Coming into office at the half-year mark, Newfane School Superintendent Gary J. Pogorzelski hasn't had time to savor his appointment to a job he's always wanted.
He's been too busy.
On Jan. 3, he succeeded James N. Mills, who retired.
In his first week, he had to start tending to the district's daily business and deal with a troublesome matter: addressing concerns after a teacher was charged with having inappropriate contact with two 12-year-old female pupils.
Pogorzelski was forced to suspend Newfane Middle School music teacher Mark A. Matteson on Jan. 4, after Matteson was accused of touching the girls in an improper manner on district property last fall.
Matteson has been charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of a child and one count of third-degree sexual abuse in an investigation Niagara County sheriff's deputies said is continuing.
As the case against Matteson proceeds, Pogorzelski said he also is preparing to face two challenges more familiar to school superintendents: the 2007-08 district budget and upgrading curriculum to keep pace with the ever-increasing demands of the state assessment tests.
"I think my first immediate challenge will be the budget," he said. He said district financial data will have to be gathered and organized so he and his staff can analyze what has been done and what still needs to be done financially for the next school year.
That information must be ready in February so Pogorzelski and his staff can prepare a budget the School Board can review and adopt in April. The public will vote on the 2007-08 spending plan in May.
Pogorzelski is no stranger to the budget process.
"I've done a good deal of budget planning in my 32-year career as an educator," he said. "I also have a lot of budget background outside of education. For example, I'm on the finance committee for the board of Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara. That organization has a $24 million budget."
The current school district budget is $29.3 million.
Pogorzelski, who joined the system in 1997, had been principal of Newfane Intermediate School and then principal of the Newfane Middle School before being named superintendent.
Pogorzelski, 54, will be paid $64,000 from Jan. 1 through June 30.
For the 2007-08 school year, his salary was set at $132,000, and for 2008-09, $137,000.
A Kenmore West High School graduate, Pogorzelski has a bachelor's degree from Buffalo State College and a master's in school administration from Syracuse University. He's certified to teach elementary and special education.
Before coming to Newfane, he was a special education teacher and wrestling coach in Camden, an assistant superintendent in the Niagara-Wheatfield School District, and director of special education in the West Seneca School District.
"Another challenge," he said, "is dealing with all the new state assessment tests and the curriculum requirements that accompany them. We have to make sure we keep pace so our kids continue to do well. There's a lot of curriculum work to do. You have to analyze the tests, finding out where you did a good job and where you did a poor job, and find ways to make improvements."
He'll have lots of help.
On budget and finances, he said district Business Manager "Bart Schuler really knows what he's doing."
In curriculum, he said, "We have teachers who are paid a stipend to do curriculum work and we have our Curriculum Director Amy Stanfield who does a wonderful job. Our principals also do an excellent job leading their buildings on curriculum and testing issues."
Pogorzelski said he wants Newfane schools to continue to be among the best in the area academically and believes he has the background and the talented staff to stay at the top when it comes to student performance.
"You just don't coast when you're among the top schools," he said. "The state is constantly making changes, and I want to continue tweaking what we do to keep up with those changes."
Every school district needs to be doing that because "a lot of stuff is taught at a younger age now than it was a few years ago because of the assessment tests," he said. "It's hard on kids today. There's a lot more expected of them. Just the reading passages and questions they have to answer are much more sophisticated than they used to be, and we want to make sure they are ready to compete. Our kids do well, but I want to help them be king of the hill every year."
That's the reason Pogorzelski said he had always wanted to be a superintendent.
"I wanted the job because I feel I can contribute and help the children of Newfane. I want to work for them," he said.
"I've been here for nine years, and I feel I am ready with all my experiences in education to do that. I've had a lot of district office experiences and, at this point of my life with my kids being older, I can give the job the time and devotion it requires," he said. "My wife, Connie, is fine with this. She knows this has been a longtime goal for me."
As for other goals, Pogorzelski said he will be speaking with board members to get their take on things "because their goals become my goals."
He said he did not want to speculate on things that may come up in the future because he feels he should discuss ideas with the board first, since anything he might want to do would require board approval.
Pogorzelski said he spent a lot of time with Mills during the week before the former superintendent retired, going over things such as the budget and staffing issues.
"We did a lot of talking about budget preparation and finances," Pogorzelski said. "He's great with that, and was very helpful. He went through the benchmark dates in the budget calendar and discussed what needs to be done to make sure we get all the state aid we're entitled to."
With his past experience and preparation work, Pogorzelski said, "I feel pretty comfortable taking over as superintendent."