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Clough asks board of education not to renew his contract

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MASSENA - Saying it’s been a good five-year run as the leader of the district, Massena Central School Superintendent Roger B. Clough said Wednesday that he has notified the district’s board of education that he does not wish to renew his current contract that expires on June 30, 2013.

Mr. Clough, whose tenure was often marked by turmoil including calls for his resignation, presented the board with his letter of intent in an executive session held during a June 21 board of education meeting. He said he would submit his formal resignation letter on or about June 1, 2013.

“I talked to the board at the end of June and told them I was very grateful to serve,” he said. “The board has discussed it. They’ve had preliminary discussions.”

Two neighboring districts, St. Lawrence Central and Norwood-Norfolk, are already in the process of recruiting new superintendents to take over in mid-2013. Both St. Lawrence Central School Superintendent Stephen M. Putman and Norwood-Norfolk Central School Superintendent Elizabeth A. Kirnie have announced their plans to retire in June 2013, and both districts are working with the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services in their superintendent search.

Although Mr. Clough made his intensions known in June, Massena Board of Education President John R. Boyce said they agreed to withhold any discussion about it until after the start of classes in September to allow students, parents, district employees and the community to focus on the beginning of the school year.

‘Everyone deserved the chance to start school without the distraction of this announcement,” he said. “Now that we have begun to settle into a routine, it is appropriate to share this with our community and to begin looking forward to the transition that lies ahead.”

Mr. Clough said he made the decision after discussing it with his wife. He suggested it was for the “betterment of the community.

“My wife and I have talked probably since last fall when my father was ill. I had a commitment here and I wanted to make sure I followed through on that commitment. I just thought it was appropriate (to share his decision with the board) once the budget passed,” he said.

Mr. Clough said he was grateful for the opportunity to serve the district as a teacher, principal and superintendent. While assigned at the J.W. Leary Junior High School principal, he took over for former Superintendent Douglas W. Huntley on an interim basis in August 2008 after Mr. Huntley accepted a position with the Queensbury Union Free School District. He was named permanent superintendent in June 2009.

“I have been very fortunate to be employed by the Massena Central School District since 1995 in the capacities of teacher, principal both at Nightengale Elementary School and the J.W. Leary Junior High School, and the last four-and-a-half years as superintendent,” Mr. Clough said.

“It has been a privilege to serve the district and the community, especially since this is my hometown,” he said. “We have accomplished many goals and raised student scores, as well as creating many new programs in the district. My goals from this day forward are to focus on the great programs we have and continue to put the students first in performing my responsibilities.”

Among the programs that have been instituted during Mr. Clough’s tenure were junior kindergarten, full-day kindergarten, the Alternative Education School, which will graduate its first class this year, and an after-school credit recovery.

The Tech Prep program was also expanded, foreign languages that had previously been taught to eighth graders at the middle level were expanded for seventh graders, and the district formed partnerships with local universities such as the Smart Scholars program with SUNY Canton that gives economically disadvantaged students an opportunity to earn free college credits while they’re still in high school.

“Even during the turmoil and the budget crisis, we were able to not only maintain, but add programs,” Mr. Clough said, suggesting future budgets may make it more difficult to keep programming as they’ve been able to do over the years.

He said, during his tenure, they were also able to complete a $29 million capital improvement project in the district, and he also stepped in during a federal investigation into illegal disposal of asbestos in the district.

“I learned a lot,” he said. “I’ll take these lessons through life.”

He said student scores were also up, they instituted some changes that were beneficial to the students and staff including a new homework policy, they secured $175,000 in grants and initiated shared services with different entities such as the village of Massena.

“This district is the best. It’s the little jewel in the north country,” he said.

“I’ve had a great run. I’ve been very fortunate to work in the district I lived in. I did some good things and the board and district did some good things. I’m ready to move on. I’m good with that,” Mr. Clough said.

But his tenure was often marked by turmoil, including calls for his resignation and legal battles with the former assistant superintendent for business, Cynthia M. Yager, who retired in July.

A group that called themselves “Kids First” organized in December and those members have been vocal at board of education meetings. One of their goals was to remove Mr. Clough from his position, hoping to convince board members to buy out his contract or not renew it in 2013. A petition signed by 400 people who declared no confidence in Mr. Clough had been presented to the board in November.

Members of the group had also shared their concerns about the district’s finances, cuts to programs that were made and later restored, and the amount of legal fees being paid by the district.

Robin Wolpin, one of the group’s organizers, said she welcomed the news.

“I feel a great sense of relief at Mr. Clough’s choice not to seek a contract renewal. I agree that his decision is for ‘the betterment of the community.’ The last couple of years have been very rocky for a lot of people and indirectly the students. Massena Central has fantastic employees who can now move forward to returning the district to the prominent educational position it formerly held in the north country,” she said.

“Mr. Clough saw the writing on the wall after the May school board elections,” said Steve Boutot, another organizer, referring to the election of Loren Fountaine and Patrick Serguson to the board. Both men had been outspoken critics of Mr. Clough prior to taking office. “Our group has worked very diligently to achieve this goal. We’re very pleased with the news,” he said.

Mr. Clough said he plans to stay in the educational field.

“I definitely want to stay in the educational field. I’ll be looking at other opportunities,” he said. “Massena is my home and always will be my home.”

Mr. Boyce said the board wished him well in his new endeavors.

“We extend Mr. Clough our best wishes as he pursues new career opportunities,” he said.

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