New Paltz School District residents who feel that the swift replacement of the middle school principal represented a missed opportunity are, in the week of still more administrative openings, redoubling their efforts to inject transparency into the hiring process. The message seems to be getting through, although Superintendent Maria Rice remains unapologetic for acting quickly when Richard Wiesenthal retired with little notice.
Reading a letter signed by a number of community members at the August 15 school board meeting, Aidan Koeller said that they are “waiting” for Rice to “explain the process” and how it reflects existing policy of “diverse recruitment” to fill positions. Exactly what criteria were used to select candidates to be interviewed, she wanted to know, and when were those criteria last reviewed?
When Wiesenthal, who was named a principal of the year in 2014, announced his retirement in a brief e-mail right after the school year ended, Rice quickly named his assistant Ann Sheldon as his permanent replacement. That decision “eroded trust” in the racial equity process, according to Koeller, but the superintendent maintains it was necessary in light of the ongoing construction in that building. Entire grades of students will have to be relocated as work proceeds, Rice explained in a later telephone interview, and it’s better to have someone at the helm who knows the ins and outs.
As for why Sheldon wasn’t given an interim appointment, Rice said that the multi-year contract prevents anyone from making Sheldon an offer providing more stability than an interim position grants. The superintendent stands by the decision, but at the same time, said, “I panicked” in the face of the massive uncertainty created by Wiesenthal’s departure. The circumstances are different at Duzine, and Rice wants that process to be “as transparent as possible,” including parents and other school community members.
Teachers and administrators often give a year or more notice when they decide to retire, allowing for the position to be posted during the busy job-hunting season in the spring. Neither Wiesenthal nor, more recently, Debra Hogencamp gave that much of a signal, and the pool of applicants during the summer months is much smaller. Tara Ryba is also leaving after a year as assistant principal in the high school, but that position is widely seen as a stepping stone on the way to becoming a building principal.
“It puts us behind the eight ball for hiring,” Rice said during her later interview. Elementary principals are needed in several nearby districts, and “the pool is pretty shallow” at this time. In Ellenville, the salary was raised “significantly” beyond what’s typical for the job in this area, she said. William Ball was named as interim replacement for Hogencamp, and he is “welcome” to apply to remain permanently, Rice said.
While neither of the recent principal retirements had advance notice, Rice stressed that the timing is a personal decision. The superintendent is herself collecting a pension for more than a year since retiring from the job of superintendent of schools, only to be rehired through 2021. Taxpayers are no longer contributing to her pension.
Hogencamp did not return a call for comment, and attempts to obtain a phone number for Wiesenthal were unsuccessful by press time.