Bessen to retire in January

B y Krystle S. Morey

After more than 35 years as an educator, Mark Bessen has decided to put down his No. 2 pencil.
Bessen announced last week that he will retire and leave his post as the superintendent of the Granville Central School District, making his last day on the job Jan. 31, 2017.
Bessen, 57, came to Granville in 2009. His legacy in Granville encompasses many initiatives he said he is proud of, including PBIS, bringing on a school resource officer, incorporating SUPA courses into the curriculum, and the new solar farm, which the district is pursuing with Monolith Solar.
“If you look at PBIS and how it has helped us with discipline in the school… kids are making better decisions, so there isn’t as much of the discipline as there used to be,” he said.
He began his career in education as a tutor/counselor for Upward Bound in Plattsburgh. He then worked in the Ausable and Saranac school districts as a teacher. After that, he briefly worked for the state, and started as an administrator in 1991 at the Saratoga Springs High School.

Superintendent Mark Bessen walks a Mary J. Tanner  student to class on the first day of school.

Superintendent Mark Bessen walks a Mary J. Tanner student to class on the first day of school.

In ‘92 he became the sole assistant principal at the Maple Avenue Middle School, which opened that year. Then he served as a principal and director of administrative services in the Lake George School District.
Bessen said that working in each of those roles in education helped him to be a better administrator.
“I truly believe that you need to be a classroom teacher at some point in your career in order understand the trials and tribulations that classroom teachers go through,” he said. He worked as a teacher for nine years.
Bessen said becoming a superintendent wasn’t always in his plans.
“In each position, some mentor nudged me to apply for the next job,” he said.
Leaving education, Bessen said, will be difficult for him — especially leaving the kids and teachers.
“Our kids here in Granville are some of the nicest kids,” he said. “If you say good morning to them, it’s good morning back… and it’s a genuine good morning.”
In reference to the teachers, he said, “It’s invigorating to just hear their goals that they want to attain in the short term to improve instruction. That’s the kind of stuff that charges you up.”
He added: “You come in every day and realize that you are lucky to work in such an amazing place… You could be having a tough day and if you go out into a building and you see teachers engaged with kids and doing all of those great things, then you remember, ‘hey, that’s the reason we are all here,’ and it gives you that energy to say, ‘hey, this is the life that I have chosen, and thank goodness that I did so.’”
Preparing a budget and dealing with complaints, he added, he is not going to miss as much.
Bessen said that his family is looking forward to his retirement.
“When you are in the district-level administration, your hours are not 40-hour weeks. Fifty hours is the norm… a 60-hour week is not unusual.”
Bessen is eyeing a job with the federal government.
“It’s really a temporary, part-time job just to engage with people,” he said.
Bessen lives in Middle Granville now, but may move closer to Albany if he decides to pursue the position.
He also wants to take some time to travel, and see the national parks he didn’t have the opportunity to see when he was younger.
He has a son in Omaha, Nebraska, whom he hopes to visit more often.
Bessen has had a job since he was delivering the Daily News at the age of 10. “It’s going to be Mark having Mark time,” he said, a bit nervous about the downtime.
Bessen had announced to fellow administrators that he would retire some time during this school year, he was just waiting for the right time.
“The district has all of its contracts in place… financially we have a good plan…we finished the comptroller’s report, so this is a great time to hand the district off to somebody else,” he said.
Bessen has had a shaky past with the school board since he was hired in 2009. The board last year voted against renewing his contract, 5-4, which meant it would expire June 30, 2017. Then-board member Nekia Torres, whose term ended in May, cast one of the “no” votes.
“I think we need change,” she said at the time, citing her “it’s about the kids” philosophy.
Earlier this year, the board reversed that decision, by a 5-4 vote, to extend Bessen’s contract by one year – moving the expiration date to June 30, 2018. Torres again voted against the renewal. The renewal vote takes place annually in compliance with state law.
Even though Bessen’s contract was extended through 2018, there is always a clause in the contract that allows the superintendent to give notification for a retirement or resignation to move on to another job.
The board voted to accept Bessen’s resignation at its meeting last week. His retirement plans were not listed on the agenda, but after a closed executive session, the board emerged and voted to accept Bessen’s early departure.
“It’s not unusual for superintendents to do this mid-year,” Bessen said. He sent a letter to school staff members last week, formally announcing his retirement.
By exiting in January, Bessen opens the opportunity for a new official to come in while the district is working on its budget.
“A new superintendent coming in may have wonderful ideas that they would like to get started, and if they are not here during the budget planning process, sometimes those initiatives have to be bagged for a year,” Bessen said.
When Bessen started at Granville on Nov. 1, 2009, he entered into a school year where the budget had already been set, so his plans had to be put on hold until budget planning for the 2010-11 school year started.
Other area schools including Lake George and Argyle will be searching for a new superintendent at the same time Granville is.
“A big part of me wanted to stay until June 23 and do the graduation, because it would have been exactly 40 years after I had graduated high school, but then that’s about you and it’s not about what’s right for the district,” Bessen said.
There are challenges that a new superintendent will face when coming to Granville — but they are positive ones. One is determining what the district’s schools will look like in the future, as a 21st century school.
“That’s really an exciting engagement with the community that that superintendent is going to have the opportunity to have,” Bessen said. “If I had more years ahead, that would be an exciting thing to do.”
He said he didn’t think it would be fair to start that process and turn it over to someone halfway through.
One piece of advice he has for a new superintendent coming in is to be a part of the community — to join or attend various civic organizations and events that are in the area. Bessen is a member of the local Rotary Club.
He added that leaving his door open to the community has also been beneficial. Bessen said there are certain stereotypes that also face an incoming administrator.
“There are times that people just assume that because you have a certain title, you are automatically of a certain mindset,” Bessen said.
School board president Audrey Hicks said the board has already started laying the groundwork for a new superintendent search.
Bessen said the board usually hires a consultant like BOCES district superintendent Jim Dexter, or another private agency, to help it search for a new leader.
The school board will meet tonight (Thursday, Sept. 22) at 8 p.m. in the high school library to discuss the superintendent search.

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