Saugerties Central School District names Gwendolyn Roraback as its new Director of Curriculum

Gwendolyn Roraback (Kristine Conte/Ulster BOCES)

Gwendolyn Roraback has been the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Saugerties Central School District (SCSD) since the start of the school year, but she’s neither new to education nor the Hudson Valley. After 22 years in education, she said she feels she’s in the right district at the right time to really make a difference. 

“When the administration is psyched about learning and we’re bringing in professional development where they know it’s relevant, it’s cutting edge, it means something,” said Roraback. “But teachers sometimes don’t buy into professional development because often it’s a one-shot wonder, or they implement it and then it’s gone. So I’m thinking about, what are the things we need to sustain? And in my role, it always comes down to instruction. Always. You don’t need a lot of money for good instruction: You need a really good plan.”

Roraback came to the district after serving as Director of Instructional Services with Ulster BOCES; she’s also been the Director of the Mid-Hudson Leadership Institute and was a teacher in both the Poughkeepsie and Kingston school districts. 

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“I’m a Hudson Valley girl,” she said. “I left briefly and I came right back. It’s my home. I love the Hudson River, I love the mountains. I love Saugerties.”

Roraback, her husband and their two school-age children live in Highland. In addition to her new role with the SCSD, she’s also working towards her doctorate degree in Educational Leadership at Manhattanville College; her dissertation is a qualitative study about Elementary Principals’ Perceptions of Stress and Resilience during COVID-19 and the Effect on Their Personal and Professional Lives. Roraback’s predecessor, Darlene Westinghouse, retired from education after capping her career with 3 1/2 years in Saugerties. 

The new director of curriculum and instruction comes to Saugerties at what is hoped to be the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted students and educators around the globe. 

“One of the things that weighs really heavily on my heart, and this is actually part of my dissertation too, is the mental and emotional toll on everyone,” she said. “It’s not easy work. It’s a lot of building systems here and there are a lot of needs.”

Roraback said the district has implemented a new instructional coaching program this year with the idea of sustainable support to teachers. 

“Their plates are so full,” she said. 

Also being given extra attention are Saugerties’ students, the youngest of whom are only just beginning to get a sense of what a regular school year is really like, never mind what challenges they may face as they grow up. It’s the district’s goal to prepare them for the world outside of school grounds. 

“Our second graders don’t even know what a traditional school year is,” said Roraback. “In this district and everywhere it’s understanding and realizing our kindergartners are going to be graduating in 2034…So just as rapidly as the world has changed for you and I, the ways in which we are preparing and educating our students in very traditional institutionalized models from a century ago are not going to prepare them for 2034.”

Roraback said students should be prepared for a global world. 

“They need to be globally literate,” she said. “ And being globally literate means all different types of literacies: Cultural literacies, financial, economic, obviously anything to do with technology and the digital realm of being literate. And additionally, it also means being an empath, by having empathy and being civic-minded and giving back to your community and to the world.”

To accomplish that, Roraback said, the district will look into enrichment, with everything from STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) camp, which could include activities like robotics to Lego club and beyond, some of which can be facilitated through partnerships in the Hudson Valley. 

“We have to get our kids totally psyched about learning,” she said. “There has to be the sense of wonder again, through inquiry…That’s really our vision — after-school, camps, the STEAM camp and really just lighting a fire of enjoying learning. And so part of my shtick is really creating a culture of learning from the top down.”

Roraback said she believes Saugerties has the people in place to make it happen.

“My colleagues, we are all student driven,” she said, adding that Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt is the right leader to help make good things happen in Saugerties. “I’ve never worked with a superintendent who is so student driven and is such an instructional leader. And that’s why I’m here. Honestly, I’m not going to go work for a superintendent who really doesn’t care about the whole child. And I knew his integrity and I knew that we would be like-minded.”

Roraback believes the SCSD is ready to meet any challenges that comes its way. 

“We are on the precipice of greatness,” Roraback said. “There is no reason why we can’t be in the top 49 (schools) in New York State. And in two years, we’re going to be a very different district.”