Democrat Photos | Dan Hust
DR. KEN HILTON stands next to photos of his parents’ early days in education (including teaching) in Wyoming cherished heirlooms hung on his office wall in Jeffersonville.
New SW Super Looks Forward to Difficult Task
By Dan Hust
JEFFERSONVILLE October 16, 2007 Ken Hilton loved his first job, teaching social studies and history to high-schoolers at Rosetree-Media School near Philadelphia from 1972-1980.
He loved his second job, too, as K-12 social studies supervisor at the 8,500-student Rush-Henrietta Central School District near Rochester, which over the course of 27 years evolved into executive director of research and development, along with school improvement.
And yes, he loves job #3, which happens to be as superintendent of the Sullivan West Central School District.
Wait a minute.
He loves this job? He “loves” a role that put him smack in the middle of severe building issues, unexpected board changes and still-simmering public division over an eight-year-old merger?
“I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done in education,” he said inside his Jeffersonville Elementary School office this week. “I’m blessed.”
But blessed with headaches?
“I’ve had some challenges,” he admitted, “but I relish them.”
Then again, it’s not like he wasn’t told what he was getting into.
“Everyone was… very honest: this was not an easy job,” Hilton said of what he was told during the interview process earlier this year. “They kept saying it would take some kind of masochist to come here.”
But Hilton and wife Annie, who had just retired after 20 years as a school aide, were “intrigued” by SW and more importantly, he saw where he could do some good.
“It hasn’t had a superintendent longer than three years,” Hilton said. “That’s especially hurtful for long-range planning.”
And that’s what the 59-year-old, first-time superintendent is all about: planning.
“We need to focus on where we want to be, on our mission,” he explained. “…Our core is teaching and learning. What skills do we want our children to have?
“And then we plan backward from that,” he added, ticking off items like facilities, personnel and operations. “It’s going to be all-encompassing.”
Hilton feels that kind of planning hasn’t happened due to ongoing feuding and the aforementioned lack of continuity in leadership (the business department has seen almost as many directors, for example, as years SW has been in existence).
“I recognize the validity of the anger many people have,” he acknowledged, painfully aware of the host of problems that have plagued the district since it merged in 1999.
“Maybe it was misfeasance, maybe it was malfeasance,” he said of those issues, “…but I have to make it a sideshow.”
Otherwise, he warned, “we’re doing a disservice” to the 1,400 students of Sullivan West.
But that can’t be done without the participation of people both upset and pleased with the district’s progress.
So in just three months on the job, Hilton has already begun work on long-range, strategic planning, and one of his first steps is to involve the entire community.
Now a resident of Hust Road north of Jeffersonville, Hilton and his wife have already become well-known to the local populace, but he’s ready to go way beyond the sidewalk meet-and-greet.
Three forums first on the academic report card (October 17), then on enrollment and facilities (November 7), and finally on the district’s fiscal condition and future prognosis (November 29) are designed to let the public in on the SW board and administration’s thinking and vice-versa. (Each forum will be held in the high school in Lake Huntington from 7-9 p.m.)
“There is a need to be open,” he remarked. “…We can’t be secret about it.”
Good news and bad news will be part and parcel of every forum. Residents will hear about SW’s high-ranking academic achievement, but also about the real possibility of a significant tax increase next year.
Parents and taxpayers will be informed about the need to find efficiencies in legal and transportation costs while at the same time being urged to work together to attract businesses to the area to diversify the tax base.
But they won’t be told in a condescending, alienating manner. Thanks to a doctorate in history, a certificate in school administration and a 39-year marriage that produced two daughters (Kate, a 33-year-old math teacher in Rhode Island, and Meg, a 31-year-old director of development for a girls’ school in Hollywood, Ca.), Hilton has a well-earned talent for communicating serious matters in an approachable, easygoing, yet confident manner.
He’s already doing that with faculty and staff. Two hours a week, he can be found observing a class or interacting with teachers in the lunchroom, just to stay “connected.” And he’s thrilled to have his office in a hallway frequented by noisy elementary students.
Apparently, after 36 years in public education, Hilton can’t quite leave the classroom.
“A good superintendent is a good schoolteacher,” he said.
Sullivan West, class is in session.