Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Katherine Sullivan announced earlier this month that she intends to retire at the end of the school year after 41 years of service to the district.
The district has posted a tribute to Sullivan, detailing her career, on its website www.johnstownschools.org. Sullivan rose through the ranks at Johnstown from a Glebe Street Elementary School teacher to principal of Pleasant Avenue Elementary School in 1996 to assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in 1999 to finally superintendent, a job she’s held since 2008. Sullivan had two years remaining on her contract, but has chosen to retire early.
Sullivan spoke candidly last week about her reasons for choosing to retire now. She said the new federal Race to the Top funding New York state has acquired promises to begin a new era in how teachers and principals are evaluated and she believes Johnstown will be better served by a superintendent who can remain in place through the entire process of implementing the new system.
New York state received $700 million in the second round of the Race to the Top federal grant program. The money will be used to establish new guidelines for superintendents to use when evaluating staff. Growth in student test scores will account for 40 percent of the evaluation of teachers and principals. Districts can come up with their own systems for the other 60 percent of the evaluation. In theory, the new system may undermine the job protection teachers have historically enjoyed from the tenure system.
Sullivan said it was appropriate for her career to end as the old way of doing things also comes to an end.
“It’s going to be quite complicated. Some of the parts of this still need to be enacted and we’re waiting for guidance from the state. It is extremely involved and it will require teams in each school building to work on projects and honestly I just thought that a new leader should grow with the staff through this process,” she said.
“The tenured teachers will also be under more scrutiny than has occurred before. The tenured teachers will be pretty much in the same process as everyone else and that will include appeals if they aren’t comfortable with their evaluation. That appeal process has not yet been defined, and that will involve another layer of issues. Because there is so much unknown, and no one has dealt with this before, it really needs someone to grow with it. Somebody needs to be here to follow this through and that wouldn’t be me anyway.”
School Board President Robert Curtis said the board has worked with HFM BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel to set forward a timetable for hiring a new superintendent. He said applications are due to Michel’s office by May 6, the board will review them May 9 then choose which candidates to interview on May 18 and May 24. Curtis said the board will discuss the candidates again at a meeting May 26 and then final interviews are scheduled for June 1-2. The board will then make a selection in June, with the hope that the new superintendent will be in place by the end of the summer.
“Most of the time in these professional positions [selected candidates] have to give at least 60 days notice. So, if we select somebody in June hopefully we’ll have somebody in place by the first day of school,” he said.
Johnstown is offering to pay the new superintendent between $110,000 and $125,000. Sullivan’s salary for her last year is $125,000.
The school board as a whole will participate in the interview and selection process for the new superintendent. Curtis said one member of the board has a conflict of interest with one of the candidates for the position and has decided to recuse himself from interviewing any of the candidates.
“We have one member who has someone very close to him applying and he has graciously chosen to recuse himself from the entire process. I applaud him for doing that,” he said.
Sullivan has volunteered to continue to serve as superintendent until a candidate is chosen. Curtis praised her for her service.
“We’re losing someone who has spent 41 years of her life working for our district. You can’t say enough about her, she’s put her heart and soul into the Johnstown school district,” he said.
Sullivan said she has mixed emotions about leaving the district. She said she is proud of a number of the important projects the district has completed over the last decade, including the construction of the 880-seat high school auditorium, the new field turf at Knox Junior High School which allows for the field to be used by many sports throughout the year and the construction of the school district’s data center.