Esslie-Frenia Law June 2023 Leaderboard

New G’town High principal likes how small districts work

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GERMANTOWN—Karol Harlow, longtime principal of Germantown High School, retired this spring. After a search and interviews in May, James DiDonna of Hurley was appointed the new principal.

In a standard contract, Mr. DiDonna has a four-year probationary term, from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2021, at an annual salary of $102,000.

A Kingston native, Mr. DiDonna graduated from Kingston High School in 1987. He holds two degrees from Fordham University: a BA in philosophy and an M.Ed. in elementary education and teaching. He worked in finance in New York City for a few years, and returned to Kingston in 1999. There he taught elementary school for eight years before earning a certificate in educational administration at the College of Saint Rose.

Mr. DiDonna then worked as an assistant high school principal in the Ellenville Central School District for five years and as middle school principal in the Pine Plains Central School District for five years, before coming to Germantown.

James DiDonna is the new principal of Germantown High School. His wife, Meg DiDonna, is a kindergarten teacher in Ulster County. Photo contributed

Mr. DiDonna and his wife, Meg, and their two children live in Hurley. She teaches elementary school in Kingston.

Like Germantown, the Pine Plains and Ellenville districts are small. Pine Plains had about 210 students in grades 6,7 and 8 when Mr. DiDonna was there. Ellenville has 1,653 students in grades K through 12, according to state Education Department statistics. Germantown has 236 students in grades 7 through 12 and 560 students in the whole district.

“I really like small schools,” Mr. DiDonna said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I like getting to know the community, and working with the staff in a district where students and people come first, not numbers. You have names for the faces.

“I like affecting positively what happens at a school,” he added. “A principal has a lot more influence in a smaller school.”

On what a small school needs from its principal, Mr. DiDonna said, “It needs an instructional leader who works with the teachers to make sure they have what they need, and who attends to the individual needs of the students. Those are my two priorities.”

The principal must also help run the school efficiently, he said. “A lack of money and resources in smaller schools means they need to optimize what they have, in scheduling, classrooms and professional development for teachers.”

The Common Core Curriculum is still changing, he noted. “The next generation standards are modifying Common Core to allow teachers more flexibility in teaching their subject.

“Standards are good,” he added. “We need to make sure everyone is being prepared for the 21st century. We need to change with the times, and Common Core is being adjusted, to reflect that.”

The school community can expect additional changes this fall. At the July 12 Board of Education meeting, the board:

• Accepted without comment the resignation of Jeanne Dolamore, effective August 31. Ms. Dolamore had been elementary school principal since June 2014

• Agreed to purchase one day a week of the time of a Public Information Specialist from BOCES Questar III to assist the district with public communication, including but not limited to press releases, newsletters and social media

• Learned that a local family wished to donate funds toward a courtyard for the new auditorium. The board discussed several courtyard plans that Sammel Architecture, the district’s architects, had designed, and decided on one to present to the family for approval

• Confirmed that the capital project currently calls for breaking ground in March 2018. The plans were submitted to the state Education Department for approval in May; the approval review currently requires 30 to 32 weeks, which puts bidding into January and February of 2018, and construction between March 2018 and August 2019

• Cancelled the July 31 special meeting

• In the annual reorganization meeting, also held July 12, the board re-elected Tammi Kellenbenz president and Donald Coons vice-president; there were no other nominations. Board committees were appointed as follows: Finance, all board members; Curriculum, Teresa Repko and Les Olsson; Buildings and Grounds, Ralph DelPozzo and Mr. Coons; and Policy, Andrea Provan and George Sharpe. Board President Kellenbenz serves on all committees

All board members except Mr. DelPozzo attended the meeting, along with a dozen in the audience.

The next regular board of education meeting is Wednesday, August 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the school, 123 Main Street.

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