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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 11, 2009

At BKW: McGurl to be new high school principal

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — After nearly two years without a high school principal, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board has chosen Thomas McGurl, 39, an administrative dean from the Bethlehem Central School District, as its newest administrator. He is to be appointed at the June 15 school board meeting.

“The board has made an offer of employment, and he has accepted,” Superintendent Steve Schrade told The Enterprise this week. “The board will appoint him officially next Monday,” Schrade said of McGurl.

“As an administrator,” McGurl told The Enterprise this week, “it’s important that, while we continue the tradition of educational excellence at BKW, that we remain observant and responsive to the world around us, and that we continually adjust our program so that, when our grads leave BKW, they’re poised for success in the future.”

McGurl will be paid $85,000 a year as principal.

Since former principal Mary Petrilli left for medical leave in October 2007, and was later placed on paid leave last August after being arrested at her home for menacing and possession of a weapon, a new and permanent high school administrator has been in high demand.

In Petrilli’s absence, the high school has had four temporary leaders: Ralph Lyons, who served for close to two months following her leave; Schrade, who served double duty for months as both superintendent and principal; Richard Wheeler, who was appointed last September, but resigned in November for personal reasons; and current interim principal Robert Drake, a former BKW superintendent.

Drake will continue his work as interim principal through June 30. As of yet, McGurl’s first day at BKW has not been officially set, but discussions at past school board meetings suggested July 1 as the new principal’s start date. “I will recommend that he start on July 6,” Schrade said this week.

The district’s principal-search committee interviewed 12 candidates, and selected three to be interviewed by the school board. Of those three, McGurl was chosen as the strongest candidate. “I believe the school board was very much impressed by the way he presented himself at the interview,” said Schrade.

Ready to be

BKW’s “front man”

During his own schooling, McGurl attained a number of degrees. He attended high school at Doane Stuart School in Albany, and went on to St. Bonaventure University in western New York, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history. He later got a master’s degree from the State University of New York College at Plattsburg in curriculum and instruction, and, eventually, a second master’s degree in administration from the Woodruff Institute for School Leadership at Castleton State College in Vermont.

McGurl thinks he is the right man for the job at BKW.

“Not including the past year, I’ve spent my career in small schools,” McGurl said this week, “and small schools are pretty unique places in that, generally, the school is the focal point of the community. I understand that, as principal of a small school, you need to be ever-present. You are the front man of the school, and I willingly accept that role.”

McGurl has worked in education for 16 years, most recently as a dean at Bethlehem High School. He lives in Bolton Landing with his family, and commutes to Bethlehem, where he has worked since August of 2008. He and his family plan on moving to the Hilltowns, he said, but they have not yet decided where.

Before taking the job in Bethlehem, McGurl worked at Minerva Central School from 1994 to 1999, and then in the Bolton Central School District from 1999 to 2008, both of which required far shorter commutes from his home in the Adirondacks.

“I started as a social studies teacher,” McGurl said this week, “and taught pretty much everything from sixth grade through 12th grade, primarily economics and government to seniors.”

He was also a varsity soccer coach for eight years in the Bolton Central School District.

This week, McGurl recalled some things in his career of which he is proud.

“At Minerva, I’d say I’m most proud of becoming such an active part of the school, and, I think, an important part of the school, especially as a starting teacher,” he said. “Because it was a small district, I was involved in pretty much everything at the school.”

He even drove the school bus sometimes, he said.

“At Bolton,” he went on, “I’d say my proudest moments were the history electives I created. Also, when I took over the soccer team, it was in dire straits, and, in my years there, we really turned that around,” said McGurl.

“At Bethlehem, having only been there a year, I’m proudest of my work with the home-instruction program in helping to create a quality program that addresses the needs of students and families not in the regular school setting,” McGurl continued. “I’m very pleased with the way that has turned out this year, with coordinating those instructional services.”

His experience at smaller schools, he said, will help him perform as the new BKW principal.

“I think that, in smaller schools, you need to be responsive to the needs of the community, which requires good communication skills, and a willingness to be open to people — know your position, but always be open to their positions,” McGurl said. “Having been in small schools for so many years, it was a real advantage going to a larger school, because you have to develop close relationships in small schools to find success. Small schools aren’t compartmentalized — everything’s real close-knit, and there needs to be efficient communication for things to run properly.”

Said Schrade, “Everyone is looking forward to having a permanent high school principal in place, after about two years of constant turnover at the high school office.”

The excitement is mutual.

“I’d like to thank the school and the community for the opportunity to serve as principal, and look forward to getting to know the community inside and out,” McGurl concluded. “If there are concerns, I hope that they bring them to me a soon as they develop.”

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