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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 3, 2009

McGuire to retire
Super serves less than 3 years

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Superintendent John McGuire surprised the school board when he announced in executive session that he will be retiring on July 1.

The board had been poised on Nov. 17 to extend his contract, authorizing a salary of $174,000, but postponed the vote because two members were absent. After the public meeting, McGuire told the board members in private that he would be leaving Guilderland. He said they were surprised.

McGuire began working for the district two years earlier on Nov. 12, 2007. He said at the time he would “like to stay a good long time.”

Asked this week what had prompted his sudden decision to leave, McGuire said, “A whole lot of factors; it was a multi-faceted decision…I’ll be 63 in a couple of months. My family has wanted me to retire for quite some time.”

McGuire said he had made the decision within the last two weeks and wanted to tell the board so it would have “ample notice” to search for a replacement. He also said that, when he was hired, “I said three to maybe as many as seven years. I succumbed to the short end.”

Asked if he would be moving on to another job, McGuire told The Enterprise, “I’ve had the good fortune of being approached in a number of directions.”

Pressed for further details, he declined comment, saying only he would “take a little time off” before the next step.

School board President Richard Weisz said this week that he was surprised when McGuire told the board about his retirement and had expected he would stay for five to seven years. Asked if he knew McGuire’s plans, Weisz said, “You should ask him.”

No regrets

McGuire had been hired with a split vote. Three of the nine school board members — the late Hy Dubowsky, former member Peter Golden, and current member Barbara Fraterrigo — had favored another candidate.

The trio had been impressed with the other candidate’s doctoral degree, youthful and progressive outlook, stellar recommendations, and record of pulling up scores at another district.

Asked this week if he had any regrets in hiring McGuire, Weisz said, “I don’t have any regrets about having chosen him.” He added his only regret was that McGuire was leaving.

Asked about the process the board would use to find a replacement, Weisz said, “Technically, we’re going to wait until it’s formally presented and formally accepted.” That will be at the Dec. 8 board meeting, Weisz said of the official announcement of McGuire’s resignation.  In the past, the board has used a free service from the Capital District Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Weisz said the board would be looking for the same qualities in a superintendent as last time — someone who can help lead the district, “bringing fresh ideas to what we have,” and someone who believes in shared decision-making.

McGuire, who has been an educator for four decades, came to Guilderland after three years as superintendent of the Greenwich schools in rural Washington County. He was 60 at the time and was paid $164,000 his first year. He replaced Gregory Aidala, who was then 56, and retired with a salary of $150,000.

To collect pension, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders said, “You have to be at least 55 years of age with 30 years of service. If you’re under 62, there’s a penalty deduction of one-and-a-half percent per year.”

The pension is 60 percent of the average of the three highest years of salary, which are typically the last three years for those in tiers II, III, and IV, said Sanders; Tier I is split so that, for those hired after 1973, the average is taken over five years.

Asked what McGuire’s pension will be, Sanders said, “I have no idea.” He explained that the pension will be calculated by the Teachers’ Retirement System.

He also said he didn’t know the particulars of McGuire’s health-insurance coverage after retirement. The contract McGuire signed when he was hired, obtained by The Enterprise through a Freedom of Information Law request, states that, if he retires anytime after June 30, 2010, the board provides health insurance coverage under either an individual or family health insurance plan for the superintendent and his spouse for the rest of their lives. McGuire is retiring one day later on July 1, 2010.

At the time McGuire was hired, Sanders estimated that the district’s annual cost for McGuire’s health-care plan would range from $10,725 to $13,690 annually. The district, according to the contract, pays 78 percent of the premium cost of his health insurance; he pays the remaining 22 percent.


McGuire, who grew up in western New York, the son of a teacher and a machinist, graduated from the York Central Schools in 1965 and went on to the State University of New York College at Geneseo, where he majored in education with a minor in psychology.

His first job was in the Rochester schools, teaching emotionally disturbed students. In the midst of the Vietnam War, he soon enlisted in the Air Force, avoiding the Army draft.

McGuire was stationed in Illinois as an “education specialist,” and was discharged when the war ended. He finished his master’s degree in education at the University at Illinois and was accepted into the doctoral program at Syracuse University’s School of Education in the administrative program. He completed the coursework but not the dissertation, accepting a job offer from the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, working as the statewide coordinator for 22 private residential schools.

“I had a young family to support,” McGuire said. He and his wife, Brenda, also an educator, have a grown son and daughter; their younger daughter is in high school.

McGuire went on to become the associate director of the United Cerebral Palsy Association before returning to a school job as director of special programs at Shenendehowa, a job he held for over five years before moving to general education as the director of instruction for the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk schools.

He was at RCS for about five years before becoming assistant superintendent for instruction at Bethlehem. After about seven years at Bethlehem, McGuire took the superintendent’s job at Greenwich.

Two years at GCSD

McGuire had a rocky start at Guilderland as, at the close of his first school year, he ordered the transfer of two popular high school teachers to the middle school. A massive student uprising followed; the board, in a split vote, with Dubowsky and Fraterrigo dissenting, ultimately decided not to review the superintendent’s decision.

McGuire said at the time that the transfers were because a consultant had found a hostile work environment in the high school social studies department.

The crowds dissipated and the intense media coverage stopped after the board’s vote.

“The nature of the superintendency is there are challenges,” McGuire said this week. “Sometimes you plan them; others present themselves. So much of what we do in our work is a judgment call.”

Commenting on the protests that followed the teachers’ transfers, McGuire said he was “comfortable” with the outcome. “You follow the compass with the students at the center,” he said.

Another controversy has centered on the district’s teaching assistants as McGuire’s budget proposal for this school year included severe cuts in TA jobs. He stated at the time that Guilderland’s academic results were no better than comparable schools, all of which employ far fewer teaching assistants. The board restored a few of the cut positions, and last month ratified a contract for increased pay for the teaching assistants who remain.

Commenting on what he was most proud of in his two years at Guilderland, McGuire said, “First of all, a lot of recruitment in leadership roles in the district.” In the four-member district leadership team, made up of the superintendent and three assistant superintendents, only Sanders, the assistant superintendent for business, predates McGuire. He was hired in 2003.

Asked about his leaving the district with a team so new to the job, McGuire responded, “I’ve been in this business for 40 years and never seen a better central office leadership team…They are very bright and hard-working.”

Weisz responded to the same question, “We are very deep in talented people throughout the district. It’s not a place where senior management has to do it alone….My hope is it will be attractive to a new superintendent who will see a team is in place and ready to move forward.”

Sanders said that, while he might have more of a sense of history of the district, “We always had a very collaborative team structure.” Besides, he said, many of the issues have changed in the six years he’s been at Guilderland.

During McGuire’s tenure, the district also hired three new elementary school principals and a new high school principal. The high school principal, Brian McCann, had been a long-time assistant principal, and replaces a string of short-term principals.

“There was a lot of concern when I came on about instability of leadership at the high school,” said McGuire. “The high school is transformed. It’s a better place than it has been for a long time.”

McCann himself said he had been considering retirement before he stepped into the role of interim principal; he was 55 when he was appointed principal in April.  McCann had filled in as interim principal since July 2008 when the new principal, Michael Paolino, was placed on paid administrative leave while the district investigated complaints of harassment; he later resigned.

Asked how stable the high school would be if McCann retired, McGuire described McCann comparatively as “just a kid” with years left to serve.

McGuire also said he was proud of delivering budgets in “challenging economic times” that maintain good programs for the students while remaining accountable to the taxpayers. Drastic cuts were contemplated last year after the governor announced plans to severely slash state aid, but then federal stimulus money filled the gap; those funds are expected for just two years. The current budget, which brought a slight tax reduction, began a full-day kindergarten program this school year. It also started an engineering program at the high school and continued to expand a foreign-language program in the elementary schools.

Asked what will happen after next year when the federal funds will no longer be available if the state continues to cut aid because of its own multi-billion-dollar budget gap, McGuire responded, “People say, ‘You’re using that [federal funds] to create programs that could dry up in two years.’ I’m not going to forego the opportunity to help kids because it may go away.”

Sustaining leadership

McGuire will have been at Guilderland the shortest time of any superintendent.

Aidala, who preceded him, had come to Guilderland from being superintendent at another Washington County school district, Salem, in 2000 and retired in 2007 after seven years at the helm of GCSD.

Blaise Salerno, before Aidala, was Guilderland’s superintendent for almost eight years and, after retiring in November of 2000, returned to Connecticut where he is now superintendent of the Winchester Public Schools.

The last of the superintendents with a long-time commitment to Guilderland was the late Harold McCarthy, who retired as superintendent in 1992 after over three decades with the district, culminating with three years and three months as superintendent. He started at Guilderland as a math teacher and went on to chair the department, then became an assistant business administrator and then business administrator for the district; next he was assistant superintendent and finally superintendent.

Sally Dague, the records management officer for the district who has worked at Guilderland for decades in various office positions, pieced together the history of early leadership for the Guilderland schools.

When the district was centralized in 1950, Ralph Westervelt was named supervising principal.

He was at the helm until 1958 when Alton Farnsworth came from Canandaigua to lead the district. Farnsworth left in 1970, the year the middle school was opened; it is named after him.

Thomas Looby then came from Long Island to be superintendent at Guilderland for seven years, leaving in 1976.

He was followed by Peter Alland, who was superintendent until 1983. Alland had been Altamont Elementary’s first principal from when the school opened in 1953, then he went on to become principal of the junior high school, and later was director of curriculum and instruction before becoming superintendent.

Albert Pultz became superintendent next, coming to Guilderland from Skaneateles, leaving in 1989, when McCarthy became superintendent.

Demian Singleton told The Enterprise when he was appointed assistant superintendent for instruction in 2008 that one of the challenges Guilderland faces is in sustaining leadership. He referred to the turnover in the last few years, particularly at the high school.

Referring to himself, and to Altamont Elementary teacher Allan Lockwood who was just then named Guilderland Elementary principal and to former Farnsworth house principal, Chris Sanita, who was named Pine Bush Elementary principal, Singleton said, “We moved up the ranks...It shows you can have successful vertical movement...That should be imbedded in how we operate as a district.”

In 2007, when McGuire applied for the job, none of the 20 candidates were in-house.

Asked this week if he would be applying for the superintendent’s job, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders said, “I have not considered that.”

The Enterprise asked Weisz if the board this time might look for a superintendent who was likely to stay longer.

“As the requirement for superintendent certification and the number of available superintendents has changed,” Weisz said, “I don’t know if 20 or 30 years” is feasible anymore. Weisz said a reasonable expectation might be five to seven years.

He went on, “If you think about it, the current pension system allows school employees with 30 years in education to retire at 55 at the maximum pension…so will there be superintendents who work past 55?”

Allowing for the years it takes someone to rise to the level of superintendent, Weisz concluded that it is unlikely school districts will get a superintendent for much more than five years.

“I think Guilderland is a great district,” Weisz concluded, “and will continue to be a great district.”

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