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Kirnie reflects back on tenure as NNCS superintendent

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NORFOLK - When she finished her six-and-a-half-year stint as superintendent at Norwood-Norfolk Central School on June 30, Elizabeth A. Kirnie says she was able to look back and see a number of accomplishments during her tenure.

Among the initiatives was the introduction of a program to address early literacy.

“We did institute the UPK (universal pre-kindergarten) program, which we had not had before. It’s changed just a bit over the years due to funding limitations, but it’s here to stay,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

Her tenure, which began on Dec. 18, 2006, also saw the introduction of new evaluation systems for teachers and administrators. That, she said, had an impact not only on the staff at Norwood-Norfolk, but also the students.

“The whole field of education has changed. Every year I do senior exit interviews and let the departing students know that it’s OK to say anything. I really want to hear their feedback on what they would change, what they appreciated,” she said.

“When they’re not talking about the cafeteria or the price of ranch dressing or senior issues, they do talk about more substantive issues. This year students asked me what’s wrong with our teachers. We have an excellent group of teachers at Norwood-Norfolk. I don’t think it’s possible to apply the kinds of change and degree of pressure for performance for teachers and not have it felt all the way to the student level no matter how professional that teacher is,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

“Hopefully this past year was trial by fire and things will normalize in the next year,” she said.

Mrs. Kirnie’s tenure also saw the addition of more technology to the district.

“Looking at the new requirement for computer-based testing, I’m very gratified that during my tenure we were able to equip every classroom in the district with state-of-the-art technology. Although it will be a transition to make sure we have enough of the appropriate hardware, at least the instructional technology is there. I’m gratified that we were able to do that,” she said.

It was a time that saw difficult budget years, but there was only one instance when Norwood-Norfolk’s spending plan failed to pass muster with the voters.

“The year that budget was defeated was a year that Potsdam Central School’s budget was also defeated. It had to do with the general revaluation of property,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

There were also outcries against a property reval that was completed this year in Potsdam, but that didn’t impact the district’s budget. Voters approved the 2013-14 spending plan by a 213-102 margin in May.

“Fortunately that didn’t happen and our budget passed handily,” she said.

The district’s finances during Mrs. Kirnie’s tenure reversed course from where they had been when she arrived.

Six years ago the district had a bleak financial picture, with a fund balance that stood at a negative $154,043. But, in their 2012 report to the district, auditors from Poulsen & Podvin, CPA, P.C., Watertown, called the district financially healthy.

“The state of our finances at Norwood-Norfolk today compared to when I started, we are on solid ground, which is not to say we can ever sit back. I think that for now, although we’re not where I’d like to be, we’re not in the white knuckle area yet,” she said.

She credited hard work by district officials and working with the community to overcome the financial challenges the district had faced.

“It does take that partnership to make finances successful,” she said.

Also on the partnership front, Mrs. Kirnie said they have worked with the town of Norfolk and village of Norwood on projects that benefit all entities.

“We did bring municipal water to the school, which seems sort of basic. But before then, we could not take our water for granted and now we can. It was with the encouragement of the Department of Health. That really started an era of cooperation with the village of Norwood and also the town of Norfolk,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

“When we put in our new fuel facility, we were able to partner with Norwood and Norfolk and with St. Lawrence County. A relationship with the surrounding municipalities is really key to operating a successful school, especially when the school is a community center and used constantly,” she said.

In addition to working with local municipalities, Mrs. Kirnie said they also started sharing positions with other school districts. At one point they shared a transportation director with the Massena Central School District, and they have also shared a superintendent of buildings and grounds with the Potsdam Central School District and food service director through the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

“I truly believe in the future continuing to expand the possibilities of the benefits with sharing with other districts. I think a lot more sharing both on the building level and classroom level will happen, at least at Norwood-Norfolk, before we look at other kinds of mergers. There’s a lot more we can do,” she said.

Former A.A. Kingston Middle School Principal James M. Cruikshank replaced Mrs. Kirnie as superintendent following her retirement, but she said she’s still available if he has questions.

“I gave him my phone number,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

But, since there has been a close relationship between the Potsdam and Norwood-Norfolk school districts, and since Mr. Cruikshank had the opportunity to meet with her and other staff members prior to taking over, he already has a familiarity with the district.

“He also fortunately has an excellent role model in (Potsdam Central School Superintendent) Pat Brady,” she said. “He will have all the supports he needs, as well as what I think is a really excellent board of education to work with.”

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