Schenectady County

Familiar face takes reins of Niskayuna school district

John Yagielski, who led the Schenectady City School District on an interim basis for two years, was
Interim Niskayuna School Superintendent John Yagielsky is pictured before a news conference at Van Antwerp Middle School on Tuesday.
Interim Niskayuna School Superintendent John Yagielsky is pictured before a news conference at Van Antwerp Middle School on Tuesday.

John Yagielski, who led the Schenectady City School District on an interim basis for two years, was named Niskayuna’s interim superintendent on Tuesday night.

The Niskayuna school board appointed Yagielski in a unanimous vote at its meeting. The appointment took effect immediately.

Yagielski will now lead the district as it searches for a permanent head after the board approved a separation agreement with the previous superintendent, Susan Kay Salvaggio, earlier this month.

Speaking to the board and the public after his appointment, Yagielski alluded to the issues the board and district have faced in the recent past.

Yagielski, though, was interested in moving the district forward.

“From my point of view, the past is the past. We can’t change that,” Yagielski said. “Instead, I really come here to try to help the board, the staff and community to begin to write a new chapter, a chapter that focuses on students, teaching and on training, and not on all those adult issues.”

The board’s unanimous vote to appoint Yagielski was in contrast to its split April 4 vote to oust Salvaggio. The board voted then to accept a separation agreement with the superintendent by a 4-3 vote.

The deal came with a $139,000 payment to Salvaggio to end her contract, which ran through June 2015.

Board members haven’t explained why they essentially let Salvaggio go. The agreement also included a provision that the district would make no disparaging remarks about her.

But the vote came after a tumultuous year that saw district voters reject an over-the-tax-cap budget and included discussion on possibly closing an elementary school.

After appointing Yagielski Tuesday night, board members welcomed him to the district. The appointment comes with an annual salary of $175,000, with no additional costs for health or pension benefits.

Among those board members welcoming him was Debra Gordon.

“I know I can speak for all of us on that, and I don’t normally speak for all of us,” Gordon said. “We’re very excited to have you. Thank you for working with us.”

Board member Patricia Lanotte called Yagielski “uniquely qualified” to head the district.

“I think your experience as an educator, coupled with your background in finance, is really going to be a tremendous asset to our district,” Lanotte said. “I think that you’re going to be able to set a tone at the top that all of us, my colleagues here, can embrace.”

Yagielski, 72, of Halfmoon, comes to Niskayuna after most recently serving as interim head of the Schenectady City School District.

He previously served as superintendent at the Shenendehowa Central School District from 1992 to 1997, when he left to run a consulting business. He also previously served as superintendent in Greece, near Rochester.

Yagielski spent two years with Schenectady after that district broke ties with its superintendent due to a wholly different set of issues than those facing Niskayuna.

But during that time, Yagielski was credited with healing the Schenectady district’s divide, handing over a district to the new superintendent that was in a much different place from when he started.

Board members there were left looking to Yagielski as a template for the superintendent they wanted to hire.

His job there was also to mend fences, which he was credited with doing in a span of months with the help of a listening tour of the district.

Yagielski said he planned on doing a similar listening tour of Niskayuna.

“We’re going to start tomorrow laying out plans to give all manner of folks in the school community, residents, taxpayers, staff, opportunities to tell me what they’re thinking, what they think we should do and how we should do it,” Yagielski said before the meeting.

He said he has found that approach to be helpful to him as well as the community. “It worked in other places, it will work here,” he said.

He also outlined a short list of key issues and goals, the first being simply to “rebuild community confidence in district leadership.”

Yagielski also wants to address district finances and school budgets. The immediate priority is winning community support next month for the district’s budget.

The board earlier this month approved a $77.3 million spending plan for 2014-2015. The budget calls for a 2.34 percent tax levy increase, well under the district’s 4.92 percent tax-cap number.

Yagielski said he also wants to prepare multiyear forecasts on revenues and expenditures.

Finally, Yagielski said he wants to set the stage for attracting “highly qualified” candidates to lead the district full time.

He intends to do that by building a strong relationship with the board and reviewing the current organizational structure.

Yagielski said he has received assurances from each of the board members that they are on the same page with him in those goals.

“This is our page,” Yagielski said prior to the meeting, emphasizing the list of issues and goals, “not just my page, and that’s a great start. That’s the way we’re going to have to move forward.”

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