After quietly steering the Onteora Central School District financial numbers for 13 years as Assistant Superintendent for Business, and after a stint as its Interim Superintendent following the resignation of Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill in 2015, Victoria McLaren, became its new Superintendent July 1, with a three-year contract at $170,000 per year.
McLaren said she had no interest in becoming superintendent until she stepped up as interim for the sake of consistency. “At the time that it happened,” she said, “it was spring and we were well into the budget, and I felt, from a different perspective it would be better for the district to have the consistency and not have to start mid-budget cycle with bringing someone new in.” Her experience as interim taught her mostly that she enjoyed running the district.
“I want to be here for the long haul, I don’t want to be here short term,” she said. “I’m not looking to move on. I think this is an amazing district, I think we have amazing things going on here…we have amazing and talented people that work here and we have amazing kids.”
Over the years McLaren has worked with nine district Superintendents. “I have done the math,” she said. But her memory is a little shaky on the interims, only remembering four, not including herself. Four full time superintendents, recruited from other areas throughout the United States, had short-lived contracts. The most recent, Superintendent Bruce Watson from New Jersey lasted nearly one-year, and is leaving for personal reasons. Justine Winters, who was hired as Superintendent in 2004 recommended that McLaren apply as Onteora Business Administrator when the position opened up. The two had worked together at Webutuck School district and Winters knew McLaren wanted to work closer to her hometown of Kingston. Winters passed away in 2006, after a battle with cancer. Webutuck was McLaren’s first job after graduating from college and spent eleven months employed there prior to Onteora. She holds an undergraduate degree from SUNY Oneonta in International Business, and an MBA at Marist. Over time McLaren gained certifications to become Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent.
Besides the overturn of Superintendents, McLaren has lasted through several central office administrators, making her a senior official. Some people joke that being district Superintendent is akin to the Professor of the Dark Arts in Harry Potter books. In every book there is always a new Professor due to unforeseen circumstances. McLaren laughs. “I certainly hope I will not follow that trend. As I told the board and as I tell everyone, I love this district. I don’t intend to be here short term.” She is, she says, “invested” in staying. “I don’t know why I would want to go somewhere else.”
What about more affluent places, like Westchester, for more salary? No, McLaren wants to have time to enjoy what is offered locally, often being seen at local community events. She lives in Kingston on a large piece of land where she has four horses (one belongs to her mother), is married with a young child going into second grade, two step children in college, and a Jack Russell Terrier. Any spare time she has left is spent with her two-or-four legged family. She has no intention to move or for a lengthy commute.
McLaren will have no surprises when it comes to district division — she has seen it all. In 2004 she came to work in a district that was on a contingency budget; the West Hurley School had just closed, the Indian mascot issue was still fanning flames, and Large Parcel Legislation all came together to splinter the community. McLaren made it through this difficult time while fine-tuning a budget that has since seen successful support from voters.
She has worked as the possibility of closing another elementary school arose, as did proposals to bring the district to one location at Boiceville and shutter the remaining schools; through protests over the demolition of Woodstock Wonderworks playground, a shift in school grade configuration, hurricanes, blizzards, fire, and she wants to stay put.
“It’s a different perspective…but I think I come from a position of having been here for so long that I am a great fan of our district…I think we have a unique community, and I know everyone says that ‘my district is unique’, but I feel we are unique and wonderful.” McLaren said that to acclimate another Superintendent would be risky, “because we’ve had so much turnover and so much change.”
During her time as interim, McLaren once again experienced the district divided over the High School mascot but this time it came as more of an organic change through the students, from Indian to an eagle. The change stuck and the budget passed. “I think that was a very difficult thing in our district and at this point we are moving forward,” she said. McLaren believes that the mascot was able to change because the area in general has changed since her arrival in 2004. She explained that young families are contributing to a new energy, an expansion in the arts and music, noting Phoenicia with galleries on Main Street and Festival of the Voice while still nestled in a rural setting. She finds the diversity remarkable and should be celebrated. “Woodstock is not the only town that is arts rich now. I think we really have that across all of our towns.” Having grown up in Kingston, McLaren feels a need to embrace the change so communities can thrive and exist. She knows a great school district contributes to that energy.