By Dan Hust
CALLICOON September 3, 2004 Tax issues so thorny people come out of a board meeting shellshocked.
A building/renovations project so far over budget the states slapped a cease-work order on it.
Union and community concerns so numerous you dont know where to begin.
Add to that a district clerk struggling to recover from a vicious dog attack, a school still reeling from the controversial loss of its four-year superintendent, and four widespread campuses about to open their doors to 1,800 students.
Throw in a new puppy, deaths in the family, commuting an hour and a half one way and the continuing search for a home while still trying to sell the old one.
Alan Derry has one word for it all:
Thats his response when asked how the past two months have gone as Sullivan Wests new superintendent.
What can happen, will happen, he adds.
But the calm, quiet, authoritative air projected by Derry can clearly be felt in his equally calm office in the former basement of the Delaware Valley campus in Callicoon.
Even his 10-week-old puppy Ursula or Sula for short makes little noise in her carrier as the afternoon wears on inside Derrys sunlit office.
Theres purpose within these walls and within Alan Derrys mind.
I have two major jobs, he explains without hesitation. One is to listen as well as possible . . . [and the other is] to begin getting our strategic plans off the ground.
Derrys careful not to stain the name of his predecessor Michael Johndrow but it is clear he sees a need for action on multiple fronts.
His two major focuses currently: the building project and the districts financial situation.
The building project has some significant hiccups, he says, partly referencing the Lake Huntington high school, some of its athletic fields and its stormwater drainage system in partial limbo due to ongoing mediation and litigation with two of the project contractors.
Hes proud of resolving eight grievances brought to him by the teachers union but says a professional development plan is needed at SW.
And theres the task of building a team not just out of administrators from four fairly independent campuses, but also out of teachers, staff, students and the community.
But these days, Derry is finding a role model for that teamwork in of all places the Sullivan West board.
Almost all their votes have been unanimous or close to unanimous, he says of the nine-member board.
Indeed, even his hiring was unanimous, indicating to Derry and others that theres a new emphasis on cooperation rather than combat.
And the new supt. plans to build on that.
Hes already sent out letters to the supervisors of the seven townships Sullivan West encompasses, and hes eagerly awaiting the chance to meet more and more staff as the beginning of the school year nears.
Some of the locals hes already met, having visited the area with his wife several weekends before even learning he was hired a scouting trip, he explains, meant to determine if he really wanted to be here.
Hes sure of that now, and the scouting trips are as much for a new home as they are to gain information about this 200-square-mile district. After all, he hopes to retire here.
Im 58, and Ill probably work for another 10 years, he remarks. This hopefully will be my last hurrah.
But rather than settle into a comfortable, non-stressful, routine job, Derry likes a challenge and he sees many at Sullivan West.
Im a change agent, he explains. I dont want to just maintain something.
Such a process, he admits, takes many years but more importantly, many people.
The 36-year educator (and 30-year administrator) knows he cant do it alone, so, drawing upon his childhood in a close-knit part of Albany, he plans to work on building a team through community cooperation.
It would be a refreshing change from New Paltz, where he spent the last four years as superintendent (a true record for a district thats seen 45 administrators come and go in the last 30 years).
Similar in size to Sullivan West (four campuses, 2,300 students), Derry says New Paltz featured much more diverse communities that rarely interacted with one another.
New Paltz I dont think was looking for change, whereas the people here say, No, we want to be better, he says.
But Derry also has a reputation for being direct and unafraid to offend, according to residents in New Paltz and Akron, a western New York school district where Derry served as supt. before heading to the Hudson Valley.
I am plain-spoken, he admits. Education, however, is a big tent, and you have a lot of opinions that can fall under that tent that are rationally held and some are diametrically opposed.
I think I can be pretty diplomatic when necessary, he says. I do have a pretty extensive background in counseling.
Will I say no? Yes, he acknowledges, then adds, but nowhere near as many times as Ill say yes.
And according to Derry, the people hes met have already figured that out especially SWs administrators.
Theyre looking forward to a team approach, he says.
Chalk it up to common sense and a commitment to education.
The people here Ive met . . . have their feet on the ground, he explains. Theres a really nice base here.
Indeed, hes counting on that base.
Weve lost that sense of community, he says of the world at large. Here, Im hoping to find that again.
Its a desire born more out of his years of experience in such far-flung locales as Japan, Italy and Greece than his masters degrees in counseling psychology, administration/supervision and secondary guidance.
Ive dedicated my life to making the educational experience for children better, Derry says, and if anyone wishes to help him continue to achieve that goal, he welcomes their calls at 887-5300, ext. 3000.
Please, he says to anyone in the Sullivan West district, feel free to contact me.