After spending the past two decades with the Saugerties Central School District, Superintendent Seth Turner notified the school board on Wednesday that he’s taking a similar role in the Amagansett Union Free School District for the 2018-19 school year.
Previously a teacher with BOCES in Plattsburgh, Turner came to Saugerties in 1997 as a special education teacher in the alternative education program at the high school. In 2000 he became an assistant principal before becoming principal at Grant D. Morse Elementary in 2003. Turner was hired as superintendent in 2009 following the retirement of Richard Rhau. Turner’s current contract was approved in 2015 and runs through 2020.
Turner said that as a member of both the New York State Council of Superintendents and the American Association of School Administrators, he frequently received notices about open administrative positions in other school districts. But there was something about Amagansett, which he said was one of the premier school districts in the country, that caught his attention. Amagansett students move into the East Hampton Union Free School District for middle and high school, and the idea of being able to work more closely with younger students in a district with fewer than 100 kids was worth exploring.
“I really became more and more interested the more I learned about the district,” Turner said on Wednesday. “Having served as the principal of Morse Elementary School, which was also a K-6 design, it really began to appeal to me the thought of being able to work closer to students than I currently am able to. For me, it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the job.”
Turner said Amagansett began their nationwide search sometime in the early spring, and he turned in the paperwork necessary to show his interest in early April. He didn’t hear anything until sometime in May, when Dr. Charles Fowler, the president of educational recruiting and development firm School Leadership, LLC got in touch. Fowler was serving as a consultant to Amagansett in the district’s search to replace outgoing Superintendent Eleanor Tritt.
Turner had a pair of interviews over two weekends in mid-June, the second with the full five-member Board of Education on Saturday, June 16. The following day — Father’s Day — he was told he was the finalist for the position and that they only had to follow up with his references. By that Monday the offer was made, and by that Tuesday a contract was in place. Turner waited until three days later to notify his staff by e-mail, preferring to wait until the school year was over for students so as not to provide any undue distractions.
“I started the e-mail with this: In this year we are accomplishing an 84 percent graduation rate in four years, and 10 years ago it was 69 percent,” Turner said. “We have brought graduation rates up 15 percentage points in the last 10 years.”
In addition to the increase in the graduation rate, Turner added that he hopes his legacy in the district is connected to the many academic programs which were developed and grown in Saugerties, which he credited to the collaborative efforts of his colleagues.
“I’m just so proud of the great work that’s been done by all the good people with whom I work,” Turner said. “I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for the people who work in the Saugerties Central School District, our top-quality administrators, teachers, all faculty members. These are people that are my friends and family and that I’ve worked with since 1997.”
Turner’s contract with Amagansett runs from October 1, 2018 through June 30, 2022, with a starting annual salary of $195,000.
School board President Robert Thomann on Wednesday said trustees had plenty of work to do to figure out how best to make the transition, including whether to seek a new full-time superintendent or bridge the gap with someone working on an interim basis.
“A lot of this happened suddenly, so I don’t know that I have a comment,” Thomann said. “We got a letter of resignation today, so I scheduled a board meeting for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. That’s where we’re going to discuss the process. We need to get everybody’s input. Obviously we have to keep the business of the district running and look at what that transitional process is going to be. But I think that’s when we’re going to hash everything out.”
Thomann added that with Turner remaining in Saugerties until Tuesday, Sept. 25, he expects there will be some assistance at the administrative level at making the transition as smooth as possible, but that the future will be ultimately directed by the school board.
“I haven’t spoken to Mr. Turner about any ideas he has for that,” Thomann said. “We’ll listen to his perspective, and then we’ll figure out what the board wants to do.”
Turner said he and his family are just beginning to get used to the idea of moving out to the Hamptons.
“Our life is in a whirlwind right now,” Turner said. “It’s very positive, but it’s a significant change and transition, one that we’re confronting adss a family. We have a tight-knit family unit and none of us was expecting this. But over the last week-and-a-half we’ve been making the adjustments necessary.”
Turner added that the move will be bitter sweet after spending the past 20 years in Saugerties.
“This is a wonderful community comprised of outstanding individuals,” Turner said. “These students are now friends of mine for life.”