Kingston district closing in on new principals for high school, Montessori school

Summer vacation has just begun but on the calendar, the Kingston City School District officially started the 2019-20 school year this week. High on the district’s to-do list is completing the search to replace principals at both Kingston High School and George Washington Elementary School continues.

Of the two, the Kingston High School hiring looks imminent, with school officials this week saying they could have a candidate to present to the Board of Education at their next meeting.

“The search for a Kingston High School principal, the process is done,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino on Tuesday, July 2. “We had our last set of interviews Friday of last week. We met with the interview team. I’m just going over the comments that I received from them, and I think we will have an announcement at the July 10 meeting.”

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Former Kingston High Principal Kirk Reinhardt officially left the district this week to begin serving as the new superintendent in the Saugerties Central School District, but the school will briefly be guided in an interim capacity by Vice Principal Vincent DeCicco.

The search to replace outgoing George Washington Principal Valerie Hannum is also nearing completion, though Padalino said that for a variety of reasons it may not happen by July 10.

“We did have over the few weeks before graduation have a few random applications come in, which we thought were worthy of taking a look at, so we spent some time looking at those,” Padalino said. “And then we got bogged down with the end of the school year. But we’re regrouping now to get that process back in line, get someone named and over to GW as soon as possible. I don’t know if we’ll have someone for the July 10th meeting, but we’re hoping to have something very soon.”

Hannum’s retirement doesn’t go into effect until mid-August, so the school is covered for awhile longer. But there is also the possibility that the candidate presented to the school board will have to receive Montessori certification, an issue that for some George Washington parents, has tainted the hiring process.

At some recent school board meetings, parents have said their points of view are not being considered by school officials.

“I’m very concerned about the process by which this job search at GW has been conducted, and the way politics and personnel choices are being made,” said John Wilson in May. “I really wish that this board and the people searching for the candidate would listen to parents and engage in an actual democratic process, would actually be transparent, would communicate, and look for the best candidate. Because I think that having an administrator in there that is not on the same page as the teachers, the students, the community, the parents, would weaken the school, would weaken the community and would weaken the kids in the community. I hope that you will listen to experience and reason.”

Zoe Dunn, another parent, said that the district didn’t post the job opening often enough or in the right places to attract viable Montessori-certified candidates.

“This process continues to be mismanaged,” said Dunn in May. “The superintendent’s office received direction on where numerous postings should be made on a state and national basis to secure viable candidates, yet an underwhelming three postings were made in total. Dr. Padalino has not provided the Board, nor the GW community, a clear and transparent accounting of the posting process, including the organizations that were not responsive. We’ve exposed for you the process’ incompetency. It makes no sense for a national organization dedicated to Montessori education to be unresponsive to posting work opportunities for their community … Hiring in a public Montessori school is very specialized, not run of the mill, and should be given the specific time and energy that deserves.”

Padalino this week countered claims that the district hasn’t been candid or engaged in its Montessori principal search.

“I met with the parents back in February and outlined what the process would be,” he said. “We followed that process, but obviously some parents weren’t pleased with the response from candidates, which in my opinion is not all that surprising.”

Padalino stressed that there are other factors crucial to identifying the best candidate beyond already being Montessori-certified, including finding someone who is able to help all students succeed in a school that is roughly 60 percent Latino.

“We’re going to push through, hire the right person, and get them in place for the new school year,” Padalino said. “The first thing we’ll do if we hire someone who is not Montessori trained is we’ll start getting them enrolled in the training programs so they can get certified in Montessori.”

The Montessori program was phased in over a three-year period beginning with the 2008-09 school year, and has always been guided by Hannum. Padalino said that during all that time, the district has brought in a Montessori consultant for three weeks each year to help the program.

“We’re going to up that contract so we can get a little more help from her to come into the building and work with the new leader,” Padalino said. “We’re also going to look at some of our central office people who are Montessori certified to see if we can add some curricular help in the building to assist not only the principal, but also some of the teachers who aren’t yet Montessori trained. One of the positive things moving forward is that we will be able to flood the building with resources, get us back to where we were a few years ago with teachers being Montessori trained and administrators being Montessori trained and a curriculum person there to assist in all of that. That should get us moving in the right direction and solidify the Montessori program for us.”

Padalino said he understood the passion of the George Washington parents for the school, Montessori and Principal Hannum, but stressed that the district is also dedicated to the program’s continued success.

“Almost in any school, but particularly one with a different philosophy than the rest of the public schools in the district, when they lose their leader, they’re afraid things are going to change dramatically,” Padalino said. “I understand it but there really is no reason behind it. Fiscally and as far as support is concerned form the Board, myself, the district, we have never even had a conversation about ending the Montessori program.”

Padalino said that the district’s support for reinstating three-year old students into Montessori at George Washington should help assure parents that it’s there to stay.

“I understand that there’s fear, but there doesn’t need to be,” Padalino said. “We’re committed to the Montessori program and we’re going to continue to put our resources there.”

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