Severance heads human resources at GCSD

“You can’t tell me no,” says new assistant super

GUILDERLAND — Lin Severance vividly remembers discovering the joy of teaching.

“Watching children learn was like watching flowers open,” she said.

Tuesday, the Guilderland School Board named her as the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources at an annual salary of $118,000. She’ll replace Susan Tangorre, who is retiring in October. Severance currently holds a similar post at Mohonasen.

The children she was working with in her first job, right out of college, were severely mentally disturbed children at a residential facility in Rhinebeck.

“It was really intense; people didn’t stay,” she said. “The turnover was about every two months.” Severance stayed for three years.

She had graduated on a Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the State University of New York at Geneseo and on Monday started work at Rhinebeck. She only left, she said, to get further training in the field. She earned a master’s degree in educational psychology, focusing on educational psychology and statistics, at the University at Albany, and received certification in special education.

“It was hard to leave a place where I felt I was making a difference,” said Severance.

Early years

She had always loved school but, as a teenager, had planned to pursue a career in theater. She grew up in “a little town called Clinton Corners outside of Hyde Park,” she said. Her father worked for IBM and her mother stayed at home to raise her and her younger brother.

“I absolutely loved school,” she recalled. She was active in music, sports, and theater — “every aspect of school.”

After high school, she went to Dutchess Community College. “I wanted to go into drama; my parents didn’t approve,” she said, adding she wanted to make them proud.

After two years, she visited her favorite high-school sociology teacher, who had really made her think about things, and told him she had decided to be a teacher.

He said, “Oh, no, not education.”

“That spurred me on,” recalled Severance. “You can’t tell me it can’t be done. You can’t tell me no. There’s got to be a way to make it happen.”

She’s had no regrets about her chosen field. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, she completed Ph.D. coursework in educational administration from Texas A & M University.

“Deep roots”

With her master’s degree, Severance started work at Mohonasen in 1985. At public school, she said, she learned all new techniques for instruction.

“School districts were starting to bring students with more severe needs into schools,” said Severance. “The district let me do whatever I felt needed to be done.”

At the high school, she coached volleyball and served as an advisor for Students Against Destructive Decisions and as a co-advisor for Key Club and the mock trial team.

“When a girlfriend and I realized we needed school spirit, we founded Mohonasen’s homecoming,” she said. That girlfriend was Amy Arena, a guidance counselor at Guilderland High School.

“When the faculty needed self esteem, we started a wellness awareness program,” she said. “The administration was supportive of whatever I wanted to do.”

Severance chaired the Committee on Special Education and, in 2000, became the director of pupil personnel services. In 2007, she was named Mohonasen’s director of student personnel services and grant development.

“When I became director of personnel services,” she said, “I felt I had met all my career goals…The position was created for me. I love grant writing. I love regulations and understand them. I love to put things in place so they’re consistent.”

Severance said she became interested in the Guilderland job through her predecessor, Tangorre. “I was very impressed with her knowledge base and her sensitivity,” she said.

The Guilderland job involves “far and above what I’m doing here,” said Severance. “It’s a natural step for me.”

At 49, she’s been at Mohonasen for nearly half her life. “I grow really deep roots,” she said. “I know Guilderland will be my last move.”

At Guilderland

She doesn’t plan to retire any time soon. “I love to work,” said Severance. “I grow attachments. I like to see progress. I want to see scores go up and see teachers thrive.”

Severance is unfazed by recent controversies at Guilderland that involved human resources — massive media-covered protests over the transfer of two teachers, and a contract dispute with the Guilderland Employees’ Association over step wage freezes.

Asked about these issues, Severance said, “Every district has their issues. Unfortunately, some of them are in the public spotlight…I’m not at all intimidated by that or put off by that.”

She added, “I’m not briefed on all the details, which is a testament to the district’s confidentiality.”

On a team of four district administrators at Guilderland, Severance is the third to be hired within the year. Superintendent John McGuire was hired last fall and the assistant superintendent for instruction, Nancy Andress, retired in August. Demian Singleton, the supervisor for math and science at Farnsworth Middle School, replaced her. Neil Sanders, the assistant superintendent for business, has been at Guilderland since 2003.

McGuire said Tuesday that “a participatory recruitment model with parents, teachers, support staff, administrators and a board-of-education representative” was used to hire Severance.

Twenty-five to 30 candidates applied, he said; the field was winnowed to five and three emerged as finalists.

Severance was “outstanding,” he said, citing her “relevant experience and track record of success in establishing programs.” He added, “Her references were impeccable.”

Severance introduced her husband and young son to the board and, with a broad smile, said, “I feel like a kid at Christmas.”

Her husband, Craig Severance, is an engineer who works at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. Their son, Cameron, who will be 9 in October, is a third-grader at Shenendehowa.

“It takes a lot of practice,” Severance said yesterday of balancing family life with her career. “I got married late and had a child late. It took some time to prioritize and recognize that, as dedicated as I am to my work and career, it is still, technically, a job. Family and raising Cameron is my number-one priority.”

She continued, “When I walk in that door in the evening, I become Craig’s wife and Cameron’s mom…I fix dinner…We do household things together.”

Then, when Cameron’s asleep for the night, she said, “I pick up my job responsibility. I wait until he’s in bed before I start work…and pull an all-nighter if required.”

Asked about her goals for her new job at Guilderland, which she’ll start on Oct. 14, Severance said, “I’m going to learn so many new things, and work with amazing people…I hope I can make a positive impact at Guilderland. I hope I can build relationships with people and grow.”

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