By Marcello Iaia
HILLTOWNS — Leonard Kies, the new dean of students for Berne-Knox-Westerlo, is a Mets fan.
“Unfortunately for me — but I am what I am,” said Kies.
For the Long Islander, athletics have been a keystone in both his 17-year-long career in education and growing up in a disciplined family where each of his siblings connected with something, like music or baseball.
Kies, known as “Len,” started two weeks ago in a broad administrative position that he views as fluid and fortifying for the BKW community.
While the job description is focused on discipline, it also includes teacher evaluation, interviewing new faculty and staff, curriculum development, and budget preparation and implementation. It is a 10-month position, with a week of work before and after the school year.
“I believe that, when students see you supporting them in a variety of roles, you open up those lines of communication, which are so vital and that’s where it translates down the line, where ‘Hey Mr. Kies, I’m having a real tough time with this,’” he said.
With students who are not open and receptive, Kies said his persistence helps.
“If every single day I have to say a word of inspiration or something positive, then I’ll do that every day,” he said.
While his office is across from the secondary school principal’s in the main office, Kies said he can be found in the hallways, at practices, basketball games, waiting for buses to pull in, and in the elementary school.
Board of Education President Vasilios Lefkaditis said the search was for someone who could relate to kids in an authoritative way.
“This guy’s a ball of energy….He’s bright,” said Lefkaditis.
A previous Dean of Students, Brian Keller, joined the district in 2009, but the position was eliminated during the 2011 budgeting process.
The salary for the new dean of students is $60,000, said Lefkaditis, and, given the recent elimination of a social studies teacher and a hall monitor, amounts to a “small savings to the taxpayers” of around $5,000.
“We addressed probably the single biggest concern that staff and parents have, and that is the disruption that is caused by a very small group of people,” said Lefkaditis.
During the Jan. 7 school board meeting, discipline reports for the district until Nov. 9 showed that a handful of students made up a large portion of the referrals within a given class.
As an assistant principal at Rocky Point Middle School, where he was a volunteer baseball coach, Kies had many office visits, sometimes daily, from a single seventh-grader.
“Finally I said, ‘Listen, we have to find a way. We have to get you going with something; and we talked a little about what interested him. It was probably an unorthodox approach….We settled on him wanting to try wrestling.”
Kies paired the student with a teacher who coached varsity wrestling, and the seventh-grader went on to become captain of his high school team, a county champion, qualify for state competition, and received a scholarship to attend Eastern Michigan University.
The student did not complete college because of family financial circumstances, said Kies. Through his reputation as an athlete, the student represented a Central American country of his heritage in the 2012 London Olympics.
Kies has kept in touch with the student.
After two years as assistant principal, Kies became district director of physical education at Rocky Point. For seven years prior, he taught elementary and middle-school academics.
Kies was born in Brooklyn and graduated from the State University of New York College at Oneonta with a bachelor’s degree in business economics. He earned a master of science degree in education, as well as a professional diploma, from Long Island University, C.W. Post.
He was a college athlete and coached college baseball, and said athletics, like many other activities, can provide ways for a student to represent their community.
“For me personally, I always found my academics were higher in my seasons,” said Kies.
The size of BKW is not unlike other rural districts where Kies has worked. He said he prefers smaller schools, and that he has noted the closeness of the district.
Kies said he doesn’t see any unique difficulties facing BKW aside from those of other schools.
“Unfunded state mandates and a budget cap that has been levied on schools,” said Kies, naming common school problems in New York State. “No I don’t notice anything in particular.”
Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports is an approach touted by BKW administrators for its ability to affect the culture and emotional support of a district. It includes methods of data collection, to assess and target specific behaviors, supporting a “positive social culture,” administrators say.
The board of education expressed support during its Jan. 22 meeting for PBIS, which could be implemented next fall, if the decision is ultimately made to adopt PBIS.
“It’s extremely effective,” said Kies. “I’m excited to receive further training on it.”