It’s way too early to tell what difference interim Schenectady school superintendent John Yagielski is going to make in terms of substance, but when it comes to style, especially openness, we like what we see.
Yagielski is off to a good start — even if he doesn’t exactly have a tough act to follow in former superintendent Eric Ely.
Last week brought two examples of how Yagielski, unlike Ely, is willing to listen to others’ ideas and actually wants them, how he views leadership as working together with other people rather than forcing his will on them.
At Carver Community Center, Yagielski appeared at the first of four forums to be held around the city between now and mid-August. He started off by saying, “I’m here to do a lot of listening,” and then proceeded to act like it, standing among the group rather than sitting, even drawing out the reticent ones. He referred to the schools as “your schools,” as in “I work for you,” and acknowledged the problems of the recent past, stressing the need to make the community feel better about district leadership. By the end of the meeting, several speakers had thanked him for having the meeting and letting them express themselves.
Example two was Yagielski meeting with various outside groups that in the past have used school facilities free of charge, such as Boys’ and Girls’ Club, football and basketball leagues. Under the contingency budget, they will now be required by state law to pay for any costs incurred by the district, such as janitors’ time to open the school building and clean up.
Instead of saying, “There’s nothing we can do; by voting against the proposed budget and forcing an austerity budget, you brought this situation on yourselves and are stuck with it” (as Ely would likely have done), Yagielski immediately started working with the groups to find creative ways to let them use school facilities, such as making schedule changes and bringing their own portable toilets, at no additional cost to the district.
In a school superintendent, a little humility and listening, instead of arrogance and dictating, can go a long way.