With no comment or explanation, the Onteora School Board voted on January 12 to extend athletic director (AD) Kim Pilla’s paid administrative leave through January 25.
At its December 22 meeting, the board had accepted superintendent Victoria McLaren’s recommendation to place Pilla on leave through January 15. That meeting, held via videoconference, was attended by more than 160 students, parents and community members who supported keeping Pilla in her position. About 30 people spoke on her behalf.
At the January 12 meeting, more than 100 attended, and about a dozen spoke. Neither McLaren nor school board president Laurie Osmond responded to requests for comment on Pilla’s future.
The board held a January 14 executive session on the matter. Any action must be taken in public session. The next regularly scheduled public meeting is next Tuesday, January 26. The agenda has not yet been made public.
Pilla currently holds the positions of Director of Physical Education, Athletics, Health and Dean of Students.
Like the earlier occasion, this meeting was characterized by laudatory comment about Pilla’s character and job performance.
“Some of you may not know that we almost didn’t have a JV basketball season for the boys because they didn’t have a coach,” said Mike Liverani. “I was approached three days before the season by our athletic director, who basically begged and pleaded with me to take on the role, which I did because of how much she means to me and how much she means to the district.”
Liverani said Pilla “inherited a mess,” having to deal with replacing neglected and inadequate equipment. She also united the community in the middle of the transition away from the Indians mascot. “She walked into the Eagle versus Indian fiasco and she seemed to unify us and move us past that, which is a huge thing for our community. It’s important to note how united our community is for our athletic director.”
Frank Nagele read a statement from Herb Cytryn, who recently retired from a 30-year career coaching five sports t Onteora. “She had a vision of just what it would take to bring back a dormant sports program to where it once was,” read Nagele. “Dismissing the AD is the end of the progress made under her guidance. Please reconsider your decision to end what was more successful than what athletics were for a long time.”
Nagele, himself a 1991 graduate and parent of children in the district, spoke of Pilla’s ability to turn around the athletics program. “It’s really amazing for me just to see the turnout at these events,” he said. “When I was a child and going to the games, all four bleachers would be pulled out and there would be standing room only. During these down years, you could have two bleachers out and we could socially distance. Last year, going to the games, we’re pulling out all four bleachers again. and I see people that don’t have children in the school.”
Andrew Occhi, an Onteora middle and high school coach and physical education teacher since 1997, echoed comments about Pilla’s commitment to her work. “Yes, she can be aggressive, pushy and irritating at some times, but she gets things done,” Occhi said. “Please don’t let her leave. It would be devastating for our school.”
Grace Hallinan, a 2020 graduate, said Pilla cares for the students beyond her responsibilities.“In eleventh grade, I had a very severe knee injury,” said Hallinan. “It was so physically and psychologically painful for me. The athletic director was there for me. I think the sheer number of people that has actually decided to return to this meeting really speaks for itself.”
Hallinan noted that Pilla even called the hospital to check up on her.
While some of those who spoke said they understood the board would not comment on a personnel matter, they felt they deserved an explanation for why Pilla’s position was in limbo. “Please let us know,” beseeched Hallinan. “This has been going on for months.”