NISKAYUNA — In some ways, nothing has changed for Carl Mummenthey. But at the same time, everything has.
Following a monthslong search process, Mummenthey was appointed the new superintendent of the Niskayuna Central School District earlier this year and officially took over the role on July 1, succeeding Cosimo Tangorra, who resigned last October.
A life-long educator, the 51-year-old Mummenthey — who still lives in Schoharie County with his wife and children — spent years teaching English and journalism before moving on to administrative positions, first as a high school and middle school principal, and eventually at BOCES, where he worked as a planning and instructional specialist.
He would later serve nine years as superintendent of the Jefferson Central School District, a small, rural system in Schoharie County, before taking on the same role at the Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School District — another rural district in the same county, with a student popular about half that of Niskayuna.
“The first thing that surprises people is that the day-to-day work of the superintendent looks remarkably similar in my first district of 300 students as it does in Niskayuna with 4,300,” Mummenthey said in an interview this past week. “In both of those districts, my primary responsibility is to lead and support teams to ensure high-quality instruction for every child.”
Still, the differences between Niskayuna and Mummenthey’s previous districts are stark.
Cobleskill-Richmondville schools have an operating budget of just $48 million and is made up of a little more than 1,600, mostly white, students – half of which are considered economically disadvantaged, according to data from the state’s Education Department.
Niskayuna, meanwhile, is far more diverse and affluent, with an operating budget of $99 million and a student population of just over 4,200. An estimated 23% of students in the district, or 954, were considered economically disadvantaged during the 2020-21 school year, according to state data.
The differences, Mummenthey said, is what attracted him to the role.
“I was looking forward to applying my skill set in a suburban setting where the needs are very different but the mission is not less compelling,” he said. “I was really looking forward to working in a different kind of district, where resources and needs and opportunities would present me and our leadership team here with some new challenges.”
The district’s Board of Education appointed Mummenthey due to his experience in the classroom and previous success at Cobleskill-Richmondville, where he helped increase graduation rates and implement a $14.1 million capital improvement project approved by Cobleskill-Richmondville voters in 2020.
“Through the interview process, his communication and listening skills were evident, as well as his open-minded and collaborative nature,” Niskayuna school board president Kim Tully, said when the district announced Mummenthey’s appointment. “Building trust and strong relationships is a priority for Mr. Mummenthey and the Board believes he will be a wonderful addition to our learning community.”
Mummenthey has been busy acclimating to his new role, meeting with district leaders and working on filling out his administrative team. Prior to coming to the district, he visited with students and teachers and tuned in to school board meetings to keep update with district happenings.
Mummenthey may be less than two months into his tenure, but he’s already been tasked with navigating his first controversy over a canceled prekindergarten program, which the district put the breaks on due to a budget shortfall.
The controversy dates back to last year, when the district failed to properly advertise a request for proposals to operate the program.
Mummenthey said he supports the program but noted the district must look further to examine the need and desire for the initiative and determine whether there is any interest in raising taxes to help fund it.
The district, he noted, pays around $16,000 per student, below the county average of $17,000 — a sign that the district gets the best value for its dollars.
But Mummenthey is stepping into his new role at a challenging time for the district. The pandemic, which is still killing dozens of New Yorkers each day, has created uncertainty for school districts and has created new challenges for schools, including an increased need for mental health services and learning loss.
To gauge the extent of the issues and gather a better understanding how to move forward, the distort will be rolling out a school climate survey this fall, allowing students, parents and staff to weigh in on everything from school safety, academics, social and emotional services and their overall experiences at the district.
Data from the survey — which will be distributed digitally — will be used to inform how the district will inform future policies moving forward, Mummenthey said.
“All of it is designed to give us a really good read on what’s important to our staff, our students and their families,” he said. “And I think the data from the survey is going to help us target the interventions and supports where they’re most needed.”
Mummenthey said he is committed to academic excellence and developing programs that will prepare students to be “future ready,” but acknowledged that programming must be sustainable and not burden taxpayers.
He’s also looking into forming community partnerships to create new opportunities for students, and is developing a strategy to improve the district’s special education program learning outcomes for all students, and hopes to implement additional technology into classrooms as well as project-based learning.
The district has a 96% graduation rate, according to state data, but Mummenthey said that means 4% of students are not graduating on time despite spending 13 years in the district.
“I look at that as an opportunity, not necessarily a negative,” he said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.