Sullivan County District 7 Legislady Leni Binder (R) was among those who welcomed the new district superintendent, Larry Thomas, as students from the Culinary Arts department served an impressive array of hors d’oevres specially created for the occasion.
Story by Carol Montana, Photos by Leni Santoro
LIBERTY – Thirty years as a teacher and principal at the Marathon School District just south of Cortland, NY, and five years as the superintendent of the Otselic Valley Central School District in Chenango County, NY have prepared Larry Thomas well for his new job at Sullivan County BOCES.
Thomas had been interviewing for different educational jobs around the state when he found out about the opening in Sullivan County. He asked friends who were superintendents of other BOCES how their jobs differed from administering public school systems. Evidently he liked what he heard, and, the feeling was mutual on the part of the Board of Education of the Sullivan County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), which appointed Thomas as the new district superintendent on January 13. The position had been filled on a temporary basis by Anthony Micha and Martin Ruglis since long-time superintendent Martin Handler resigned back in September of 2008.
“We are very excited about filling the District Superintendent position,” stated Herb Bauernfeind, Vice President of the Board. “Larry Thomas is highly qualified and is known for his open communication style and his ability to make decisions based on facts and the best interest of the organization. His innovative approach and experience makes him an excellent choice for our BOCES,” added Bauernfeind.
So on February 1, 2010, Thomas began his new job. And, on Thursday of his third week, a reception was held to welcome him. Fellow BOCES staff members, teachers and administrators from area school districts, community members, business owners and advocates, and members of the media congregated at the BOCES Career and Tech dining room in Liberty.
Feasting on lamb chops, hummus and phyllo-dough pizza, to name just a few of the delectable dishes prepared by the culinary students, and admiring the creative centerpieces made by Early Education and Special Education students, the crowd mingled and got to know the new superintendent in an informal atmosphere where they could talk to him about his ideas.
“There’s a long-standing tradition of thinking of BOCES as a place where we’re training people to do manual labor, and we’re given a negative connotation to that,” said Thomas. “What we need to do over the next couple of years, is to help people see that the jobs our kids are doing today are very technical in nature, and because they are technical in nature they do require a different level of study.”
Thomas used the example of how there was once a time when he could service his own car. “I can’t do that anymore,” he said, “I have to rely on someone who is very, very sophisticated in their ability and their thinking and their ability to diagnose problems and use computers and specialized tools. … The people who are doing that get their training here.”
In recent years, BOCES has been using a new catch phrase to describe their evolution – “It’s not your uncle’s BOCES.” Thomas explained the reasoning. “The world is changed, and we’ve changed with it. If you take a little closer look than just a cursory look at the program, beyond listening to what your parents or your grandfather said about their experience here, I think you’ll see that the technical aspects of this program have increased immensely; the expectation for our kids has increased immensely. You want our kids fixing your car and taking care of your air conditioner, and taking care of your refrigerator and taking care of your television and your sound system, and putting in your networking system … So we’re much more technical than people give us credit for, and we have to work over the next couple of years. “
Thomas went on to describe how BOCES’ programs challenge students. “BOCES is a huge option in your education. People used to think there were two types of diplomas in the state. You would get a Regents Diploma, which was for college-bound people, and then you would get this other diploma. … Now our kids who are taking BOCES courses are still required to take the same number of years of science as a Regents student, the same number of years of math as Regents students, and the same types of math in many cases, the same numbers of years of English and Social Studies as Regents students. And oh, by the way, they have to learn how to deal with sophisticated machinery to fix your car. And oh, by the way, they have to learn how to run a business like you’re seeing here tonight,” said Thomas referring to the students who had cooked, and were now serving the food. “There are so many different facets in accounting, ordering food, being able to follow recipes, not on a small scale, but on a huge scale. … What we do here is unique for kids that can handle it, not kids that are dropped here, kids that can take it. We challenge them.”
Reflecting on his vision for the future, Thomas mentioned that there has been concern over whether or not there was even going to be a BOCES program in Sullivan County. “My hope is that a year from now, all of that tension will have been alleviated, and that people will have a sense that BOCES is here to stay,” said Thomas. “And not only that, but that it’s an important player in our workforce and in the training of our kids, in their futures, and all the different types of careers that are available out there.”
Thomas wishes more people had attended the recent BOCES open house. “There were two things that impressed me about the open house,” he said. “One was articulation agreements with colleges. Almost every one of our Career and Technical Education programs have articulation agreements with colleges, not just two year colleges, four year colleges specializing in culinary arts for example, and a lot of great prestigious programs. And the second thing is that each one of those displays had a list of different types of careers that you can step off into because you participated in the programs here. People think of this (BOCES) as being the end of the road. It’s not. It’s the beginning of a long road from which you can make lots of choices because you got a great foundation in your selected area, whether it’s communications, human services, health care, culinary arts. And that’s very impressive when you look at all that, and you say ‘if I take a program here and get a certificate from this program, and, of course, if I’m a good student, then I can choose between 50 different careers.’ That’s pretty exciting.”
As he began his fourth week on the job, Thomas praised his staff. “(When) I go home at night, I am tired because it’s a demanding job. But the folks here make me very comfortable. They are very, very helpful and seem willing to want to make some things happen. If anything does happen here, it won’t be because of me, it will be because of these folks here and I’m just lucky to be part of that.”
The mission of Sullivan County BOCES is to increase student performance in all component districts and communities. BOCES is known for its career and technical education programs, alterative education programs and special education programs offered to students K-12. BOCES also offers a whole host of programs for individuals and community members including: adult and continuing education, community and family support services, instructional support services for districts, curriculum development for teachers, and management services for school districts. For more information contact Sullivan County BOCES at 295-4016.
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