Saranac Lake school board picks new superintendent

SARANAC LAKE – Diane Fox has been selected as the next superintendent of the Saranac Lake Central School District.

Fox, currently principal of Beekmantown High School, was the unanimous choice of the Saranac Lake school board at a special meeting Tuesday, according to school board President Debra Lennon.

Details of Fox’s contract with the district, including her salary, are still being negotiated, Lennon said. An official vote to hire her is expected at the board’s meeting this coming Wednesday.

Lennon said Fox stood out among the four finalists for the job, all of whom were interviewed last week by the school board, a group of community residents and a committee of school employees.

“She is very collaborative,” Lennon said. “She’s got a great personality. She has a lot of good ideas. She had an all-around good sense of where we wanted to go. It seemed like her goals seemed to mesh with ours.”

“She’s a well-rounded person with great people skills,” said board Vice President Clyde Baker. “We did some checking and stuff, and everybody loves her.”

Lennon said Fox is very interested in long-term planning, something school officials have talked a lot about lately given budget constraints the district is facing. Lennon said Fox is also aware of the district’s ongoing shared services dialogue with the Lake Placid Central School District, highlighted by last week’s decision by both boards to pursue funding for a consolidation study of the two districts.

“She knows we’ve been looking into it, and she’ll definitely help us in the process and try to facilitate some of that for us,” Lennon said.

She has some good ideas,” Baker said. “One of the things I liked is exploring the idea of doing dual certification, so you can graduate from high school with a year under your belt at North Country (Community College) or Paul Smith’s (College), and one more year and you’d have an associate’s degree. I like the way she handles herself in difficult situations as far as disputes, and she had some concrete examples of the way she went about things.”

Baker said all the candidates had “phenomenal ideas that we’re going to steal going forward.”

Shir Filler, a Bloomingdale Elementary School parent and NCCC professor, was one of seven community members who took part in interviews with the four finalists. Filler said most people on the committee felt Fox was the strongest candidate, and she was pleased the school board agreed.

“What we thought made her a really strong candidate was her experience, her student-centeredness and also her community orientation,” Filler said. “Given the budget issues that we’re facing, everybody wants to find the best way to still deliver education to students, but we also need to involve the community as much as possible, and she seemed the best person who could do both of those things.”

Lennon said she couldn’t name the other three finalists without first consulting with the rest of the school board. The district had two internal candidates apply, one of whom was a finalist.

“I do think that our internals have promise for the future, but there’s a little more experience they need to get, especially administrative experience,” Lennon said. “We chose the person who we felt had the most experience that can do this job.”

Lennon, Baker and Filler said they had no concerns about bringing in a superintendent from outside the district.

“She’s not from that far outside the community,” Filler said. “She’s worked in Saranac and Beekmantown, and she’s a North Country person. I definitely got the sense that she would immediately reach out to people and be very available.”

Baker said Fox will move to the district.

“That was adamant from the get-go, that whoever it was will be moving within our borders,” he said.

Fox will replace Gerald Goldman, who is retiring at the end of the school year. Her first day on the job is July 1, but Lennon said she may be around before that.

“We’re hoping she’ll be able to have some conversations and maybe some meetings with Jerry before he leaves,” Lennon said. “We’ll try to ease her in as much as possible so her job, our job and everybody’s job is a little easier.”

Fox turned down an Enterprise request for an interview Thursday, saying in an email she didn’t want to “put the cart before the horse” and speak until after the board officially approves her hiring.

Fox had been principal of Beekmantown’s Cumberland Head Elementary School until July of 2011, when the district’s board of education voted to swap her position with that of then-Beekmantown High School Principal Garth Frechette. The move, which was done without any public explanation, was sharply criticized by many parents, teachers and residents, some of whom petitioned the Beekmantown school board to reconsider the decision. When the board didn’t, they appealed to the state Education Department, but the appeal was rejected in November.

Fox’s current boss in Beekmantown, Superintendent Scott Amo, was the Saranac Lake school district’s superintendent from 2004 to 2007. He never moved to the district and lived in Plattsburgh during his tenure here, which upset some people.