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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 30, 2009

Super Steve Schrade to retire

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Superintendent Steve Schrade, an administrator at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District for nearly two decades, announced Monday that he will be retiring, effective Aug. 15.

“I can look back and say perseverance paid off,” Schrade told The Enterprise of his career, “and that we’ve made slow but steady progress at BKW.”

The school board unanimously accepted his resignation at its meeting Monday, after John Harlow “reluctantly” made a motion. The board appointed Kim LaBelle as interim superintendent shortly after, and subsequently eliminated her former position of assistant superintendent as another cost-cutting measure.

A resident raised the issue that, whether or not LaBelle is eventually chosen as Schrade’s permanent replacement, her former job will no longer exist. The board decided this deserved careful consideration.

“There is no resolution to that dilemma at this time,” Schrade said Wednesday. “Ms. LaBelle has accepted the opportunity to become interim superintendent, and is aware of the circumstances.”

Schrade, now 60, first came to the district in August of 1990 as high school principal, a position he held through December of 2000. He became superintendent after Robert Drake left to be superintendent at a neighboring district. Schrade will remain superintendent until his retirement in August.

His career in academia began in 1970, just after graduating from Union College, when he spent three months substitute teaching in the Duanesburg Central School District, his alma mater. He then joined the Navy, and was on active duty for two years before taking a job in 1973 teaching social studies and English at Schoharie Central’s middle-high school.

In 1974, he went back to Duanesburg Central, where he was an assistant principal, a social studies teacher, and a coach of basketball and soccer at the middle-high school. He left Duanesburg Central in 1986, and took a job as high school principal in Dolgeville until 1990. He came to BKW soon after.

The fact that Schrade has been involved in education for nearly 40 years is only part of the reason he is retiring now, he said.

“I always looked forward to the day when the day after Labor Day wouldn’t be a required work day anymore, and I wouldn’t have to report to school, as I have since I was 5 years old,” he said. “It’s a change of routine, and more time for relaxation.”

Looking at his career as a whole, Schrade said his years at BKW are his most proud. As high school principal, he helped the district hold itself to higher standards.

“Back in the days before everyone was supposed to earn a Regents diploma, it was our goal that we would try to have everyone earn a Regents diploma, even though it wasn’t mandated,” said Schrade. “So, we went from 18 percent receiving their Regents diploma in 1990, to over 75 percent by the end of the decade. I didn’t do that by myself; it was with the help of the teaching staff and the guidance staff, but I was pleased to be able to raise expectations,” he said.

The job of superintendent, he said, was more complex.

“What made it difficult was there were so many aspects of the job, ranging from financial to educational,” Schrade said. “I guess what I’m most pleased with as superintendent is that, while for the first budget vote for which I was responsible, the tax-levy increase ended up to be nearly 14 percent, nine years later, we’re at a zero-percent increase.”

Looking back on things he might have done differently, Schrade said, “If I’d known then what I know now, there are probably some personnel decisions for which I might have made different recommendations.”

Before retiring, he hopes to take part in resolving the issue of finding a permanent replacement for Mary Petrilli, former high school principal. She was placed on paid leave in August after being arrested at her home for menacing and possession of a weapon, and agreed to resign last month. She will continue to be paid until her resignation takes effect on June 29, while Robert Drake serves as acting principal.

“I want to make sure that part of the structure of the district is firmly in place, and I’m sure it will be before I leave in August,” he said.

As for what comes next, Schrade plans to work around the house, and spend more time with his two grandchildren, he said.

“I have plenty of work to do in our home — Mrs. Schrade has compiled a significant list of projects,” he laughed. “I’ll be able to spend more time at our church, doing a lot of work there,” he went on. “I would probably entertain, if the opportunity presented itself, the idea of filling in and doing some interim work at BKW.”

Remembering his interview for the position of high school principal, Schrade laughed.

“One of the board members asked me how long I would stay, and I said, ‘At least three to five years,’” Schrade said. “I kind of chuckle now over that answer — I honestly didn’t think I would stay here 19 years, but it’s been a supportive family through my tough times, so, I thank everyone for that.”

Other business

In other business at its April 27 meeting, the school board:

— Approved a draft policy for cell-phone use by students, in light of the imminent availability of cell-phone service in the district.

“It was agreed that, until the final version was approved, students will be governed by the current code of conduct, which makes general reference to electronic devices,” Schrade said;

— Further discussed its plans for use of the Westerlo School in the coming year, the most recent of which were to again lease the building to Helderberg Christian School if it were to split the cost of repairs on the building with the district.

“That potential deal fell apart, because Helderberg Christian was not able to secure volunteer labor with the expertise to supply those repairs, so, we’re back to square one,” Schrade said. “We will meet with our representatives again and try to negotiate some deal for next year.” [For more history on the Westerlo School, go to www.altamontenterprise.com, under archives for Dec. 18, 2008.]; and

— Heard from Business Administrator Timothy Holmes that, if the district wanted to contract out for busing services, as was inquired about by district residents, the bus drivers’ local Civil Service Employee Association bargaining unit must first approve.

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