GCSD names Dr Wiles super She plans to make decisions that match the community

GCSD names Dr. Wiles super
She plans to make decisions that match the community

GUILDERLAND — When Marie Wiles runs, as she does every weekend, she doesn’t have an iPod in her ear.

“It’s a time for quiet,” she said, “for problem-solving things at work or family things.”

The mother of a 3-year-old son, Wiles has got plenty going on in both arenas.

She was named the new superintendent of the Guilderland schools last Thursday. All seven school board members present at a special meeting voted for her appointment. She’ll start the $175,000 post on Oct. 1.

Right now, Wiles, 47, is the superintendent of the Clinton school district in central New York, the area where she was born and raised. Clinton Central has about 1,455 students compared to Guilderland’s 5,275.

Wiles was attracted to Guilderland because of “its commitment to the whole child,” she said. “There’s a lot of interest in a high-quality academic program and also in the arts and music as well as interscholastic sports,” she said of Guilderland.

Wiles points to her own background to underline her interest in the arts. A clarinet player in high school, Wiles went to Temple University to study under the principal clarinetist in the Philadelphia Orchestra.

On her commitment to sports, she said, “Look who I’m married to.”

Her husband, Tim Wiles, has worked for 17 years as the director of research at the library of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. “He’s a published author and does a lot of speaking,” she said.

The couple met on a blind date.

Wiles and her husband just this month ran in the 9.3-mile Boilermaker Road Race in Utica, billed as the country’s biggest 15K race. It was Wiles’s 10th time; she skipped the early July race in 2007 as she had just given birth to her son, Benjamin.

“We try to balance our lives,” said Wiles of work and play and family time.

Wiles also believes it’s important to find different ways for students to excel.

Wiles’s goals mesh with board’s expectations

Asked about her goals at Guilderland, Wiles said, “Initially, I have a lot to learn. I want to establish a high-functioning relationship with the board and with the staff. Then other things have more of a chance of succeeding.”

She’s aware of a recent consultant’s study evaluating the district’s special-education program and looks forward “to delving into it.”

Asked about next year’s $87.4 million budget, which cut 40 jobs to keep the tax rate down in the wake of proposed cuts to state aid, Wiles said, “Financial concerns are issues for all school districts.” Her goal, she said is to “do a good job striking a balance between the money and the mission.”

She added that she frequently tells her colleagues in Clinton, “You can’t be cost effective if you’re not effective first.”

Unlike the appointment of the last superintendent, over which the board was divided, board members last Thursday were united in their enthusiasm for Wiles. “She impressed us with her dedication to kids, her sense of integrity and honesty, with her understanding of shared decision-making, and with her energy,” said Guilderland’s school board president, Richard Weisz.

“I’m thrilled,” said board member Colleen O’Connell, who headed up the superintendent search for the board. Discussing Wiles’s contract, O’Connell said that, in her second year, the superintendent will get a 1-percent raise, and, in her third year, another 1 percent. The former superintendent, John McGuire, retired on July 1 with a salary of $174,00; he had started in 2007 with a salary of $164,000.

Wiles will pay 25 percent of her health-insurance costs while other district employees pay 20 percent.

O’Connell concluded, “I think we got a quality candidate, committed to move to Guilderland Central.”

The last two Guilderland superintendents — Gregory Aidala, from 2000 to 2007, and John McGuire, from 2007 to 2010 —each kept residences in Guilderland, as required, while leaving their families elsewhere and commuting home on weekends.

Wiles said she and her husband will settle in Guilderland; he’ll make the one-hour-and-five-minute commute to Cooperstown, which, she said, is just slightly longer than his current commute.

Wiles said she intends to stay in Guilderland. “I’ve got a 3-year-old,” she said. “We’re not interested in picking up and moving.”

She went on, “I don’t think you can make a difference until you’ve been in a place for four or five years.  It takes that long…Given the financial conditions, every district will have to think how it operates.”

She concluded, “We’re in for the long haul.”

Angel of reality

Wiles, the youngest of five children, was raised in a small town 10 miles west of Utica. Her mother stayed home to raise the children while her father worked for Niagara Mohawk; he died in 1994.

Wiles, who always liked school, went to St. Mary’s School in Clinton and then to Notre Dame High School in Utica. John Flavor, who taught music, was her most influential teacher. “He was very demanding and had very high standards,” said Wiles. “He absolutely insisted that we practice hard…We had to be ready to be on stage and deliver.”

That strong work ethic stayed with Wiles as well as her love of the clarinet. She went to Temple to study the instrument, but then majored in English instead.

“I realized I was not a good waitress,” Wiles quipped of the reason for the switch.

On a more serious note, she said she had always loved to read, and her first job in academics was as a high school English teacher in New York Mills High School.

“I loved every minute of it,” she said, “being around young people, sharing my love for literature.”

Wiles described herself as “a big fan of Shakespeare.” Her favorite poet is Wallace Stevens, the American Modernist.

With New York State in a fiscal crisis in the early 1990s, Wiles said, her school district “had to slow down on professional development.”  She already had a master’s degree from the University of Albany in secondary English education, and had begun coursework towards a doctorate at Syracuse University.

“I loved the research process and became a full-time student,” said Wiles.

She supervised student teachers and worked with elementary-level teachers in an urban setting that included both regular and special-education students.

Although she grew up in a rural area, Wiles said she has an “affinity for the urban.”

Her Ph.D. dissertation posed this question: How do we inspire commitment to urban education when most teachers are from small towns without diversity?

The answer, she said, is, “You have to give them lots of experience…You have to have a new perspective. It’s very challenging to inspire that in a couple of years of post-secondary education.”

She concluded of educators, “We’re comfortable and effective when we feel like we fit in. It’s a challenge.”

With her Ph.D. in hand, Wiles began work for the Madison-Oneida Board of Cooperative Educational Services as a curriculum development specialist and then, after about a year, moved to the Cooperstown area to work for the Otsego Northern Catskills BOCES.

She worked there in three capacities — as director of curriculum instruction, as assistant superintendent of curriculum instruction, and, finally, as the district superintendent.

“It was thrilling, wonderful, rewarding work,” said Wiles. She enjoyed helping school districts find new superintendents and helping school boards define their goals.

She frequently traveled to Albany to meet with other district superintendents.

Wiles had four words to explain why she gave up a job she loved: “I had a baby,” she said.

She continued, “I was on the road constantly…It was not a good fit for what I envisioned a good mother should be.” Her BOCES served 19 school districts and covered an area about the size of Rhode Island.

Her mother then encouraged Wiles to apply to be the superintendent at Clinton, close to home, where she has been for two years.

Wiles plans to use the same shared decision-making style she has used at Clinton in Guilderland.

“The business of schools is very complex,” she said. “There’s an emotional component to it. We’re serving people’s children….We’re affecting our world in many ways. People have strong feelings about schools.

“It’s not effective to have one person knowing what is best. You need to make decisions that match the values of the community. You can’t make decisions in a vacuum.”

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