. But even in retirement, he never left the educational system.

From the summer of 2003 until last Tuesday, Drake worked part-time in the University at Albany’s Tech Prep program, as a consultant to a group called the Center for Innovation and Career Development. The program ran a career-search website called techvalley.com.

“We had a consortium of schools, including two-year colleges and [Board of Cooperative Educational Services] centers, and they did workshops geared primarily towards connecting teachers and staff to business and industry people, to talk about the kinds of skills kids would need in the 21st Century,” Drake said. “That organization eventually lost its grant money, unfortunately.”

That program evolved, he said, into New York Gear Up. “This worked on lessening the number of [school] dropouts, and providing opportunities for kids to become more successful,” said Drake.

He resigned from his part-time job at the University at Albany to take the new job at BKW.

Drake also worked on two projects at the State University of New York at Cobleskill: Career Pathways and Plans of Study.

“We were constructing, during the year, these plans of study that would connect the academic work that students did in high school with career paths they could take through two-year and four-year college programs,” he said.

“I also worked with agriculture teachers throughout New York,” said Drake.

His wife, Marcia Drake, is a former teacher as well, teaching business at BKW High School before retiring. The family lives in Knox.

“We’ve lived in the Hilltowns for 30 years,” Drake said. “My wife was a teacher here from 1979 until last June. She retired last year after 25 years of service.”

His primary goal as principal is to maintain a stable learning environment for BKW students. “And it is a good learning environment here,” Drake said. “My basic philosophy is that we have to be civil, which means teachers respect students and students respect the teachers. It’s a two-way road.”

During Drake’s run as BKW’s superintendent nearly a decade ago, current superintendent Steven Schrade was principal at the high school. “We actually talked about that this morning,” Drake said of the role reversal. “It seems extremely natural, and we had a very close administrative team when I worked here. That has never changed, and I don’t think it will change,” he said.

During his time as superintendent, Drake had differences with school board president Helen Lounsbury that were made apparent at public meetings. But, he thinks they share a common interest in working together to improve the district.

“I haven’t talked to Mrs. Lounsbury this week,” Drake said, “but, I would say that both of us are people who believe in the school district, so, I don’t think that’s any kind of major issue. There’re always differences in opinion in the school board. But there were always very open discussions, and I was always proud of that.”

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