After more than four decades as an educator, Pawling Central School District Superintendent Dr. Bill Ward officially retired earlier this month. Dr. Ward’s career began in 1973 following his graduation from the University Delaware. Initially, he taught at the elementary and middle school level before moving into administrative roles. Dr. Ward would serve as an assistant middle school principal and assistant to the superintendent, positions which he would credit as a great learning experience at both the building and district levels. He would eventually earn two Masters Degrees from Columbia University, and would go on to become an elementary school principal in two districts, with his longest tenure in Ridgewood, NJ. While completing his doctoral dissertation at Seton Hall University, Ward was appointed superintendent for the Old Tappan School District in New Jersey, serving there for seven years. In 2013, Dr. Ward was invited to join the Pawling Central School District where he would ultimately finish his lengthy educational career.
In addition to his continued support of our efforts to provide the best news coverage of Pawling students and schools, Dr. Ward was also gracious enough to grant The Pawling Record one last interview before he begins to enjoy his retirement.
What was the most rewarding part of your time as PCSD Superintendent?
When Dr. Sensenig, Ms. Fontana, and I joined PCSD there was no written curriculum and segments of the community had significant questions about the district's finances. During our time together, I think we made a number of improvements in both areas. Dr. Sensenig worked very hard to create an open and transparent budgeting process, and over the course of time the community trusted that honest, straightforward responses were provided to their finance questions. The community's support for all of our budget proposals is something everyone in the district values and does not take for granted. I'm proud that the 2019-2020 tax levy is $180,000 less than in 2013-2014.
At the same time Ms. Fontana, in concert with teachers and administrators, worked to create a sustaining curriculum development process that supports the NY State Learning Standards and provides creative and critical thinking and problem solving experiences for our students. We also significantly increased the professional learning opportunities available to teachers to support the written curriculum. During the last few years we were able to increase the number and challenge of high school courses through the wonderful support of the teaching staff and high school students. Programs like Project Lead the Way and readers and writers workshop are having a real impact on student learning.
I also want to thank the community for continuing to invest in PCSD through facility projects like the in-district bus garage and infrastructure improvements at each of the schools, especially those that impact the daily life of our students like the renovations to each of the schools' libraries and the high school cafeteria and auditorium.
What was the most challenging?
Two come immediately to my mind. The first is the impact of social media on the daily life of so many people, most especially our students. In my opinion, it has become a significant challenge for students, parents, and school personnel to manage the time spent looking at, reacting to, and dealing with the impact of what occurs on social media. It is imperative that we as parents and educators do a better job of teaching children about responsible use of social media and set a positive example for them. Less time interacting on phones, computers, and gaming devices and more time in face-to-face interactions would be a benefit to everyone.
The second challenge for PCSD is relatively new. As our experienced staff members have retired, we've spent considerable resources in recruiting new staff members, and we've had very good success with bringing in new teachers who have offered much to our students. Many of these teachers have taken advantage of the significant professional learning opportunities offered to our staff members where they've been able to interact with teachers from other districts. As a result, they make connections and hear about job opportunities in Putnam and Westchester districts where salaries are considerably higher. It's easy for a teacher to compare salary guides and with a 2% tax cap predict pretty accurately the difference of what they will be make over their career. Risking a move between districts for $10-20,000 annual salary increase can be very attractive, particularly to someone in the early years of their career.
In many ways we are comparable to a "small market" team in baseball. We need to identify and recruit outstanding talent, and if a teacher decides to leave for a new professional opportunity then go through the process again of seeking out and recruiting new talent. And, we should be thankful for what the person contributed to students during their time in Pawling.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time in Pawling?
The genuine engagement and excitement of students and teachers when talking about their learning experiences is something that will always stay with me. Whether it was high school students talking about their trips to Quebec City and Spain, kindergartners discussing their Project Lead the Way classes, Science Research students' presentations, middle school students' excitement about beginning to gain mastery of a musical instrument, the commitment of students to extra and co-curricular activities, the enthusiasm for learning always reminded me of why we do what we do. Any teacher will tell you that students' "aha moments" are why they are in education.
What’s next for you now that your tenure is over?
I plan to spend more time with my grandson and my father and hopefully take some time to travel. After 46 years in education, I'm looking forward to a September hike or a day at the beach.