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Five Erie County school districts search for new superintendents

Five Erie County school districts search for new superintendents

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The last year has been a challenging one for school districts with the Covid-19 pandemic, but this could be a good year for school administrators looking to move up.

Five Erie County school boards are searching for new superintendents.

They include the largest school district outside Buffalo, Williamsville, as well as some other large and well-respected districts: Orchard Park, Clarence, Sweet Home and Frontier.

The superintendents in Williamsville, Scott G. Martzloff, and Frontier, Richard Hughes, retired last year at the behest of their school boards amid issues with returning to in-person learning. 

And while Covid fatigue is ubiquitous, other school leaders said they are not retiring because of the pandemic.

"It doesn't have anything to do with the pandemic, I can tell you that," said Clarence Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks.

Hicks, 61, said he and his late wife had planned that he would retire at this point in his career.

"My decision is personal, and has to do with the fact that I've reached the milestone at which I had planned to retire," Hicks said. "This was the date and time of our plan."

He said he plans to spend more time with his two young grandchildren, while still keeping his options open for maintaining a presence in education.

"This is my 39th year (in education) and 20th as a superintendent, and it's time," Hicks said.

Hicks was superintendent at Sweet Home when he left in 2010 to become superintendent at the Arlington School District in Dutchess County. He joined Clarence as superintendent in 2011.

Sweet Home Central Superintendent Anthony J. Day, 59, said his decision is not really tied to the coronavirus.

"It was a difficult decision," Day said, quickly adding: "It's nothing about the job." 

He did say the job is not the same as it was 10 years ago.

He started working with children 40 years ago as program director of a boys club, Day said. He became a part-time teacher in 1984, and started his full-time education career as a social studies teacher in 1988.

He has been with Sweet Home for 20 years, including the last 11 as superintendent. 

"I will miss the daily interaction with our students and our staff," Day said. "In the end, it's a people business."

Day said during his retirement he is looking to help people in some fashion.

Matthew McGarrity, 54, an Angola native, was superintendent of the Dansville Central School District in Livingston County when he was tapped for the top job at Orchard Park in 2010. 

He said he had mixed emotions in announcing his retirement last November, but planning for his retirement started before the pandemic.

"There's no question it's more challenging," McGarrity said of leading a district through the pandemic. "At the same time, it's been amazing, and in a positive sense seeing so many people respond to such a challenging situation and at the end still come out with a quality program for our kids and our families."

He said he has no specific plans, but wants to stay involved in education.

School superintendents are the chief executive officer in the state’s 700 school districts, carrying out the policies laid out by school boards by overseeing budgets, staff and curriculum, which in the past year included hybrid and remote learning. 

Superintendents stay on the job an average of just over five years, according to a New York State Council of School Superintendents survey from 2015.

Pay for the job depends on several variables, including the size of the district and the experience of the candidate. The superintendents who are leaving or left last fall made from $179,000 to $249,000 last year, according to See Through New York.

The Williamsville School Board “is prepared to negotiate a three-year contract with a minimum salary of $205,000 with additional compensation consideration for education and successful previous experience,” according to the job posting for its superintendent's vacancy.

The past year has been difficult for schools and the people who lead them.

"Certainly this is a very stressful time," said Robert N. Lowry Jr., deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

But he said the association has not seen a large number of retirements and resignations throughout the state.

"Sometimes it just happens you have a noticeable number of superintendents retiring at the same time," Lowry said, adding there was a good amount of turnover in superintendents in the last decade since the great recession.

He said members of the association have heard superintendents say this is the hardest work they have ever done, and more experienced superintendents have reassured some younger colleagues that the pandemic is new and exceptional for everyone.

"It's certainly different than what people had to deal with in the past," Lowry said.

And with five openings at one time, will it be difficult for school boards to hire new superintendents? Robert Christmann of the New York State Leadership Group does not think so. Christmann, the former Grand Island superintendent, is conducting the search for the Frontier superintendent.

He said the searches might be a bit more challenging, but candidates look at the specifics of each district in deciding whether to apply.

"Just because there's five vacancies doesn't mean a candidate will apply for all five," Christmann said. "Candidates are pretty sophisticated about what they're looking for."

Erie 2 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES Superintendent David O'Rourke, who is helping Orchard Park in its search, agrees.

"I think each of the districts is a little different in terms of the community they serve," O'Rourke said. "A good search comes down to the right fit."

Day, Hicks and McGarrity will be leaving their jobs this summer.

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