Dr. Kathleen O’Brien, the new principal of Woodstock Primary School (formerly Woodstock Elementary School), has been busy preparing for the beginning of the new school year that will begin Monday September 9. She is learning the ropes alongside the soon to be retired Principal Bobbi Schnell. O’Brien stands taller than the small-framed Schnell who was often mistaken as one of the children. But without a doubt Schnell leaves behind a large footprint for her nine years at the school. She served 12 years in all, beginning her tenure at West Hurley Elementary School in 2001. Once West Hurley closed in 2004, she moved to the Woodstock school, which had gone through what seemed like a revolving door of principals in previous years. Schnell did settle in, got to work and added color that blended with the Woodstock Community. She pulled resources from local talent, worked closely with the PTA, collected art — including sculptures seen on the front lawn made by children and local artists — and worked at installing gardens that are maintained by children and families.
O’Brien with her high energy and earthy, sunny demeanor appears to be a good fit in a community that likes things done differently and with flair. On a Tuesday morning at the school, Schnell and O’Brien stopped work to have a photograph taken in the garden that was dedicated to the late drummer Levon Helm, who was a supporter of the district’s music program. Schnell pointed out a plaque hanging in the lobby dedicating the garden to Helm who helped raise money for the district through his famous Midnight Rambles and benefit concerts. It’s supposed to hang in the garden but Schnell said it must be kept inside for fear of theft. The PTA started the garden through fundraising and volunteers, another community contribution that is enjoyed by many children.
Schnell gave credit to Mike Dubois and Kelly Sinclair for making the garden plaque. The fence was designed by the school community and constructed by Mila Funk. Schnell passed around ripe cherry tomatoes and explained that in the summer, families tend the gardens. But it also plays an educational role when school is in session. Each grade has a bed and does the planting. “The Kindergarten class picks the zucchini, makes bread and freezes it,” said Schnell. Students serve the bread at a lunch for Senior Citizens as part of a Thanksgiving celebration.
Schnell shows a butterfly garden belonging to first graders that is near the nature trail and a flower/herb garden lines the front of the building. Parents volunteered, teachers contributed and grants were written to bring all of it to bloom. O’Brien is no stranger to grant writing and will continue using the arms of the community.
Former Assistant Superintendent
O’Brien is familiar with the district and staff having worked as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum from 2008-to-2011 when her position was eliminated due to budget cuts. She was offered the position as Principal without a search because of her position on the preferred eligibility list, with a salary of $128,547. She has a Doctorate in Educational Administration and Policy Studies, and three Master of Science Degrees in Educational Administration, Reading, and Special Education, from the State University at Albany. Her undergraduate degree is from Mount Saint Mary College in Elementary and Special Education. Her career includes stints as a teacher and principal in Duanesburg and Albany before moving to Onteora as an Assistant Superintendent. She has worked closely with district principals and teachers and is familiar with new curriculum standards. She has relocated to Woodstock, from Duanesburg. In a press release she wrote about her excitement upon returning to a district she’s enjoyed working in. “The teachers and staff are very dedicated, and parent and families are most supportive in providing an outstanding, well-rounded education for the students,” she wrote. “I look forward to working with all in the Woodstock Primary School community to enhance the great work already taking place!”
It was a surprise to the community that Schnell decided to retire. In an email statement, she wrote that her departure was, “bittersweet,” since her life revolved around work. “I got to work early and stayed late. On the weekends I was attending a school function or doing something work related. I lived and breathed my school. My teachers can tell you about the 2 a.m. emails I sent! Your children were my children and I have loved each and every one of them.” She described the school as being part of her family. “It is hard to wean myself from this,” she wrote, “but I am ready to open the door that awaits.” She says she will miss teachers, parents and children — “my Woodstock family.” She thanked the community. “It has been an honor and a blessing.”