Years after it began and months after the hourglass was turned over, Seth Turner’s time as superintendent of the Saugerties Central School District has come to an end.
At the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, September 25, Turner was officially no longer the superintendent of the SCSD. Though he’d been out of his office since late August using his remaining vacation days, he was still technically in charge. And since he doesn’t officially begin his new job as superintendent of the Amagansett Union Free School District until Monday, October 1, Turner has time to catch his breath and look back.
“I have no responsibilities for about four or five days,” he said. It was a bit of levity in an uncertain time, because in spite of deliberate and careful consideration, deciding to leave the district where he’d spent most of his professional career for another, to uproot his family and move out to Long Island, was something of a leap of faith.
“I began in Saugerties in 1997,” Turner said. “I was 24 years old. I walk out 21 years later. But it’s exciting to be alive, to go try to do something that scares you. It’s exciting to embark on something new and different. But it’s also very scary and frightening. And that’s part of being alive.”
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 the SCSD in 2009 following the retirement of Richard Rhau. Turner’s most recent contract with the district was approved in 2015 and would have run through 2020. Instead, he’ll start fresh in another district, another town.
Amagansett students, all of them in grades kindergarten-5, move into the East Hampton Union Free School District for middle and high school, and for Turner the idea of being able to work more closely with younger students in a district with fewer than 100 kids was worth exploring. Even if it meant leaving Saugerties behind.
“I’m extremely proud of all of the accomplishments that have taken place in the district,” said Turner this week. “It was a period of time of creativity and innovation in which we saw so many improvements in a vast array of areas. Whether it be higher-end courses and advanced placement offerings growing, or providing support to those who need it for ESL or remediation, to what we were doing with STEAM initiatives. It was an exciting time. It was great to be a part of it.”
Asked if he felt he was leaving the district in better shape than when he arrived, Turner without hesitation said he was.
“That can be demonstrated in a lot of different areas,” he said. “First, academically, you see graduation rates are higher than they had been. The performance on Regents exams and other test scores have continued to go up. But it’s also seen in things like labor negotiations, where we used collaborative and cooperative methods as opposed to standard industrial methods. Where we worked together sitting at the table. That allowed us to focus on the academics because we could address other types of issues, whether it was facility improvement…we put a new boiler in at Cahill in the winter. These are things that had to be done, but were just Herculean. Putting a new roof on a building during the winter because it needed to be done. We pulled these things off.”
Turner added that he was pleased to have helped grow athletics and other extracurricular offerings in the district during his time as superintendent.
But now that’s over, and the SCSD enters a period of measured uncertainty. Deputy Superintendent Lawrence Mautone will add to his duties the role of interim superintendent while the Board of Education works with Ulster BOCES to identify and eventually hire a permanent district leader.
“Larry Mautone is a great guy,” Turner said of the appointment. “A very smart individual. A very intelligent person, very hardworking and committed to the community. He’s worked in the district for several decades at this point. I wish them well with whatever it is they choose to do.”
As a final message for the district he led since 2009 and worked in for over a decade before that, Turner’s message was primarily about the children.
“Saugerties is just an outstanding community, and I’m proud to have been part of the leadership of the school district for as long as I was,” he said. “Certainly everyone who worked with me knows that I was child-centered, and that all decisions were made with the best decisions of children at heart. I’m so glad I was able to grow personally and professionally in the Saugerties Central School District and I wish them well. I want the best for the students in that community.”