Schenectady County

Schenectady’s interim superintendent sticking around longer than planned

Schenectady still isn’t looking for a new school superintendent.

Schenectady still isn’t looking for a new school superintendent.

And the school board is hoping it won’t have to start anytime soon.

“We’re happy to have John as long as he will stay,” board President Cathy Lewis said of the district’s interim superintendent, John Yagielski.

Yagielski, 69, said when he was hired that he intended to stay just one year. But he told the board privately that he’d stay a little longer if he couldn’t turn the district around in 12 months, he said.

Now he says it’s clear that he won’t be able to return to retirement on June 30, when his contract expires.

“I can’t walk away,” he said. “There’s work to be done.”

Although Lewis said she’d love to have him stay, he said he won’t commit to a full second year — but perhaps six months.

“I certainly see myself here to open school in the fall,” he said, adding that he realizes that means he’ll be working when he turns 70.

“Whoever thought I’d be working at 70?” he said. “Look, I wasn’t looking for things to do. I had a nice retirement.”

He has had to skip important events that he and his wife intended to do in the past year, including train trips to visit grandchildren.

She went without him. He stayed here, working on weekends to build a budget from the disorganized collection of financial records left for him. It took him nine months just to do that.

At the same time, he’s held many public forums, on evenings and weekends, to rebuild confidence in the school district. School board members say he’s won over many residents — and them.

“He’s done a terrific job for us,” Lewis said.

The budget isn’t yet done; Yagielski must put together an affordable plan for next year, a process that he has only just started.

Then, he said, he will work on his last goal: helping the district find a “quality superintendent.”

First he must make the district desirable to good superintendents, he said.

“You want the conditions to be right. Getting a fiscal plan in place that can be sustained, that’s a critical component,” he said. “It’s not just getting the budget in place. It’s implementation.”

The budget will likely include operational changes, including new programs offered in-house. Yagielski has repeatedly said the only way the district can make ends meet is to stop reflexively doing everything the way it has always been done.

Once the programs have been successfully implemented, he will lead the board — and possibly residents — to craft a “careful list” of the skills, leadership style and other characteristics wanted in the next superintendent.

With everything in place, he said he could help the district find new leadership in much less than a year.

But Lewis noted that other districts have spent more than six months searching for a superintendent.

“It’s very difficult. There’s apparently quite a shortage of superintendents, and to come to an urban district in this state’s fiscal condition, it may be a challenge,” she said.

Even if it takes just six months, Lewis said the search will not begin until mid-summer at the earliest, which means Yagielski may end up working at the beginning of 2012.

He declined to comment on how long he’s willing to stay.

“I went into this with my eyes wide open,” he said. “I really felt compelled. This is a district that has needs.”

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