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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 16, 2009

Westmere’s new principal, Beth Bini, eager to “maintain the quality”

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Beth Bini, the newly named principal of Westmere Elementary School, says she loves children. She means this in a very personal way.

When she taught at Altamont Elementary School, her first job out of college, she invited her entire class to her wedding.

The wedding was in Clifton Park where she was raised, “It was a Friday night, up in Clifton Park. I didn’t think many of them would come,” she said of her students. She was wrong.

“The whole class came,” she said with a laugh. “We had a special place for them up front...We took a picture of all the kids dressed up with my husband in front of the limousine.”

When the parents came in for conferences about their children a few months later, Bini said, “That’s all they wanted to talk about...how meaningful that wedding was.”

Bini wanted to be a teacher her whole life. “I played school as a young girl,” she said.

She grew up in a family of educators. Her father was superintendent of the Shenendehowa schools and her mother taught first grade until she had children and then stayed home to raise them.

Bini was the youngest of three. Her brother Scott, the oldest, is now an international financial advisor. Her sister, Jill, a nurse, is a health-care provider.

Bini went to Orenda Elementary School and Koda Junior High School, graduating from Shenendehowa High School.

“I loved all my teachers,” she said when asked if she had a favorite. She also liked sports, playing soccer in youth leagues, and running cross-country and playing tennis in high school.

She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Geneseo State College, where she majored in elementary education and had a minor in math.

She then landed a job at Altamont Elementary School, where she taught second and third grade for 16 years. “I just loved it from the first day,” she said. “No two days are ever the same,” Bini said, describing the joys of teaching.

“Children come in wanting to learn. They are just so honest, so excited about coming to school,” she said. “It allows you to be creative. I go to school with a smile every day.”

Eventually, Bini went back to school herself at the University at Albany for a master’s degree in reading. “I already had a background in math,” she said. “And I knew how important literacy is in elementary school. It’s important to know how to diagnose difficulties, and how to support students as readers.”

“More than just the classroom”

She got married 11 years ago to Steven Bini. (“You pronounce it just like ‘Beanie Babies,’” she said of her last name.) Her husband is a Guilderland graduate and business owner. The Binis live in Guilderland and have two children — Madison, who is 9 and in the fourth grade at Lynnwood Elementary School, and Emily, who is 7 and in the first grade at Lynnwood.

“I pretty much went right back to work,” she said after having her babies. “Every woman is different and I respect that. I just missed teaching and I had a great support system in place.”

Her last seven years at Altamont Elementary, Bini was a teacher leader in math. “It allowed me to work with other teacher leaders in the district,” she said. “Those monthly meetings gave me the flavor...the idea there’s more to education than just the classroom.”

That inspired Bini to earn her administrative certification, which she obtained from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. She spent part of her summer on the North Adams campus and commuted on weekends in the fall and spring to earn her certification in 2004.

Bini did her internship with Susan Tangorre, who was the principal then of Altamont Elementary School and, before her retirement last year, served as the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources. Bini described Tangorre, as “an incredible mentor and role model” who combined strong leadership with an interest in “the personal side.”

When Bini saw a newspaper ad for an assistant principal at Jefferson Elementary School in Schalmont, she felt ready for the job. “I knew I could continue to learn,” she said.

She has been at Jefferson Elementary for four years, working with 630 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Bini found she didn’t miss the classroom. “I really enjoyed working with teachers and the whole staff,” she said. “I liked meeting the families and being around children.”

She held out the ultimate goal, though, of being a building principal, a leader. So when Deborah Drumm announced her retirement at Westmere Elementary School, Bini was eager to apply.

Since she lives in Guilderland and first taught in Guilderland, Bini said, “I was eager to return home.”

The school board on April 7 unanimously appointed her to the job at an annual salary of $95,000. She’ll begin work in July after Drumm retires in June.

“Always something to learn”

“I’ll have some big shoes to fill,” said Bini. “I know what a wonderful reputation Westmere has, receiving the Blue Ribbon last year.

In the fall of 2008, Westmere Elementary was named a No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon School by the United States Secretary of Education, recognizing the high achievement of its students. It was one of 20 schools in the state and 320 nationwide to be so recognized.

Built in 1953, Westmere is one of five elementary schools in the suburban Guilderland district. At the time of the application, Westmere had 466 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, with a fifth of its students non-white and 4 percent with limited English proficiency, representing languages such as Korean, Chinese, Mongolian, Arabic, Albanian, Malayalam, Tagalog, and Urdu. At that time, 47 Westmere students had special needs, ranging from autism and learning disabilities to speech and language impairment.

Altamont Elementary, with 283 students, had been named a Blue Ribbon School the year before.

Bini’s goal for the present, she said, is “to continue to maintain the high quality” at Westmere.

She went on, “I’m so eager to get to know the culture of the building....It’s a very diverse school with a large number of English language learners and it hosts classes for the deaf and hard of hearing.”

Asked if now is a difficult time, with the deep recession and cutbacks in school aid, to be taking the helm of a school, Bini said, “There are always challenges. All school districts are facing several years of tough economic times....With the teaching assistant cuts, it will be difficult. But Guilderland has phenomenal teachers...I know we’ll get through it together.”

She went on, “One of Guilderland’s strengths is the collaborativeness of the central office and the other elementary principals. I really hope to work with them...I’m confident we’ll find ways to help the taxpayers, the students and the staff.”

Guilderland currently has a half-day kindergarten program. The school board, following a strong recommendation from a committee on early childhood education that studied the matter for a year, backed the move to a full-day program but then, because of the recession, was divided on whether to proceed. Finally, last week, a divided board added full-day kindergarten to the budget proposal for next year.

Asked her views on full-day kindergarten, Bini said, Schalmont is still considering whether or not to include full-day kindergarten in its budget for next year. “I’ve been working through that as well at Jefferson,” she said. Also, she served, as a parent, on the Guilderland committee.

On balance, she thinks the move to full-day kindergarten is a good one, she said, adding, “It’s a change, and change can be difficult...but it can be very positive for students, parents, and staff.”

As four of Guilderland’s five elementary school principals — all of them women — have retired or moved on in recent years, the first three, until Bini, had been replaced with men. Asked about this, Bini said she had noticed the shift and went on, “I hope I can be a role model...I try to find a balance between home and work. I enjoy spending time with my family — watching sports, reading together, taking bike rides...When I’m home, it’s nice to be Mom.”

Asked about her career goals, Bini said, “This is where I want to be for a long time...I have a young family, and I can balance that here with my work. I need to be around children....I enjoy their energy, and their creativity.”

She concluded, “I love my job. I love going to work every day. Even through the hardest struggles, there is always something to learn. What we give to young children in the beginning is invaluable...It’s exciting. I don’t think there’s anything more important.”

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