The Highland Central School District (HCSD) will be heading into the 2021-2022 school year with an “eye to the future” and a dynamic leadership team, which includes several of the district’s well-liked veteran players. Joel Freer, the former principal of Highland Elementary School (HES), will take over as superintendent of schools; Dr. Patrick Boyd, the former director of Pupil Personnel Services, will expand his role and become assistant superintendent of Pupil Personnel Services and Human Resources; and Thomas Bongiovi, the retiring superintendent of schools, has agreed to stay on as an administrative coach/mentor to ensure continuity and success for the district.
“The Board and administration has been very thoughtful and strategic in its approach to building a strong administrative team,” said Board of Education president Thomas Miller. “We have all of the right people in the right places, with Mr. Bongiovi still playing a role to ensure a smooth transition. This succession plan gives everyone a strong foundation for success. It’s exciting.”
Freer, who takes the reins this September, has been in the district since 2004. He first served as an assistant principal at Highland Middle School until becoming principal at HES in 2008. He has an excellent relationship with students, families and teachers, and says he still enjoys seeing and catching up with former students and their parents around the community. “I am honored and humbled that the district feels I have the skill set to take Highland forward,” Freer said of his new appointment.
An additional benefit is that Freer already has a great working relationship with Boyd, as they have collaborated together for many years. “I knew instantly he would be phenomenal in this new role,” Freer said.
Boyd, who first began working in the district as a special education teacher at HES in 2009, was hired by Freer and is also a visible presence around the Highland school community. He currently oversees Special Education Services, the English as a New Language (ENL) program and homeschooling. In 2020, he served as a grantwriter for the district and was responsible for securing funds for two COVID-relief programs – the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund – which helped the district in adapting to the COVID-19 crisis. This included the purchase of items such as more flexible, cleanable classroom furniture and a device for each student for virtual learning, as well as the creation of a committee to address the pandemic’s impact on the social/emotional wellbeing of students.
Boyd says he is looking forward to expanding his role even further, which will include working more with collective bargaining units and “the bigger picture of all the schools in the district.”
The new team says that, although there is always much to tackle, the focus of the HCSD this upcoming school year lies squarely on students. “As we wait for guidance from the state, we are hoping to return to an environment that is as normal as possible. We will be assessing what the gaps in instruction are and getting students back on track and feeling good,” Freer said.
Other continuing initiatives include integrating technology – which includes the likes of Schoology, Zoom and other popular tools of digital learning – and working towards more diversity in both hiring practices and curriculum development.
“We are a small-but-mighty district,” he summed. “And we don’t wait; we are always moving forward. This means putting students first, empowering teachers and administrators and always keeping our eyes on the future.”