By Kate Day Sager
Mark Ward appeared to be totally at ease while talking and joking with a group of Allegany-Limestone Middle School students who were working on their computers late last week in study hall.
Ward, who took over as interim superintendent for the school district over a week ago, said stepping into the position vacated by former Superintendent Dr. Karen Geelan has been a streamlined process. Ward, who retired as superintendent from the Ellicottville Central School District in June, is the temporary replacement for Geelan, who resigned at the end of October to accept the superintendent post at the Valhalla Union Free School District.
Ward headed up his first Allegany-Limestone school board meeting on Tuesday.
Ward, who also had served as superintendent in Olean and Salamanca in the past, said he has been learning “who the players are” in the district.
“Kristin (Colburn) is my right arm, she’s great,” Ward said of Colburn who serves as secretary to the superintendent. “And of course I’ve known Mike (Watson, business manager) professionally for many, many years.”
Ward said his role during the upcoming months will be to keep the district moving forward and functioning while a search committee continues to looks for a new superintendent. The board expects Ward to serve about four to six months, as it hopes to have a permanent superintendent seated by March or April. Dr. Joe Zimmer, board president, has stated that applications for the post will be accepted through the end of November with finalist interviews conducted in early January.
Until that happens, Ward said it will be his “job to keep things going” and ready the stage for the next district leader.
“I’ve been in three different districts so I think I’m quite versed in different ways of doing the same thing,” he added. “All schools are relatively the same — they’re in the people business.”
Ward said he views the district as a financially sound institution with solid facilities and great test scores.
“It’s a great district with a very supportive community that values education,” Ward said. “Those are nice selling points for somebody who is looking for a superintendent job.”
In commenting on the ongoing $16.1 million capital project, Ward said he has met with committee members on two occasions so far. The project, which calls for a variety of improvements and safety upgrades at the elementary and middle-high school campuses, is expected to begin in the spring of 2019 and completed in 2020.
“I am involved with that … my learning curve there is a little bigger because I have to get an idea of the scope and of why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he explained. “Of course you have to try to keep it in the budget because it’s easy for things to get carried away. The wish list always gets loftier than the financial means.”
Ward said he expects the project plans should be finalized during his time in office.
“We’ll then send it on to the state education department for review,” he said of project plans. “Once we submit it, it could take eight to 10 months to be looked at. It is an exciting project from what I can see.”
On a personal note, Ward said he lives in Great Valley with his wife, Barbara, a retired art teacher. They have two grown children, Justin, a resident of Allegany, and Vanessa, who resides in Los Angeles.
Ward said he is involved in a number of community organizations, including the Great Valley Volunteer Fire Company where he has served 47 years. This was evidenced by a fire department pager seen sitting on the windowsill of his office. He is also involved in his church and is on the Jamestown Community College board of trustees.
Ward’s appointment pleased Watson, who said he is happy with Ward’s presence.
“This is not his first rodeo,” Watson said of Ward. “He hit the ground running.”
Kevin Straub, technology coordinator, said he, too, was cheered to see Ward heading up the school district for the time being.
“I’ve known him a few years, and I’m glad he’s here,” Straub said. “He’s a great guy.”