The Onteora Central School District’s new Superintendent Bruce Watson put in his first day as district leader on Monday, August 22. During a meeting with him a few days later, he was still getting settled at his new office and taking it all in. “Sorry if I get a little philosophical, but I believe we are on a journey — an individual journey. I believe everybody’s got theirs,” he said, “and there were some choices I had to make, so this is part of it, my journey. Hopefully, the bottom line is that I bring some value to Onteora as a Superintendent.”
Watson retired from New Jersey’s Fair Lawn School district where he worked for 24 years, 15 of them as Superintendent. He was also a coach, teacher, and Assistant Superintendent for Business within the district as he climbed the ranks. He now lives in Kingston.
“I kept hearing about the Rondout area by the Hudson, so last night I decided to take a ride down. So I saw that for the first time.” He thought for a moment and said, “I’m really just kind of exploring the area for the first time.” He’s been spending most of his time meeting employees of the district and getting his bearings. “So far I’m positively affected by the engagement, and welcome-ness from everybody. It’s been warm and positive,” he said.
Watson’s educational philosophy appears to support variable types of learning that lean toward students having individual learning styles, and he says he supports art, sports and music as part of the educational package.
“I have my ideas on how to lead a district, but the first idea about how to lead is you need to get people to follow you, or you are not going to be a leader. So I want to focus on building relationships and trust.”
He’s been briefed on some of the local squabbles that can divide towns and individuals within the district. “I do know there are some challenges on certain items,” he said. “I’m sure they will reoccur, but my focus right now is to learn the district as far as it’s climate, culture; how have they done things. Most importantly I want to get to know everybody, the people who work here, and I want to get to know the kids. I will reach out to the parents, attend PTA meetings, but most importantly I want to focus on the schools.” He continued, “The other problems that come out of this environment, such as the Mascot, or some other movement the town people are unhappy with, I will eventually, through osmosis get sucked into that and then I will take time to read, learn, and speak to people. I want to hear people’s opinions first, I will be listening to peoples opinions on that.”
Under the cap
Watson came from a very large school district, one of approximately 5000 students, and Onteora’s small size attracted him. He was impressed by the district having a “focus on opportunity for children,” he said. “I like that very much.”
When it comes to the community echo of high property taxes, he said, “I do know that the district has been under the cap, which tells me they’re (the School Board) concerned about how it affects the local taxpayer, and that’s a good thing.”
Watson was hired on May 17 with a three-year contract at $180,000 per year. He is an undergraduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University and Graduate at Seton Hall University. He also worked in the Software Industry.