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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, September 4, 2008

Interim principal named
Wheeler enthused about guiding BKW High

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Richard Wheeler has been appointed as interim principal for Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School. At a special meeting on Tuesday night, the school board voted unanimously to approve his appointment.

“He’s got a good, solid background, and understands the role of principal in a small school setting,” Superintendent Steven Schrade said of Wheeler. “The board was very impressed with his credentials, his demeanor, and his experience, and they all feel he’ll be a good fit for the district.”

Wheeler has been selected as the temporary replacement for Principal Mary Petrilli, who, after being arrested at her Schodack home last month for menacing and possession of a weapon, was placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of an internal investigation. She had been on medical leave for nine months beforehand, and teachers had complained to the board that they were anxious to have a principal in place.

Petrilli is paid $73,000 annually. Wheeler’s pay has been set at $330 a day, Schrade said.

Wheeler started work on Wednesday morning. “So far, the faculty has been very friendly and welcoming,” he said. “It’s really been pleasant. I was just out trying to meet faculty, trying to get ideas from them on what our strengths and needs are.”

Asked why he thinks he was chosen for the job, he said, “I think it’s because I share some philosophies that the district currently holds. We believe in the overall development of students. Aside from the safety of students, that should be our top priority,” he said. “I think it’s also because I have a lot of experience.”

Before retiring in 2006, Wheeler served more than five years as superintendent for the Salem Central School District.

He began his career in 1973 as a mathematics and computer science teacher at Geneva High School in Geneva, N.Y. He went on to spend four years as assistant principal at Corning-Painted Post East High School in Corning, N.Y., and 11 years as principal at Adirondack High School in Boonville, N.Y. before taking the superintendent’s job in Salem.

“I also coached a lot of sports, which gave me a lot of interaction with students,” Wheeler said.

He got into education, he said, because of the immense respect he held for his mentors. “The longer I was in high school, the more I liked and respected my teachers. I was only in high school for four years, but you know what I mean,” he laughed. “I saw the positive effects that they had on people, and I loved math, which is why I became a math teacher.”

Greg Aidala, former superintendent in both Guilderland and Salem, had suggested that Schrade give Wheeler a call. Aidala and Wheeler had worked together in the Salem Central School District, Schrade said. When Aidala left Salem for Guilderland, Wheeler was appointed as superintendent in Salem.

As for the permanent position of principal, Schrade said, “The position is still encumbered by Ms. Petrilli. The length of time that she would be in the position cannot be determined at this time.” The investigation on Petrilli is ongoing, he said. “Mr. Wheeler has indicated that he’ll be able to help us out, at least through the first semester, and we’ll see where we are at that point.”

“This is just to help them have some continuity, and to keep the school going in a good direction,” Wheeler said of his filling in as principal. “I want to learn as much about the school, students, and staff as I can, and learn as much as possible about the traditions and the workings of the school, so I can help reinforce those things which are positive, and look for new areas where work needs to be done,” he said.

“I’m really interested in what the public thinks, and if they want to call and meet with me at some point — especially the parents, but even other community members — I hope they will,” said Wheeler. “This is a school to be proud of. The more I’m here, the better I like it.”

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