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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 31, 2011

GCSD looks for new high school principal and foreign-language super

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The search is on to replace two top Guilderland administrators who will retire in June.

Brian McCann is retiring after two years as the high school principal, following 17 years as an assistant principal. And Albert Martino is retiring after eight years as the district supervisor for foreign languages and English language learners.

At last week’s school board meeting, Carolyn Kelly, president of the Parent-Teacher Student Association at the high school, recommended not replacing the school’s principal and spending the $130,000 on his salary and benefits to restore cut programs.

“Things ran very smoothly,” she said when McCann was the acting principal and the building had three administrators, not four.

Letters to the Enterprise editor this week make similar recommendations. David Janower calls for a one-year hiatus in hiring so that the Superintendent Marie Wiles, who started work in October, can study the district’s administrative structure.

“Brian’s retirement affords Dr. Wiles the opportunity to look at the district’s administrative structure before a search is begun, before a commitment to maintaining that salary line is made,” writes Janower.

Wiles told The Enterprise this week that, while she is committed to studying the administrative structure very soon with an eye to efficiency, the two vacant posts need to be filled.

“I’m extraordinarily sensitive about concerns of too many administrators, and I’m committed to examine the administrative structure in the very near future,” she said.

But Wiles also said, “By the commissioner’s regulation, every building has to have a principal. We don’t have a choice in that,” she said of replacing the high-school principal.

The need to have a foreign language supervisor is also “very pressing,” she said. “We have an exponentially growing ELL population in our district,” Wiles said of English language learners — students who come from families that speak other languages. Asked how many students district-wide, Wiles said “hundreds,” and that they are concentrated in pockets; for example, 40 percent of the students at Guilderland Elementary School are ELL students.

That school serves an area near the state university and has “a number of apartment complexes that attract folks from around the world,” said Wiles.

“ELL is a highly regulated, highly tested program,” she said, “with grant funding connected to it.”

Also, Wiles said, the success of Guilderland’s foreign-language program is based on the quality of its teaching, which requires supervision and leadership. Guilderland offers courses in Spanish, French, German, and Italian.

“The administrator needs to be schooled in those languages…It would be difficult to divide this work up among other people,” said Wiles.

The supervisor’s post is being advertised for an annual salary of $75,000, with applications due by April 14.

Challenges at GHS

With any retirement or resignation, Wiles said, there are three options: post ads and hire from outside, reorganize or hire from within, or make a temporary appointment while examining options.

“It’s important to go through a process to see who is in the pool,” said Wiles. “We need to evaluate our needs and expectations and find someone who fits.” She noted that candidates could come from inside the district as well as outside.

Since there have been so many turnovers in leadership at the high school in recent years, Wiles said, “It is not in the best interest of the school to have another change followed by another one.”

The 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 spent 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 Michael Paolino, who had worked at Voorheesville, became principal in the fall of 2007. Paolino was placed on administrative leave in July of 2008 while the district investigated complaints of harassment; he later resigned.

When Paolino was placed on leave, McCann, who had been an assistant principal at Guilderland for 17 years, was named acting principal. In April 2009, McCann, at age 55, was named principal with a salary of $118,275.

McCann said at the time that stability was needed at the high school. The school was in “troubled times,” as McCann put it, when he was appointed acting principal. He was referring not just to Paolino’s resignation but also to the protests that had rocked the district over the summer of 2008 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, the district hired a consultant; she issued a report describing a hostile work environment in the social-studies department. Later, teachers said the complainant himself behaved inappropriately.

The school board, in a 7-to-2 vote, decided not to review the superintendent’s decision to transfer the teachers. The superintendent at the time, John McGuire, maintained it was not a punishment but rather a chance to give the social-studies department a new lease on life.

Nelligan, who said he was targeted for his conservative views, resigned the first week of teaching at the middle school to work for the state senate. McManus taught at the middle school for a year and then transferred back to the high school.

“We were in trouble last summer,” McCann said in 2009 but, he said, although “some people still carry the scars,” the leadership team and staff not only repaired the damage but pushed forward.

“Big job”

“This is a very big job,” Wiles said of the high-school principal’s post, which oversees 1,800 students, 130 teachers, and 300 course offerings. The argument could be made, she said, that the high school principal is the most important person in the district.

“Forget the superintendent,” said Wiles. “Only the high-school principal can award credit…We owe it to our students and community to find the best person.”

The position has been posted with a salary of $105,000 to $115,000.

McCann’s salary, she said, was “$130-ish with benefits on top.” Wiles said she didn’t know the amount of his pension. “As a retiree, we’d continue his health coverage,” she said.

Applications will be accepted until shortly after the school break in April, Wiles said. A committee of “stakeholders” will interview candidates in early May. “We will be inclusive,” she said, noting that, in addition to board members and administrators, teachers, staff, and community members will be part of the interview process.

“We want someone on board early in the summer to give him or her the opportunity to plan,” said Wiles.

She concluded, “The point I want to drive home is that I am not unaware of folks in the community having concerns about administrative leadership….I do get it and will look at it almost immediately. But the two positions up now are not ones we can easily re-organize around.”

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