By CAROLINE MURRAY
Recorder News Staff
With just days away from the start of the school year, both Northville and Mayfield central school districts have a lot to look forward to as they welcome new superintendents.
For Northville, California native Leslie Ford has taken the reins as superintendent after the board of education fought a long battle to find a permanent seat. She recently moved to the village, and is enjoying the lake community and all the people in its realm.
For Mayfield, A. Paul Scott was appointed interim superintendent until the board of education selects a permanent leader. Scott is expected to serve on the board until July of 2015, but has settled in at his Rotterdam home, and is ready to meet the community.
Although both have accepted different positions at two competing districts, Ford and Scott are surprisingly similar.
They started off their career as music teachers, then transitioned to different administrative roles. Both are looking forward to starting the new school year on the right foot.
They shared ideas and personal histories during respective interviews this week.
Question: Where are you from?
Ford: I am originally from California; born and raised around the Monterey peninsula area, kind of Central California. I am a mother of four children; three of them were adopted. While I was raising my children, I was also raising foster children. We were a therapeutic foster family.
Scott: I grew up in Long Island on the North Shore. I went to college for my bachelor work at SUNY Potsdam.
Q: How did you begin your career?
Ford: I started as a music teacher, I was very involved in music education, which was a different field to be involved in because it was closing down in the state right at the time that I graduated. I then moved into counseling, because being in foster care I understood the need to work developmentally with as young as child as possible. So I started a small program on the side as a consultant working with an elementary school and I ended up working at two different school districts at five different schools running a program, until the funds ran out.
Scott: I started as a music teacher. I taught seven years at Saranac Lake. I was a principal in Crown Point, and then a BOCES administrator at the Jefferson - Lewis- Hamilton- Herkimer- Onieda BOCES for seven years. I became an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Taconic Hills at Columbia County for seven years and then for 11 years I was the superintendent of schools at Peru Central Schools which is on the Canadian and Vermont border of New York State.
Since I retired in 2011, and since school districts had circumstances that required some short time help, this is my fourth interim post.
Q: What made you choose to work at this school district now?
Ford: My first superintendency had been for a small district in California very similar in size, actually just a tiny bit bigger, but it was K-8 and so I just thought, that was good work, it is hard work in a small district, you work on everything, you have to be a person with a lot of energy and able to kind of balance all the balls at the same time, but I liked that and I felt that was a place I could return to and have some success. So, when I came to Northville and interviewed I saw some similar characteristics. The community really embraces the school they love doing things for the kids. There is a certain feel and culture to it that attracted me.
Scott: My spouse and I have connections with the greater capital region and the Mohawk Valley. My spouse has family in the greater capital region, she grew up in Schenectady and she has relatives in Schenectady. As a result of that, geography wise, this is an opportunity for us to be spending sometime in the area where we have family members.
Q: When was your first day at the district, and how has it been so far?
Ford: It has been good. A lot of stupid questions, and a lot of learning. Since, they knew I was going to be superintendent, I have come up for the school review for the state plan, I came up for some board meetings, I came up for the budget re-vote. I was hearing a lot of things and I didn't feel brand-brand new, but still there are thousands of little details you don't know until you are here.
Scott: My first day of service was July 28th. It had been expected back in the fall and winter, a new long term superintendent would be hired. As it turns out, that did not come to be. There was an unexpected, unanticipated rather short term timely need for someone to work with the board as their temporary chief school officer.
Q: Northville is dealing with some issues fiscally, and also, with the Common Core, like every other school district, and a decline in enrollment here. How do you plan on tackling some of those issues this year?
Ford: So, New York is dealing with a decline in enrollment that is not particular to Northville. I have already had a conversation with the mayor. Some of the initiatives they are planning in the town to build up businesses and bring people here, we are a big player in that, the school district. I want to be a part of what he is, and they are working on, in addition to inviting them into what we are working on.
The economic pieces, why the district works very fiscally prudently ... frugally ... I think the forecast we had when we were looking at the merger, we have a rosier picture than what they forecasted at that time. We have a little more state aid, we are not hurting any more than other school districts in a similar state. We made some smart decisions, we sill have a fund balance to rely on reserves, these are things other districts are not so fortunate to have. These are conditions that I am used to.
Q: A lot of New York State schools are facing challenges such as Common Core mandates, a decline in enrollment and fiscal challenges as well. Is Mayfield a part of that?
Scott: Certainly, Mayfield reflects and is a part of that state wide set of predicaments. And the reason why I use the word predicament, is because a problem can usually be identified as a situation that will ultimately have a rather straight forward simple solution and predicaments are a little more complex. At least for a period of time it might not be what is the answer, but how do we put together a set of responses to navigate through the situation. What Mayfield is faced with is a very challenging fiscal environment due to a state property tax and levy cap on school districts and municipalities. In contrast with increased and additional expectations for student achievement for school day to day operations we are also looking at a comprehensively revived set of state learning standards and accountability tests intended to boost students achievement and yet the funding of that has been left by and large to local school districts. So what I will say is at Mayfield, we are fortunate in three ways in that regard. The first is the board, while it has had a set of sobering decisions to make the board has taken appropriate action in recent years they have curtailed certain instructional programs and support operations so as the be able to sustain what now remains into the future. Secondly I credit the staff, the administrators, the supervisors and the staff have done what they can with what remains to provide a good return on investment.
Q: What have you done so far at the school district to prepare for the school year?
Ford: We were identified as a school district, at both schools, as a focus district and focus schools, which means our state test scores indicate the mastery of learning is low and not improving. The common core mandates you mentioned are another piece of that same puzzle and we are starting to really do adoption in English language arts, the modules that will help us with lesson planning and curriculum planning differently then what we have done before.
The good news is the elementary school has been removed from the focus list. While there are still improvements being made, we are making progress.
Another thing we are looking at is parent education, that is an extremely important piece what we are doing we need parents to be engaged and involved. So for every activity we do this year we are going to incorporate education. At open house at sixth grade orientation, there will be something in there for parents to learn about and deal with their children at home. We want to help parents bridge those gaps.
Scott: One thing we have done is take a look at is essential vacancies to fill before the first days of school. There were some classroom teacher positions in the elementary grades, a vacancy for district treasurer, a vacancy for several other areas, we have been focused on identifying who is the strongest match from among the applicants who have applied for those particular positions. I am pleased to report that as of last week, all of those positions identified over the summer have been attended to We need to have a strong start of the school year, so I have been working with the principals and operations supervisors to be preparing our facilities for the first day of school.
Q: What do you look forward to the most as superintendent?
Ford: Well, first day of school! The kids coming back, because that is the energy in our whole system and I can't wait. At one level it is really seeing the kids really engage and really owning their learning. In a different way you might see in a traditional classroom, and having their own voice heard and expressed. Second, it is at the teacher level because that is a cadre of people I respect their professional level and I am excited to see how they are going to jump into these initiative and changes.
Scott: I look forward to meeting more of Mayfield Central School District. I certainly met some of our faculty members. I look forward to engaging with the faculty members our support staff. I look forward to the first days of school to see what I have been told will be a close knit school community that comes together focused on the community's children. What I particularly look forward to is to see our children arriving and knowing that there is a teacher there waiting for them so they can start their day well organized and ready for the new school year.
Q: Besides the issues we discussed, do you see any other challenges ahead?
Ford: Northville hasn't had a permanent superintendent for some time and I think that is going to be a big challenge. And so there will be a lot of trust developing with that. I think as mature adults it is something we have to offer the situation so we don't have to circle around each other. But, we have a lot of work to do for kids, if we have a similar passion for that, we find we will fall into work together.
Q: Do you have any hobbies?
Ford: I love going to see plays or the opera. Last night, I was at the Seussical version of a Mid-Summers Night Dream here, that was at the Methodist church. I enjoy concerts, I was in summer professional singing groups, church choirs and school events. So I still do some of that I have a wonderful dog, a therapy dog who is trained to do visits in rehab or assisted living. I am hoping to find some connection up here, I just started. I am an amateur water-color painter, I am not very good at it, but I just started and enjoy it very much.
I already joined SVAN and am taking lessons with Connie Dodge because I am a miserable drawer.
Scott: I started off as a music teacher and than a computer teacher, and my hobbies reflect that in part.
One of my hobbies is I continue to be active in the field of performance. I was a trombone major in college and yet, I played mostly keyboards. I continue to be engaged with that sometimes through church and other venues. I have also enjoyed taking photographs. Over the years as superintendent, getting set for graduation exercise, or just day to day school work, there is always value in having pictures of what we do.
As a hobby I'll always be at car shows and I'll take pictures. Most recently I was at a 50th anniversary show of Ford Mustang.
What my spouse and I are involved with, we are volunteers at our church and also, volunteers for our community.
Q: So, you are really into music. What is one album or song you could not live without hearing again?
Ford: It is really hard to pick just one. I will say people I enjoy. Diana Krall for Jazz, it is a favorite of mine. I love some of the older opera singers you can still hear Joan Sutherland, and Beverly Sills.
Scott: So growing up, there were two bands in particular being a trombone player during my high school years the band Chicago, who recently performed at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. What I have enjoyed over the years is listening to Chicago because they have a trombone player. Another group with a trombone player is Blood Sweat and Tears, that group was also very popular and then the third group that was quite popular, but did not have a trombone player, is the Beatles.
Q: Are you an outdoors person, does the Adirondack area suit you?
Ford: I love walking. I have been out on a kayak so far and have been swimming. I have never been so near a lake and I have been kayaking like once in my life. So I am really enjoying that.
Scott: With the exception of the seven years we lived in Columbia County which is south of Albany. All of our adult years, except for those seven, have been in the North Country. So while we enjoy the four seasons, and yet have found now, particularly now, that I am in that group of people who we now call senior citizens, I am a bit less apt to do anything exhaustive physically. However, what I have done for years is, my spouse gave me a three month membership, about 10 years ago, as a holiday gift gave me a three month membership to a fitness center. I have tried to make sure I continue to make good use of that. Now it is at Planet Fitness, I generally try to spend some time there each day before I come to school.
Q: Any other comments you'd like to add?
Ford: I just feel really fortunate to be here. I just think that we have a lot of good work to do, a lot of hard work to do and I think that we can role up our sleeves and do it together.
Scott: In short, any day I am able to be coming to school, helping out on a short term basis any day my spouse and I can be around, do some volunteering, enjoy the area it is a good day. So I am pleased to be associated temporarily at Mayfield, and I will conduct myself as if I am going to be here for the next ten years. Meaning, I will always strive to make thoughtful recommendations to the board. I will always strive to act responsibly, treat people respectively, and to listen to people before I take or recommend action.