GCSD celebrates 10 with tenure, 40 retirees

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Standing ovation: Guilderland School Board members and the crowd at their meeting stood to applaud newly-tenured educators, including Piera Camposeo, seated, who is flanked by her friends. “I started here in 2008 as a secretary and I learned to love this as my home,” said Camposeo, who grew up in Italy and teaches Italian.

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Heartfelt hug: School board President Barbara Fraterrigo, center, embraces Loretta Cozza, who is retiring as a special-education administrator, while Superintendent Marie Wiles looks on.

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

All smiles: Kristine Culotti, who is retiring as a reading teacher, left, accepts a plaque from Superintendent Marie Wiles while Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Lin Severance, center, looks on.

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

With a Superman cap and a super-hero shirt, Devon Escobar, 3, sets down his cookie to strike a pose next to student-made sculptures that formed a centerpiece on the refreshment table for the ceremony honoring newly tenured staff and retirees at Guilderland. Devon is the grandson of Deborah Escobar who retired in February after 22-and-a-half years as a teacher, most notably heading the enrichment programs at Farnsworth Middle School.

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Exchange students from Germany Theresia Guber, left, and Sarah Castagne tell the school board about their experiences this year at Guilderland High School. Their observations ranged from the amusing — first time eating doughnut holes or drinking from a water fountain — to the profound — American teachers are less formal than German teachers but respected.

GUILDERLAND — Handshakes and hugs, applause and accolades: The school district celebrated itself at the board meeting last Tuesday.

The packed hall rippled with laughter as Superintendent Marie Wiles told the crowd, “It is so nice to see this room filled with smiling faces.”

Some faces had been grim in recent months as school board members, staff, and the public considered a series of budget cuts. The board accepted the official tabulation of votes at its May 27 meeting: The $92 million school budget for next year passed with two-thirds of the vote — 1,736 to 901.

Most of the evening was set aside to recognize what the superintendent called the “bookends” of careers in education — receiving tenure and retiring.

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Lin Severance presided over the “night of celebration.” Ten staffers received tenure appointments this school year:

— Piera Camposeo in foreign language;

— Roy Dumar as instructional administrator for English, reading, social studies, and library media;

— Christine Groat in remedial reading;

— Cheri Hart in elementary education;

— Thomas Lutsic as high school principal;

— Jessica Mau in elementary education;

— Shauna Maynard as school psychologist;

— Meghan Murphy in elementary education;

— Lisa Murray in elementary education; and

— Maureen Northrup in special education.

“Congratulations, you made it,” Wiles told the tenure recipients.

She surmised that the three years to achieve tenure might have seemed “tremendously long” as the staffers asked themselves, “Am I really Guilderland stuff?”

She urged them, “Think about your tenure recommendation as not being ‘good,’ but your license to be great.”

She asked them to consider, “What will you do to make a difference in the lives of our children?”

Each tenure recipient stood for recognition, introducing family members or friends who had come to support them.

“I started here in 2008 as a secretary and I learned to love this as my home,” said Piera Camposeo with her best friend by her side; Camposeo grew up in Italy and teaches Italian.

“It’s an amazing place to work and I love Guilderland,” said Thomas Lutsic, the high school principal, who came to Guilderland three years ago having just served as a secondary principal at Hamilton Central School District in Madison County in central New York. A high-school drop-out, Lutsic said earlier that he “fell in love with learning” when he was in his thirties and went back to school to become an English teacher.

Severance announced that 40 staffers are retiring, with a combined “874-and-a-half years of dedication.”

“We have some very talented and loyal employees,” said Severance.

Wiles praised the retirees — including teachers, teaching assistants, bus drivers, custodial workers, speech and language pathologists, and a nurse — for their “dedication, care, and contribution to what I consider the noblest profession there is.”

She said she has a plaque in her office, which she conceded was a bit “corny,” but values the sentiment: “Teaching is the profession that creates all others.”

Each and every one of you contributed to the next generation,” said Wiles. “Without you, Guilderland wouldn’t be Guilderland, New York wouldn’t be New York, and America wouldn’t be America….We are so proud of you and so thankful to you.”

School board President Barbara Fraterrigo, wearing a pale blue suit, stood next to Wiles, in a white suit, to present the plaques.

Fraterrigo told the newly tenured staffers that they were “starting on a wonderful journey” and she wished the retirees years “full of health and happiness.”

Students from Germany

The meeting had opened with a joyous recognition of the foreign-exchange program.

Karen Covert-Jones introduced two students from Germany who lived in Guilderland for the school year as part of the Youth for Understanding program.

She said the pair did not even speak German to each other and “truly became integrated members” of the school community.

Covert-Jones has a daughter, Sarah, of her own and hosted a “German daughter” named Sarah Castagne.

Covert-Jones described the exchange experience as “profound, long-lasting, and life changing.”

Both of the German students stood at the microphone to address the school board. Each spoke with poise in flawless English.

“In the beginning, everything seemed really big and confusing,” said exchange student Theresia Guber. But soon she learned her way around.

The schoolwork was hard at first, too, Guber said, and reading especially “took a really long time.” She said she was grateful to the teachers who helped her.

In Germany, Guber told the board, relationships with teachers are more formal than here.

“Here, it is more friendly but the kids really respect their teachers,” she said.

Castagne amused the board with anecdotes about several of her American discoveries. She was surprised to learn that the school “monitors” were people rather than TV screens. She ate her first doughnut hole in a school class, and she learned how to drink out of a water fountain, which she had never done before coming to Guilderland.

Castagne told the board that she had liked singing before. “But this year, I learned how to sing,” she said.

She loved “running and jumping with friends” on the school’s cross-country team and she also loved spending time in the library.

“I didn’t expect the school spirit to be that much,” said Castagne, who liked dressing up for School Spirit Week. She said there are no school sports teams in her home country.

She also said that, in Germany, students were segregated into three different types of schools, based on academic standing.

“Here, everything is mixed,” she said.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard from Wiles that about 26 percent of those who voted on the school budget on May 20 filled out a survey; the results will be posted on the district’s website in a few weeks;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that senior Jasmin Eutache has a piece of her artwork, A Carriage Ride at Night, accepted for the annual Horsing Around in the Arts” exhibit at the Saratoga Racing Museum;

— Heard praise from Singleton for 15 high school students who spent a day at Fisher House in Albany, where families of veterans stay, for free, when the veterans are getting medical help at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Hospital. The students cooked, cleaned, and put up Easter decorations;

— Learned that Aaron Pradhan, an eighth-grader at Farnsworth Middle School, won the capital-East Region New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers Peter A. Fulvi Love of Language Award. “He has demonstrated a distinguished level of understanding of French language and culture in our increasingly diverse society,” said Singleton;

— Reviewed policies on public information, smoking and other tobacco use, administrative organization, workplace harassment, student activities funds management, student discipline, dangerous weapons in school, penalties, detention, corporal punishment complaints, and student conduct on district-provided transportation;

— Approved a classroom rental agreement with the Capital District YMCA for next year;

— Heard extensive praise from Fraterrigo on the Choices 301 program run by Ed Frank, a retired police officer, at the Beacon of Hope Center in Altamont, which health-class students from Farnsworth Middle School have recently attended.

“They meet real, live people who experienced tragedy because of drugs, alcohol, and bullying,” said Fraterrigo. “Their heartfelt stories really do touch the kids”;

— Heard recommendations from Fraterrigo for the board to set term limits for the president and vice president it elects, and also to establish a nominating committee to select candidates for those offices.  Fraterrigo had previously worked with former board member Thomas Nachod to solicit names for a slate; she described the current system as “laissez-faire.”

Most of the current board members did not embrace the recommendations. Board member Colleen O’Connell said that democracy takes care of setting term limits. She also said, “Dick Weisz served [as president] for four years during a difficult time...I don’t think anyone else could have done it; and

— Met in executive session to discuss an employee’s history and potential discipline or suspension, and to talk about strategy for negotiations with the Guilderland Teachers’ Association Teaching Assistant Unit and with the Guilderland Office Workers’ Association.

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