The third and final candidate for associate superintendent of Schenectady High School said she is not apprehensive about coming to a high school that is almost three times larger than her previous school district.
Helen Anne Livingston spent three years as superintendent of the Chester Union Free School District in Chester, a district with about 1,100 students.
“I have no reservation whatsoever. It’s a challenge. It’s something I haven’t tried before,” she told about 20 people gathered in the Board of Education meeting room at Mont Pleasant School.
She admitted that the demographics of her former district are completely different from Schenectady’s. Seventy-five percent of Chester’s students are white.
Livingston left her job in Chester in October and is still being paid under the terms of a separation agreement. She signed a new three-year contract in March 2009, but a few months later a new school board came into office and wanted a change, according to Livingston.
“We had philosophical differences about the way I was managing the school district. It got to the point where decisions weren’t being made, progress wasn’t being made,” she said without elaborating.
She technically remains on leave with pay and benefits.
Livingston had also been charged with harassment in June 2009 after a parent claimed that she got in his face and shouted at him. The charge was dismissed in November of that year.
She said the man made the complaint in retaliation for an earlier incident in which she had to have the man’s wife removed from school property because she refused to leave. At the time, she said, she was just recovering from back surgery and could not come running out of the building to confront him as the man had claimed.
“I had to yell out to him because he’s deaf from brain cancer,” she said.
Although much of her prior background has been in elementary education, she said she saw that as the level that provides the building blocks of education. “If we don’t have a strong foundation, we don’t have anything to build on,” she said.
Livingston said her style is to be very visible with students, who are looking for role models. When she was superintendent, she would walk the halls on a daily basis and pop into different classrooms, she said.
She said she believes in a collaborative leadership style and surrounding herself with a team of quality people to make decisions.
Even though it was a smaller district, she said she still had to deal with serious discipline issues like drug possession and weapons offenses.
Livingston also said she believed in getting more involvement from parents. At her former district, they had family nights where they would offer a free meal and then a program.
While she has been looking for a new job, she said she took some public school finance and budgeting courses at SUNY New Paltz.
Livingston is competing for the job against John Harrison, principal of Mercer Island High School in the state of Washington, and Henry Kaiser, former deputy superintendent of the Pittsfield, Mass., School District.
Board of Education President Maxine Brisport said the district does not have a specific timetable on making a decision.