School board faces change, challenges

B y Bill Toscano


For schools and boards of education, the new year didn’t start in January, but rather on July 1.

In Granville, that meant a new principal at Granville Elementary School, a veteran principal moving from GES to Mary J. Tanner, a new director of special education and two new Board of Education members. A third board member is a comparative veteran, with one month’s experience, and the high school has a new athletic director.

All this comes in a new fiscal year where the district is pulling $1.33 million from its fund balance and is estimated to have enough in reserve to fund its operation only into the 2015-2016 unless state funding policies change or the board opts for much higher taxes.

The district is also still in negotiations with the teachers’ union for a new contract and must convinced the teachers to accept a new evaluation systems that will take test scores into account or risk losing state funding.


Looking at the board

Nekia Torres and Dan Nelson attended their first official meeting July 2, and John McDermott, the only incumbent who ran in May, was also sworn in and began another three-year term.

Torres and Nelson bring new perspective to the board. Torres, a Granville graduate, is the parent of two young boys, is active in the community and is married to Mario Torres, the school’s football coach. Nelson, another long-time local resident, retired as the school’s director of technology and purchased Scarlotta’s Car Hop. As a teacher, he was actively involved in a variety of issues.

McDermott, a veterinarian, has often been the catalyst for discussion on the board. He tends to take a different perspective and look deeply into issues.

Dale Olsen just joined the board in May to serve out a one-year term. Olsen, who has not served on the board before, worked in the school system for many years. Suzanne McEachron, an active parent in the system, returns, as does Kevin Ely, who is involved in Granville Community Service Day and was a liaison to the school for it. Eric Scribner, the vice president last year and the third longest-serving member, returns.

John Shaw, who has been on the board since 1998, replaces Kathy Nelson as president. Nelson is the longest-serving board member. She was first elected in 1994.
Shaw will make for an intriguing president. Because of his work on the building committee, he visits the school often. He will be a hands-on president.

The vice-president position is up in the air and will be decided later this month. Scribner and Ely tied 3-3 in a vote at last week’s meeting. Neither man voted for himself and Nelson was not at the meeting. The board meets again July 23.

The board had some unexpected turnover, with John Steves leaving to take a job in the school system and Molly Biggs Celani filled the position for one year until Olsen came in.

The two keys for the board will be the veteran members getting the new members up and running and the ability of the entire board to work together effectively.

Another strength is the return of Superintendent Mark Bessen, which supplies stability to the district.


New administrators


Also lending stability, the high school has the same principal for the second year in a row, something that has not happened much recently. James Donnelly returns after starting the year as the interim principal. He was appointed permanently not long afterwards and said he is committed to the school.

He will get some relief this school year as the school has hired a third guidance counselor after going without one last year in a cost-saving move. The need was apparent enough that the school hired a substitute counselor part-way through the year.

The hiring has a local connection. Sondra Smith, the daughter of former Whitehall Village Mayor Francis “Fra” Putorti, is already on the job. She will work with ninth- and 10th-grade students. Her first job will be developing the school’s master schedule.

The school will also be hiring new teachers in the science, social studies and special education departments to replace teachers who have left. A new physical education teacher is on board, and Bessen has recommended highly successful wrestling coach Steve Palmer to replace the retired Mike Macura as athletic director. Palmer is a longtime teacher at the school, and the transition should be a smooth one.

Mary J. Tanner School will have a new principal but she will be familiar to parents who have older children. Diane Dumas, who was at Granville Elementary, will be at MJT and the school’s current second-graders will remain there as third-graders rather than going to GES as in years past.

Dumas, who has a specialty in reading, will work with those students and their teachers to get the third-graders ready for the mandatory state tests.

Replacing her at GES is Jane O’Shea, who is new to the system but has strong special education experience.

Camille Henderson, formerly the head of special education at Argyle, will be the district’s new head of special education. Richard H. Behrens had been serving as interim director after Diane Quick became the school’s technology officer.

Henderson comes into a system that had been cited by the state for issues with its state scores among the special education population. One of her strengths is in intervention, or finding additional ways to help special education or at-risk students.

In all, special education students make up 19 percent of the Granville school population – 253 of 1,324. Granville places 29 percent of those students outside the district, most of them through BOCES.



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