Saratoga Springs City School District's new superintendent said he plans to be an accessible and visible leader and said the district should focus on personalizing education so all its students show improvement.
Michael Patton, who led the South Glens Falls district for the past seven years, started in Saratoga at the start of the month, replacing Michael Piccirillo.
“Saratoga Springs was one of the few schools that was kind of on my watch list to say hey if that job ever opened up,” he said during in interview last week.
Patton and his family are planning to move to the district in the coming months, with his three boys starting school next semester, he said. He and his wife, a Burnt Hills kindergarten teacher, have boys in eighth, ninth and 11th grades. They started elementary school in Saratoga schools, where Patton had previously lived.
He said Saratoga has been a leader in using new technology and offering students extracurricular activities, citing the use of the district’s Project Lead the Way engineering program to expose students in the earliest grades to science in action.
“Saratoga Springs, I refer to it as a lighthouse district, not only for the Capitral Region, but across the state,” he said.
He acknowledged that Saratoga’s strong reputation comes with the burden and pressure of maintaining and expanding on past success. He said achieving that requires collaboration within the district as well as with community partners like Skidmore College.
“Obviously there is a huge return on investment on community has in our schools and any opportunity we have to partner is something we want to take full advantage of,” he said.
Patton will be paid a pro-rated salary of $182,000 through June and make $185,000 beginning July 1, according to the three-and-a-half year contract he signed with the district in October.
Patton said he spent his first days on the job visiting schools, adjusting to overseeing a larger district and observing the district’s routines and operations. He has visited with transportation crews, watched as schools dismissed students and met with after-school clubs, starting to put names to faces, including his.
“I’m a highly visible leader, that’s something I really enjoy, wanting to be accessible, not only to the students, but to the faculty and staff,” he said. “The personalization is so important for a superintendent to interact with students.”
As the district sets out on replacing its current five-year plan, adopted five years ago, Patton said it should focus on how to develop personalized educations that meet students’ academic and social needs, while developing their personal character.
“When you say all students you have to mean all students,” he said. “What I see across the board is that there are initiatives that are currently in place, but we are going to start kind the next phase.”
With a tough budget year starting to take shape, Patton said he plans to look for ways the district can be more efficient while continuing programs already in place.
“The goal is to maintain and preserve the academic programming that we have in place but at the same time exploring ways we can continuously be more efficient as a school district,” Patton said.
He added that a group of about 18 faculty retirements will save the district some money and that with each position he would ask if there are other ways to deliver the same services more efficiently.
In May, Saratoga Springs City School District voters will be asked to approve a $15 million “great outdoors” capital project along with a school budget. The project will focus on the district's outdoor spaces and will include funding for improvements at the district-owned East Side and West Side community parks.
In the longer run, he said the district will develop a new strategic plan and discuss what kind of academic changes would necessitate facility improvements as part of a larger capital project that could go up for public approval in the coming years.