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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 30, 2009
“Troubled staff” rallies around new principal
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Brian McCann, who was named principal of Guilderland High School on Tuesday night, says that, at age 55, he feels like a kid again.
The school was in “troubled times,” as McCann put it, when he was appointed acting principal last summer. He had been an assistant principal at the school for 17 years before that and had been thinking about retirement but got “an entirely new perspective on myself,” he said yesterday.
“It was a tremendous responsibility,” McCann said. “My prejudice is that Guilderland deserves the best. Therefore, it deserves my best.”
The period has been a re-awakening for himself and for the school, he said. McCann credits the high school’s leadership team and staff for the turnaround as well as the trust of the school board.
The school board Tuesday appointed him principal by a vote of 7 to 0. The row of administrators sitting at a table in the back of the meeting hall leaped to their feet and applauded the announcement. Several of his colleagues rushed to hug him as he returned to his seat.
McCann follows a string of short-term principals hired from outside the Guilderland School District. The three-year probationary appointment comes with an annual salary of $118,275.
“It’s no secret what high regard and real affection I have for the high school staff,” McCann told the board Tuesday night.
He mentioned the challenge he faced this summer when he was named acting principal and said the appointment was “a humbling experience.”
McCann had filled in as principal since July 28 when Michael Paolino was placed on paid administrative leave while the district investigated complaints of harassment; he later resigned.
Superintendent John McGuire said on Tuesday that he “couldn’t be happier,” noting the enthusiastic endorsement of McCann by a selection committee. He praised McCann for “stabilizing a concerned and troubled staff.”
McCann told The Enterprise in September that stability was needed at the high school. He was referring not just to Paolino’s resignation but also to the protests that had rocked the district over the summer as two high-school social-studies teachers Matthew Nelligan and Ann Marie McManus rallied students to protest their transfer to the middle school. After a young gay teacher had complained of harassment, a consultant was hired; she issued a report describing a hostile work environment in the social studies department. Later, teachers said the complainant himself had behaved inappropriately. The school board, in a 7-to-2 vote, decided not to review the superintendent’s decision to transfer the teachers; McGuire maintained it was not a punishment but rather a chance to give the department a new lease on life.
Nelligan, who said he was targeted for his conservative views, resigned in the first week of teaching at the middle school to work for the State Senate. McManus taught at the middle school this year and, McCann said, he believes she will transfer back to the high school next year, adding, “I don’t know if that’s official.”
McCann yesterday described the current work environment in the social studies department as “revived.” He went on, “It’s exciting to watch. What you’re seeing is people responding to a challenge in a way that is professional. It’s been heart-warming to watch the responses of the social studies department this year.”
Year of change
“We were in trouble last summer,” McCann said yesterday. “The fact the board trusted us the leadership team and the staff allowed us to not only repair the damage but to push forward. The response of the faculty was unbelievable. Some people still carry the scars…That’s been part of the challenge. We’ve got bright spots across the board.”
McCann said that the leadership team made up of himself, the three assistant principals, and the supervisors or instructional administrators was the key to the turnaround. “They were not only loyal to me but loyal and committed to move this building back where it belongs in the forefront of education….If you have the trust of people you work with, you can go anywhere.”
The staff, in turn, trusted their leaders, he said. Starting with the first faculty meeting in September, McCann said, the focus was on three major initiatives evaluating the block schedule, curriculum mapping, and community enhancement.
“Our catch phrase was, ‘There’s no room for anyone on the sidelines,’” said McCann.
Community enhancement, he said, focuses on understanding the issues of diversity, tolerance, bullying, and harassment and “committing to sensitivity to address those issues.”
He went on, “We wanted to start with each other. It would be hard to talk about respect, tolerance, and diversity with students unless you had it with each other,” he said. “We started this year with the staff. There’s a whole different feel to the building now than it has had for a number of years. Now, we will pull in students, parents, and the community these are the long-range goals.”
McCann concluded, “Not only do I feel like a kid again, it’s an exciting thing to be part of one of the finest high schools in New York State.”
McCann has known he want to be an educator since he was actually a kid.
“My Dad is my hero,” he said. His father taught high school science “for a zillion years,” said McCann. He and his mother, a homemaker both of them are now in their eighties raised seven children in New Hartford, N.Y.
McCann is in the middle, with three older brothers and three younger sisters.
“I grew up in the Waltons,” he said, referencing the television show about a large, happy family. “I have a very loving, very supportive Irish Catholic family.”
McCann now has a large and loving family of his own. He and his wife, Susan McCann, a reading teacher at Scotia-Glenville, have six children: Meaghan, 25, who is in law school in Maryland; Matthew, 22, a Marine; Molly, 21, a pre-med student at Stony Brook University; Craig, 20, an engineering student at Binghamton University; Kevin, who will be 13 on Friday, a student at the Scotia-Glenville middle school; and Abigail, 10, a Scotia-Glenville elementary student.
McCann went to Catholic elementary and high schools. “I always enjoyed school,” he said, adding, “I can’t say I was the best student.” He credits his second-grade teacher, Sister Mary Ronald at St. John the Evangelist School, for giving him confidence in himself.
“She made me feel special,” he said. “I started thinking I had some gifts and talents. It always stuck with me.”
He went on to Notre Dame High School in Utica where, he said, “The brothers were devoted and strong educators.”
After high school, McCann went to Mohawk Valley Community College and then earned a bachelor of science degree in secondary education and social studies from the State University of New York College at Brockport.
Guidance counselors had told him there was a glut of teachers and to look at another field, but he knew what he wanted to do, said McCann.
“The first year out of college, I couldn’t find a job,” he said, “so I was a ski bum at Killington for a year. The next year, I sent out 250 applications and got one interview in Canton, New York.”
McCann landed the job and loved it. He taught social studies and coached varsity football and track.
After two years, his job was cut. “I was crushed,” recalled McCann. He sent out 200 applications and got two interviews.
He was hired by the high school in Chittenango, another small, close-knit community. He taught and coached there for 10 years, from 1979 to 1989.
During that time, he said, “I was exposed to the bigger picture of education…I always felt I was good in the classroom, and had good rapport with students and was an effective teacher but I couldn’t tell you why.”
At workshops, he said, “I started learning the science behind the art of teaching.” He commuted to SUNY Oswego and earned a master’s degree in administration as well as certification.
He went on to become an assistant principal at Schalmont for two years and then came to Guilderland in the fall of 1991.
“You don’t want to stand still,” he said.
Guilderland High School hasn’t had a long-term principal since John Whipple retired in 2003 after 14 years. He was replaced by Ismael Villafane who left after two years to return to Texas where he had spend decades as an educator.
Frank Tedesco, a retired administrator, filled in until Michael Piccirillo was appointed in the fall of 2006. He left after 20 months to work as an assistant superintendent at Saratoga Springs. Harry Kachadurian, another retired administrator, filled in until Paolino, who had worked at Voorheesville, became principal in the fall of 2007.
McCann said yesterday he didn’t know how long he’d be principal at Guilderland. But he did say he’d be giving it his all. What motivates him, he said, is “the tremendous feeling of loyalty” he’s had from the staff.