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Crist reflects on tenure as Massena Central interim superintendent


MASSENA - While William W. Crist finished his last day as interim superintendent of the Massena Central School District on Friday, he said he saw some good things happen during his seven months in the district.

But at the same time, Mr. Crist said, there were other things he would have liked to see to completion.

Mr. Crist, who had retired from the Oswego City School District, took over in Massena in August for what was expected to be a one-year stint as the board of education began a search for a permanent superintendent.

But, when he was offered a position as the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Syracuse, his tenure ended earlier than anticipated. He reports to his new assignment on Monday, and the Massena superintendent role is now filled by Interim Superintendent William H. Flynn.

“At first it was a little frantic knowing there was quite a bit to be done,” Mr. Crist said of his first days on the job, a month before the opening of school for the 2013-14 year.

However, he said, Acting Superintendent Stephen M. Putman filled in nicely during the one month between the departure of former Superintendent Roger B. Clough II and his arrival.

“I had been in contact with Steve Putman several times in July. Steve did a great job laying the groundwork for the work that needed to be done. My hat’s off to him for what he put together as well. I think people were ready at that point to accept a change in direction. A lot of it was just allowing it to unfold. You step back and give some direction and nudging here and there,” Mr. Crist said.

“I think in the general sense it was just to bring a sense of normalcy, decorum and procedure that I think just needed to be reinforced here. That was really the biggest piece, I think. At the same time, it was welcoming students back and faculty and staff back on the first day,” he said.

Mr. Crist said that, during his tenure, he was pleased to be able to fill a couple of principal positions that became vacant when the incumbents accepted new jobs.

Burton Peck was appointed as principal at J.W. Leary Junior High School following the resignation of Jesse C. Coburn, who took over as grades seven through 12 principal in the Heuvelton Central School District.

Amy R. Hornung was appointed as principal at Nightengale Elementary School following the resignation of Shannon Jordan, who accepted a position with the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Both positions were filled at one point by interim principals, including one that Mr. Flynn held at Nightengale.

“We have two good principals. I think that worked out very well,” Mr. Crist said.

He said another positive during his tenure was establishing a link between the district and the Massena community through involvement in groups such as the Monday Luncheon Group and Massena Rotary Club.

“It was important to be able to talk about what’s happening in the schools on a week-to-week basis on topics such as the implementation of the Common Core, where we are in the budget as we approach the budget season and where we’re going with finding a superintendent. Those were, I think, kind of reconnecting with the community,” Mr. Crist said.

“I think the big part of it was keeping the community informed on what’s going on. Massena Central plays an integral part in their community. Schools are flagships to different neighborhoods and different parts of the community. It becomes a cultural center for what’s going on in the community. I like to keep the connection,” he said.

Mr. Crist recalled that on his first day he was invited to attend a Massena Matters forum, a grass roots effort staged by community members to address issues in Massena.

Mr. Crist said he had an opportunity then to meet with Mayor James F. Hidy, Police Chief Timmy J. Currier and Susanne Day, who has spearheaded the Massena Matters effort.

“People had an interest in wanting to keep students involved in establishing a platform on how we can make Massena a better place. I recognized early on that people had a true and keen vested interest in wanting to improve Massena. It was a very important piece for me to see the level of commitment,” he said.

Since his tenure as interim superintendent was cut short by his new job, Mr. Crist said there were some areas that he had hoped to follow to completion, but wasn’t able to.

“If I would have spent the year here, we would get through the entire budget season. I feel like I’ve left some loose ends in that regard. They’re now getting into the throes of the budget,” he said.

Mr. Crist said he also wanted to have come to an agreement with the Massena Federation of Teachers on a new contract.

“I hoped to strike an agreement with the MFT and get that off the table for the new person coming in. I’m still hopeful that might be able to happen. I was a little overly optimistic we could have gotten the deal done. That was another piece that I wanted to see completed,” he said.

Now the reins are turned over to Mr. Flynn, whom board President John R. Boyce said will serve for an indefinite period of time until a new permanent superintendent is hired.

“It’s bittersweet leaving in the middle of the year. I’ve really enjoyed my time with the board. They allowed me to do what I think administration needs to do. They were very supportive for the most part of the decisions that needed to be made. I think Bill Flynn will be a great addition to the district. He’s familiar with the district and the community,” Mr. Crist said.

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