Summer is over, the official start of fall is days away, and staff at the South Seneca Central School District has entered another year.
While families and students are busy during the summer months spending time together, administrators and staff are busy getting ready for the new school year.
South Seneca Superintendent Steve Zielinski said it’s something that they experience every year. “The summer is actually a very busy time for administrators as they reflect on the previous school year and prepare for the next,” he explained. “Every district handles summer prep work differently; at South Seneca we approve curriculum updates and professional development at an individual teacher level, and then facilitate that work throughout July and August.”
He said that teachers are offered two voluntary work days by contract for teaching staff in the last week of August to help prepare for the new school year. At that point, principals and other administrative staff are going through the final steps to ensure that classrooms are ready for the start of school.
Zielinski said that staffing changes, as in new hires, are typically taken care of by June. That said, positions are often open heading into the summer and fall months. “That is definitely true this year at South Seneca. It’s not necessarily something people think about, but forming hiring committees, doing interviews, checking references, and getting new staff oriented and in place is time consuming and important,” Zielinski said.
Teacher shortages have been well-documented throughout New York, and rural communities are dealing with shortages more than most as attracting talent becomes difficult.
While changeover is common at the teaching level, administrative staff is more stable. South Seneca schools have enjoyed stability in this department, and Zielinski said that’s important. “It is certainly an advantage to have stability and experience among administrative staff, and we talk often about all the ways one school year is similar to others,” he explained, “but also the ways each year can be different—different initiatives, turnover in staff, new ideas, etc. I wouldn’t really say it’s ‘easier,’ except in the sense that we can anticipate the challenges better, and we learn from experience.”
Ensuring stability at the teaching and administrative levels is important for students. Building success is something Zielinski said is an ongoing process for South Seneca. “We work with a steady philosophy that we can always do better, and it’s important for us to be specific about a strategic plan,” he said. “This is something that involves all stakeholders, and the fact is that there is so much during a school year to react to that we must be disciplined about being proactive when it comes to a plan. It takes time and collaboration, and we have to continually reassess as we go.”
Change is also expected across the board.
Whether those changes come in the classroom through modified curriculum at the classroom-level or state-issued standards like the new Social Emotional Learning requirements, Zielinski said maintaining perspective is important.
The longtime superintendent said some ongoing concerns remain. “We always know that our families are doing the best they can and the best they know how, while understanding that the challenges continue,” he added. “We want our school district to be a great community resource and a great community partner, and we want to do everything we can to help connect families to what they need, but not just that we like to bring joy to our community too, as we watch our kids thrive, compete, and perform.”
He says that countywide issues surrounding housing, poverty, mental health, job opportunities, opioids and quality of life all enter the equation when administrators look at the best ways to run their schools.