Saranac Lake school district seeks new special education director

SARANAC LAKE – The Saranac Lake Central School District is looking for a new administrator to lead its special education program.

Paul Leahy, director of pupil personnel services and chairman of the district’s special education committee, will retire on Jan. 1. Previously the assistant principal and dean of students at Saranac Lake High School, Leahy took over the pupil personnel position from Chad McCarthy at the start of the school year as part of a reshuffling of all the district’s administrators. McCarthy is now principal of Petrova Elementary School.

The departure of Leahy comes as the district has hired a consultant to study its special education program. Diane Albano of the Rensselaer-based Capital Area School Development Association is conducting the study this fall and is expected to deliver her findings at the end of November.

Superintendent Diane Fox outlined the district’s options for filling Leahy’s position at a school board meeting Wednesday night. She noted that Leahy’s last day will be in mid December, even though his retirement isn’t effective until Jan. 1.

Fox said the board has talked about filling the position with a part-time employee or with a teacher on special assignment, but she didn’t recommend those options. She said the special education study will likely lead to some “significant suggestions” for changes to programming. Putting a teacher in charge of the program and shepherding those changes through, and then having that person return to their teaching role could create an uncomfortable situation, she said.

“That is not a recommendation of mine,” Fox said. “I also don’t think the position can be part time. It’s significant. The last thing we want is part-time oversight of a huge chunk of our school budget.”

Fox said the board should fill the position with an administrator, either on an interim or permanent basis.

“There could be some benefit in actually doing it interim, bringing in somebody who could come in for a short period of time, oversee that change through the spring and then bring somebody in for the new school year,” Fox said.

Board members suggested advertising the vacancy with both options and asking potential candidates if they’re interested in the position on an interim basis or permanently.

“I think advertising it both ways is the way to go,” said board member Terry Tubridy.

Fox said it will be important to fill the position quickly so the district doesn’t lose the momentum it’s building through the special education study. She suggested bringing in the new hire as soon as possible so there could be an overlap with Leahy before he leaves.

Leahy’s retirement was accepted, with regret, at the board’s Oct. 2 meeting.

“I want to thank Paul publicly,” Fox said at the time. “He took on a big job when Chad left. I’ve been impressed every day as he talks about his belief in children and how we should approach our children with special needs and the fact that our children with special needs are really our children.”

The district has 164 students in its special education program this year. That’s about 12 percent of its total population of roughly 1,300 students.