New Paltz Central School District Superintendent Maria Rice announced her intent to retire, effective December 31, 2019. The Board of Education unanimously accepted her resignation at the Wednesday, October 16 meeting.
In the coming weeks, the Board of Education will decide who will serve as a temporary superintendent while it searches for a permanent successor.
Rice has spent 45 years working in the field of education, starting her career in 1974 teaching English at the middle school level. “I cherish the time I taught grade seven,” says Rice. “I loved being in the classroom, and as I finish my career as an administrator, I am so honored to have been able to work on behalf of children for so long.”
Rice took over the reins in July of 2005. When she arrived, the district had recently completed its five-year mandated building conditions survey, a comprehensive facilities report that indicated severe infrastructure and building deficiencies, especially at the 1930s-era middle school. Finding solutions to address these significant (and expensive) issues became one of Rice’s first major initiatives. In 2007, she advanced a plan for a $1.86 million tax neutral capital project to address some of the critical items, while working with the district’s facilities committee to develop long-term solutions focused on creating 21st-century facilities. In 2008, she brought the community together for conversations about the future of the district’s facilities. Public forums, focus groups, blogs and discussions on the topic, which became known as “The Board’s Dilemma” followed. Community involvement led to the decision to renovate the middle school. In March 2015, the community approved a $52.9 million referendum to update the middle school, as well as address deficiencies in each of the buildings. This work is scheduled for completion by the end of December 2019.
By 2006, Rice was also involved in developing strategic goals and creating a district vision and mission, which became the foundation of a formal Educational Master Plan. Leading a committee of stakeholders, Rice focused this work on the premise that students live in a world where creativity, innovation, teamwork and depth of understanding are the basic skills needed to achieve success. The Educational Master Plan serves as a map to guide all educational programs, practices and procedures and is used as the basis for all decision-making in the district. District-specific standards were developed, and teachers engage in annual action planning to ensure their work is aligned with the district’s vision. Outcomes are measured and formally presented to the community each year in the annual State of the District Report.
Rice is also responsible for the implementation of the Responsive Classroom, which has been in place in K-2 classrooms for more than a decade and was responsible for encouraging open enrollment in accelerated programs at the middle school, breaking down the past practices of limiting opportunities to only those on an advanced educational track. “Student potential should be nurtured,” says Rice. “By allowing enrollment of those with the interest and drive to take more challenging courses, that potential is unleashed and can be life-changing.”
Rice also dealt with challenges. Among the most difficult was dealing with fiscal constraints that resulted in difficult budget decisions. In 2008, the Great Recession hit, which resulted in reduced state aid payments for school districts, including New Paltz. Four years later, a tax cap was passed, forcing further budget reductions.
During Rice’s tenure, the high school earned several New York State Education Department and other prominent distinctions, and Duzine Elementary School was selected by the department as a model school.
“Maria has led the district with dedication and distinction. She is a champion of education, and is willing to have the conversations, find the resources and offer the training and encouragement needed to bring about opportunities for our students,” said Deputy Superintendent Michelle Martoni. “Her leadership and support have played an important role in our district’s strong achievement levels. We will miss her very much.”
Rice will also miss her work with the district, but says it is time for her to enjoy her family and travel as she has always wished to do. She plans to remain involved in the Rotary and expand her involvement in the Friends of Guirgho, a non-profit dedicated to providing rural schools in West Africa with access to education and technology.
“Life goes by so fast, I don’t want to miss any more of it,” says Rice about her decision to retire, recalling how she missed the high school graduations of each of her three older grandchildren because they were held on the same day as the New Paltz graduation. “I don’t regret a minute of my time working in education, but it is time for me to move on.”
Board of Education president Kathy Preston stated, “The board appreciates the hard work and meaningful contributions that Maria has given to the district in her 14 years of leadership, and we wish her the very best.”