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‘Fortunate’ with Garrett

From left are Forestville Central Schools Superintendent Renee Garrett, state Sen. George Borrello and Sylvester Cleary, school board member.

My daughter Sylvea, who currently is on the Dean’s list in her third year at Canisius College came home from school one day and said, “Dad that new Superintendent (Renee) Garrett is going to be a great superintendent for Forestville.”

At the time Sylvea was only in sixth or seventh grade. Mrs. Garrett had only been a member of Forestville’s administration for a few days, so I asked why do you think she is going to be a great superintendent?

She replied, “Well, we had a fire drill today and it was very cold outside. One of the girls in one of the classes was visually shaking from the cold and Mrs. Garrett came over, took her coat off her back and put it around this girl.” She went on to say that she had never seen any administrator do that before and it made her feel good to know that this lady really cares about kids.

I have been serving students while sitting on the Forestville school board for the past 11 years. For the past 35 years I have had a son, and daughter graduate form Forestville and currently a granddaughter attending. I have been involved working in the Forestville district, with Jeffrey Geblein and Michael Murphy for approximately 33 years as I did the voice and announcements for the musicals and concerts dating back to when everything was performed in the gym.

Currently I hold positions on five different school boards, locally, county and statewide. I mention this because, I have dedicated my life to the upward mobility of all students and to inspire them to reach their potential. My background and the five elected positions I hold without pay reflects my commitment, dedication and knowledge of school issues many people in our community may not be aware of.

Back in 2015 I was the president of the Board of Education in Forestville when we started our search for a new superintendent. It was the boards desire to bring someone into the district who not only had knowledge and experience of managing all the responsibilities of the district, but someone who was creative, who openly expressed love for kids, and in addition show the leadership to raise the lagging district rankings. Our rankings were a big issue with parents at that time. We were looking for someone who would be willing to relocate and become a taxpayer in our community. Garrett had the attributes we were looking for. We were fortunate to fine her, and here are a couple of reasons why she is very important to this district.

First, Garrett started applying for grants and was awarded grants totaling almost $500,000. In 2017 a Farm to school Grant for $81,820, also in 2017 a National School Lunch Program Equipment Grant for $20,000, in 2018 a Farm to School Grant for $99,236 and in 2018 another National School Lunch Program equipment Grant totaling $20,000, in 2019 we were awarded a Farm to School Grant for $100,000, an Expanded UPK Grant $111,105, an American Farmland Trust/FINYS Grant for $5,000, six Grants from the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, another American Farmland Trust/Grant totaling $5,000.

She was not a grant writer, but she was willing to go through the process to bring more value to our students. She also negotiated several new contracts with Forestville Teachers’ Association (FTA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and administrative personnel. Some of our facilities were in bad shape so she completed and executed five-years facilities plan and created the Long – Range Planning Committee. Every day I ride by our elementary or high school I feel joy when I look at our buildings. The progress we’ve made in the last few years cannot be denied.

Garrett also introduced an annual cycle of $100,000 capital outlay projects, completed a $2 million capital project, completed a $3,080,000. capital project, and preparing for an upcoming project with the May 2022 vote. She obtained bullet aid from then-Sen. Catharine Young for $100,000 in 2017 and $38,000 in 2018.

I could go on and on, but all of this was accomplished by being very conservative with our spending and proceeding with a gradual and methodical process so there wouldn’t be an enormous tax burden on our taxpayers. This is exactly what we hired her to do.

Judge a tree by the fruit it bears. I decided to write this article because of the article in OBSERVER headlined, “Heat on Superintendent.” I understand some parents and staff have concerns and the board welcomes your concerns, but they must be delivered in the right venue, which is a board meeting so they can be documented. We must know the concerns before we can address them.

Because of COVID-19 the heat is not only on Garrett, but it is also on every superintendent across New York state. Every teacher, and everyone who is involved in educating students are under tremendous pressure, and stress because of the constant changing of regulations, directives, and a highly polarized community mask wearing, and COVID-19 vaccinations. Our schools no longer just teach, but we are dealing with student social emotional issues, we are feeding students, as well as constantly checking their health. Because of the many pressures put on all departments in every school district, many school personnel are leaving the education field all together or seeking jobs in other districts which better accommodates their needs.

Under the leadership and work ethic of Garrett, Forestville school district has become well known and respected locally and throughout the state of New York. This is a time and opportunity for all to re-set.

It is a time for our school board to identify concerns in our system and develop strategies were feasible, to address them. It is a time for our parents and community members to come together and continue to work with and support our school.

It is a time when we should work collectively for our students to regain lessons loss due to the past eighteen months of dealing with the fall out of the largest medical emergency in recent memory.

We are living in the time of the 3 Cs, accelerated change, over whelming complexity, and tremendous competition. Our students are watching and learning how we as a community navigate through our problems.

Let us be civil in our discussions of our differences, which will encourage and inspire our students to also show civility when they face problems.

As we judge a tree by the fruit it bears, let us as a community bear sweet fruit for the upward mobility of the students we serve.

Sylvester Cleary is a member of the Forestville school board and Forestville resident.

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