For Hudson school board: 1 filled, 1 to go

HUDSON–The Board of Education announced this week that High School Principal Thomas Gavin would remain in his position for two more years. The board also appointed retired custodian Joe Carr to an open board seat and heard citizens’ concerns about at-risk students.

A press release distributed at the June 24 meeting, the last session of the school year, said that Mr. Gavin “will continue his employment with the District until his retirement on September 10, 2015.” He had been on leave pending the results of an investigation into allegations of misconduct and he reportedly filed suit against the district in the matter. The parties involved have resolved the issue with a “Stipulation of Agreement,” but the details have not yet been released.

Mr. Carr, 53, of Hudson was sitting in the audience when board member Tiffany Hamilton nominated him for the open seat. Board members immediately voted for him and, amid congratulations, he stood up, took the oath of office, walked to the front of the room and sat down at the board’s table.

He replaces Peter Merante, who resigned in April. Mr. Carr’s appointment will expire June 30, 2014.

For over 30 years Mr. Carr worked for the district as a custodian and maintenance man, soccer coach, and teacher’s aid. He holds an associate degree in business, is studying for a bachelor of business administration, and has his eye on a master’s degree. Of his new board service, he said, “I’m not in it for me. But I feel so close to the community, so close to the kids,” adding that he hopes to “show the value of education.”

Mr. Carr’s appointment resolves the uncertainty over one of two board seats. Originally Mr. Merante’s place was filled by the election of Lynn Lee, but she is a high school teacher whose tenure lasts until June 30. School employees cannot be board members, and elected board members had to take their oath by June 20.

Mr. Carr ran for a seat on the board in the May election and received the next most votes after Ms. Lee.

The other seat in question is the one held by Elizabeth Fout, who has not attended a board meeting since March 24 and has now missed six consecutive meetings. Monday night, the official place card with her name designated a spot at the board table, but her chair remained empty. The Columbia Paper has been unable to reach Ms. Fout by phone and her plans are not known.

In January 2013 she reportedly resigned in the middle of a board meeting and walked out, yet she attended four subsequent meetings in February and March. On June 10, three board members voted to remove her for failing to attend meetings, but removal legally requires a majority of the board’s seven members.

No one at Monday’s meeting alluded to the situation, but Interim Board President Kelly Frank wrote in a June 12 email, “We need… all seven board members so we can have as many viewpoints as possible and make the most informed decisions we can.” Ms. Frank said in the email that it is “very difficult to continue the work of the district when we are understaffed at the board.”

During the public comment section of the meeting, two citizens expressed concerns about the district’s effectiveness in helping students who do not thrive in the traditional school setting.

The meeting also included a release in which Superintendent Maria Suttmeier said the district is committed to improving “our outcomes and above all, our graduation rate.” Of the students who entered the high school in 2007, only 65% graduated by August 2011.

Quentin Cross referred to the Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy with the Berkshire Union Free School in Canaan, which works with youths deemed at risk of not graduating from high school. At the June 10 meeting board, Ms. Suttmeier suggested that partnership might replace the services of the Alternate Learning Program (ALP), which was discontinued in 2010.

Mr. Cross asked whether the proposed new academy would “have a hands-on approach to children.”

Claire Cousin said she was “not surprised by the [low] graduation rate, after the closure of ALP,” saying she had been one of ALP’s beneficiaries. After starting in regular high school as a freshman, she went to ALP for her sophomore and junior years. When ALP closed, she had no choice but to return to regular school and she soon dropped out. Ms. Cousin now has a GED and is in college studying human services.

Both Ms. Cousin and Mr. Cross said school expulsions and trouble graduating most affected “people of color.”

Also at the meeting, videography teacher Dan Udell recognized two of his outstanding students, Peter DeJesus and Brent Decker. “Teaching is important,” Mr. Udell said, “But exposing people to ideas is equally important. “ He said that everybody has a calling but needs the tools and resources so he or she can discover and develop. He said Mozart was able to indulge in his musical genius because his childhood home was full of instruments.

The next Board meeting, the annual organizational meeting, will be July 1 at 7 p.m. in the high school library.

 

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