LATHAM– Welcome aboard, Ms. Skeals!
Three weeks into her superintendency, Ms. Kathleen Skeals is honored and dedicated to serving as North Colonie Central School’s sixth superintendent. She is looked up to by past alumni who in turn, became educators, a principal, and experts in writing and mathematics. A true advocate for education, a passionate learner, and a dedicated administrator, Skeals’ drive for success and progression to shape local education has led her to her biggest job yet, superintendent.
Friday, February 10, Skeals went to Blue Creek Elementary School. She observed fifth-grade students in an innovation classroom use iPads and program codes to make their robots move along the floor. Upon departure, Skeals sat with Spotlight News reporter, Amy Modesti, for a sit-down interview to discuss her role and what she wants to deliver to students, faculties and families during her three-year term.
What will you focus on in your new role as superintendent? What’s your plan and vision for the North Colonie Central School District?
Thank you for giving me a chance to talk about things that matter so much to me. I am very passionate about education, having started a long time ago as a teacher and I’ve spent all but two years in my career in this district, so it means a great deal to me. The big thing I’m thinking about right now is our vision as we move forward. We’re at an interesting time coming out of the pandemic and the state also currently has a blue-ribbon commission to think about what graduation requirements can be and if they should change in New York State in different opportunities for students. I’m really excited to think about what that could look like and what that could mean for our students. We know they have a lot of modern technology, that their lives outside of school are very different than when I was in school. How do we incorporate that? How do we make our classes relevant and exciting for them? How do we connect? We have a thriving innovation community in this whole area. We have Regeneron, the new SUNY Complex, Troy Innovation Garage. There are a lot of people in our community who can really inspire our students, so I’m really excited to pursue some of those connections as well.
You have an interest in writing. You helped North Colonie staff and students with the high school’s writing center. You assisted with the celebration of National Writing Day. You helped students and teachers collaborate with each other and have visiting authors come to school. How has your experience within writing help you become the person you are today, now including your role as superintendent?
I want to say, thank you so much for that question because I love that question. Because I love writing and it matters so much to me. When we go to school, we learn to write for academics, we must write on our regents’ exam, or write on a test, so all of that is important. But we also know that writing is a way to make your voice heard in the world. Writing is a way to participate in your community. So, we were always looking for the opportunities for students to see that writing isn’t just something you do for tests and it’s not just something to do to show that you learned something. Instead, it’s a way for you to make a statement, really collect your thoughts, gather your thoughts, and then, share something of yourself with the world, which is a unique opportunity. In our world, helping kids find their voice, I don’t think there could be anything more important than that. Our writing center has evolved so much that it is fully staffed. If you’re a high school student, there is a course, just like you would have in college, where you would spend a semester and you learn how to be a writing consultant. And the next semester, you’re in the writing center. Your peers and your classmates are coming in and you are helping them with the writing that they’re doing. It’s modeled very much after a college writing center. It goes back to that same thing of, we should be empowering our students, because they are our next generation, and they should know that there are ways that they could shape their futures and that’s exciting.
You fit the perfect role as superintendent. You see yourself in every little bit of everything that you’re learned. By what you learned and bringing those pieces into the school districts is a huge accomplishment.
Thank You. I loved my years as a teacher. I will not tell a lie; I just think it’s the best job in the world to get to work with young people of the next generation. They have great ideas if we listen. They have great ideas, and they will give you great suggestions, and to me, that’s a great honor to be able to listen to the students we serve and think about them. I was talking with a student at the high school. I want to start a student advisory board. They’re our customers so they can tell us, and recent alumni. What was it like in college? What is it like in the work force? Schools’ kind of operate very similarly so I’m very excited about that. In my career, when I turned a question over to students, they have always risen to the occasion. They don’t have sort of the adult-like, oh that’s probably not possible. They’re genuinely willing to brainstorm with you so I’m excited to hear from them.
As a superintendent, what role are you going to bring towards education? What are you looking forward to next? How do you incorporate the students and community together to support each other with your ideas?
We have several different community meetings. We have a parent’s advisory council, we have our Board of Education, and Budget committee chairs. We hear from the community. As I was looking and thinking about what needs to get established quickly, it was the student advisory board because that’s the place where I feel like, oh we don’t quite yet have the mechanism. Certainly, they can, but I like to have it be more of an organized mechanism. In December, we did our first round of student surveys, parent surveys, and teacher surveys. We’re compiling all that data to see where there are themes and trends, so really trying to hear from our communities so that we can make sure that we’re responsive to our students and community’s needs. I always say we want to empower our learners and serve the community. That’s a big part of who I am. We exist to serve, and I exist to serve.
You had a lot of different roles serving from English teacher to now superintendent. Do those different jobs that you had in the past bring you to be the person you are now?
I think so. Certainly, I will say this; there is nothing more humbling than teaching. Getting to work with so many students (I can’t even tell you the number.), and so many families over the years just brought in my eyes to all the perspectives that are out there and not everybody goes to school and wants to be in love with poetry like I was. Not everybody is going to be that student and recognizing that and finding that connection. I think that’s what you do, whether it’s with teachers to bring them to the table, or it’s with students. That’s all part of the work. It’s just a bigger classroom with more voices and that’s exciting because there’s a lot of energy around that.
You recently took over Joe’s (Joseph Corr) position as superintendent. Was the transition process smooth? Did you gain inspiration from watching him be superintendent for all those years that he served?
Oh my gosh, that’s a great question. Yes, yes, and yes! It was a very smooth process because everything, everything that everyone celebrates about Joe about his generosity of spirit. So, he wanted to do everything possible to set me up for success, help me, and answer questions. I know he’s only a phone call away and he will always pick up and answer so that’s been wonderful. And yes, the inspiration I have gotten from him over the years, the tone really comes from the top and he is somebody who cares so deeply about everyone and always tried to do the right thing, and always tried to figure out a way to make everything work. His commitment to being a compassionate leader is just beyond inspiring. I will always try to live up to his example.
Mr. Corr always gave me the opportunity to sit in on so many things. So much of the work that I’m doing, maybe at a different place, I wouldn’t know it as well, but because he was so good about always trying to help me grow, which is what we’re in the field for, to help everybody grow and just learn more every day. I am always a learner and I hope I’m always growing, learning, and getting better.
Q: What are you going to do to improve the school districts you serve to make it be a better, positive environment?
A: I’ve always been an administrator who still has the eye of a teacher. I spent a long time in the classroom because I loved it. I really do understand the opportunities and some of the challenges. I’ve been a central office administrator for 12 years now. Staying connected to the schools is important. You understand what their needs are because everything’s changing and evolving. You must be current. Current in your research and thinking so that you know the best practices. The next good idea might be available. You can have a forward-thinking vision. Be aware of where we are currently and what we need to be able to get there.
Q: How long is your term going to be as superintendent?
A: I have a three-year term right now. I’m very excited about that. I feel such good fortune. I feel very humbled and honored to be able to have the opportunity to do this work. I really do. Education has been my only career. I always knew from the time I started tutoring. I started tutoring someone when I was in eleventh grade. And that was the time I was, ‘this is magic, I love this’. I feel very honored to be able to do this work.
Q: What would you say to parents, students, and faculty about what you’re going to accomplish? What are your words of inspiration that you want to provide out there to our readers?
A: My words of inspiration are, “There are so many possibilities here in this district. There are opportunities for students to really be able to connect with peers, to connect with adults. There are opportunities for them to explore new things that they may not have had access to previously. I know this is gonna sound like a cliché, the future is limitless. You challenge kids, you give them the framework of support that they need, and magic can happen. And it happens. Sometimes, one teacher and one student at a time but it happens. We’re here to support that for every student, and every family. To me, that is the value of education.”
Q: Do you see what you’ve done with current students and past alumni that you worked with? Can you tell and see if your impact has made a difference in what they’re doing in their lives?
A: I do. I am amazed. That’s the beauty of staying in one place for a while that you can hear from the students. I had somebody reach out to me on Twitter and they said I’m an English teacher because of you. There’s a person who’s a local principal right now who ran into my sister and said, tell your sister that I’m a principal because of her. You hear those things, and you don’t always have the opportunity to hear it back, but you think that is amazing. ‘I’m a writer because of you.’ That’s my favorite one to hear, of course. When I was a teacher at the high school, I would help them with college application essays and I remember once, a student was really struggling and at the end, he got this great essay. It was great. He worked it and he got a great essay. At the end, he said to me, you really helped me find my voice. And I thought, wow, is there any greater compliment than that? I’m a very fortunate person.
Q: What made you decide to go into the education field? Let alone, from teaching to superintendent? Was it always something that you garnered an interest in by just going to school?
A: From that time, I tutored, I never thought of another career pathway. My biggest question was whether I wanted to teach English or Math because I loved them both, and so I got certified in both. I’m clearly an English teacher. Honestly, I’m glad I chose that. When it was the point to move into administration, I’m somebody who’s always hungry to learn and try something new. So, it was about that for me. I started at the junior high, then I asked transfer to the high school because I wanted a new challenge. Then I thought, okay, in some ways, it’s a bigger classroom and I knew I wanted to be in a job like (the) English department supervisor because I love working with teachers. I love helping them. I love getting them the resources that they need and bringing out the best in them. So that was an awesome opportunity. When you think of concentric circles, your classroom gets bigger and bigger right? Working with English teachers and then working with fellow administrators and then working with fellow administrators. To me, it’s always been the collaborative community. We’re so much better together. That’s where great ideas come from. We have an amazing team here and I’m honored to be a part of this team. I really do love my work. It’s hard work, of course it is, but it’s meaningful and what could you ask for really?
Q: Would you be willing to work with other school districts outside the district that you’re in?
A: Yeah, we do. We meet monthly. For this month’s Community Conversation, we’re partnering with South Colonie (occurred during Valentine’s Day week). We’re all in the same game. We all have the same goals. We just want to provide whatever district we’re in, we want to provide the best we can for our kids and families, so we are very willing to share. We’re not a cut-throat business that has to make a profit. We’re just trying to help. That’s what we do.