Teaching needy kids has shaped Voorheesville administrator's views on numbers

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Francis Rielly listens to applause as he is named assistant superintendent of finance and operations by the Voorheesville School Board on Monday night. His wife, Ami Jo Rielly, is by his side.

NEW SCOTLAND — As a young man working construction, Francis Rielly injured his shoulder.  That led to a turning point in his life which culminated this week when, at age 46, he was named the assistant superintendent of finance and operations for the Voorheesville schools.

“I’m looking forward to joining the team,” Rielly told The Enterprise. “Voorheesville is an unbelievable district. It still feels surreal,” he said of his appointment.

Rielly grew up in Schenectady and Guilderland, the son of a nurse and a math teacher in the Schenectady city schools. After graduating from high school and earning an associate’s degree from Schenectady County Community College, he worked as an electrician for LaCorte Companies, out of Troy.

“I was on the service side,” he said. “I did a lot of parking-lot lights.”

When Rielly hurt his shoulder in 2000 and was out of work for awhile, friends suggested he could “make a few bucks” as a substitute teacher. He subbed at suburban districts like Guilderland, Bethlehem, and North and South Colonie. But, he said, “I really took a liking to working with kids in Schenectady.

“They just took to the attention you were giving them. It’s a different vibe,” he explained. “The kids are really needy. They love it when they get a pat on the back. A lot of them are coming from tough homes. It pulls on your heartstrings.”

“Once I got hooked on teaching,” Rielly said, he was then eager to earn his bachelor’s degree — in history from the University at Albany — so he could get a teaching degree. He supported himself as an electrician while he earned a master’s degree in elementary education at The College of Saint Rose in Albany.

His first school job was as a fifth-grade teacher at the Martin Luther King Elementary Magnet School in Schenectady. After a couple of years, he taught third-graders there and then moved back to fifth-grade before becoming a sixth-grade teacher at Schenectady’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt Elementary School.

Along the way, Rielly became a curriculum and instruction coach, a district position in the Schenectady schools. “I mentored young teachers and teacher that needed help,” he said. “I provided a lot of professional development.”

Rielly earned a second master’s degree, in administration, online from Pace University in its school district business leader program.

“I really didn’t have a lot of interest in becoming a principal or a coordinator,” he said. “What I found is there is a misunderstanding from the business side to the curriculum side of things. I really want to have a profound effect on schools,” he said.

Typically, Rielly said, school business administrators have accounting backgrounds or business degrees. “There’s a disconnect in a lot of districts,” he said. “They don’t understand the effect on being a teacher and interacting with kids.”

With his background, Rielly said, he “speaks the same language as curriculum writers.” He went on, “So when you sit down to talk about the budget, it’s not just numbers.”

He will be replacing James Franchini who has been at Voorheesville for six years — the first four as middle-school principal. Franchini will become the superintendent at Averill Park; his last day at Voorheesville is June 30.

Rielly’s contract begins with a three-year probationary period; he will be paid $100,000 for the 2017-18 school year.

Rielly will continue his work with the Schenectady schools until starting at Voorheesville on July 1.  But, Rielly said, he’ll work with Franchini during the transition. Rielly will be visiting the Voorheesville schools and getting to know them, he said.

He lives now in Rotterdam with his wife, Ami Jo, and he has a 9-year-old stepson, Tommy. They hope to move to Voorheesville in the next year or two, Rielly said. “My wife’s ready to pack up and go,” he said.

“The experience I’ve had in Schenectady where we had to do so much with less works as an advantage for Voorheesville,” Rielly said. “You can take it apart and see how to do it better.”

“With a wealthy district, there’s a tendency to raise taxes if, for example, you want a new position,” he said. But, in Schenectady, he said, other ways had to be found. “I’ve had a lot of grant-writing experience,” he said.

Giving an example of taking things apart to make them work better, Rielly described work he had done at Niskayuna, “which is more in line with Voorheesville,” he said, in terms of wealth. As an intern, Rielly worked with the Niskayuna superintendent and others, looking at better ways to provide transportation for special-education students who received services outside of the school district.

“We worked with other district to consolidate the bus runs,” he said, saving each of the districts $50,000 to $60,000 annually.

Asked about his goals at Voorheesville, Rielly said, “I don’t have any grand ideas yet.” He mentioned, though, that, after Monday’s school board meeting, where he was appointed, he gave some suggestions for a problem discussed at the meeting — a severe bus-driver shortage.

“I talked to Jim Franchini afterward and suggested checking with schools giving out CDL licenses,” he said, referring to commercial driver’s licenses. He also suggested, “There are a lot of veterans coming back that know how to drive big vehicles.”

Rielly concluded, “Coming from the private sector, you can think outside the box.”

More New Scotland News

  • Under the current Voorheesville back-to-school plan, kindergarten through sixth grade classes would meet in-person everyday, while seventh- through twelfth-graders would come into school one day a week.

  • The owner of a New Scotland farm stand was cited and shut down by the town in May for violations of the zoning code. The owner says that her activities predate the zoning code and are therefore exempt from the laws.

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