When sitting down to talk with Seth Turner about his tenure as the superintendent of Saugerties Central School District, one thing becomes immediately clear: he loves this place. It was the sense of community that he witnessed in Saugerties, in fact, that spurred him to begin working in this district. Turner says that during the week of his initial interview in Saugerties, he had also interviewed at three other districts in the Hudson Valley. Of all the areas, though, it was this town that made a lasting impression on him. “When I drove into the community of Saugerties I had noticed that someone had hung flowerpots from the street signs,” he said. “For me, that let me know that people in this community cared about Saugerties and that made all the difference.”
A transplant from Mechanicville, a small town in the Albany area, Turner says his intuition proved correct, and he still believes that “Saugerties is a true community that you just don’t see in the modern era.”
Turner has held several positions throughout the district since 1997. He taught in the alternative education program and was assistant principal at the high school, as well as the principal of Grant D. Morse Elementary School, before taking the position of superintendent in 2009.
It is the love of the community that drives him to work hard at his job. Turner is proud that, at a time when other districts have used “draconian methods” to navigate through financial troubles, the Saugerties district has managed to retain much of its student programming. He said that although there were some modifications made, “we dug ourselves out of a huge financial hole, and we did it without butchering our school system.” A strong school system with a fund balance, he notes, has benefits for all residents within the community.
Looking toward the future, he says the district is “poised to take things to the next level,” having settled contracts with all but one of the labor unions working in the district. He says that now, everyone is on the same page and can move forward together. Turner says that this is more important than ever because “now we have to deal with the common core curricular standards and lots of other initiatives.”
About the controversial common core, Turner has some criticisms. Though he says that an increase in rigor has benefits, the “infatuation with assessments” can have detrimental effects. The common core-aligned tests that were given during the 2012-2013 school year, for instance, were meant to serve as a baseline, but as Turner points out, nearly 75 percent of students throughout New York State were deemed “not proficient.” He finds these results problematic, noting that “it cannot be a good thing for children, particularly in their formative years, to say that you’re not passing. I would rather put a carrot in front of them and let them rise to the occasion than a cattle prod behind them.”