DRYDEN — Josh Bacigalupi remembers one particular elementary school student in Dryden when he was principal there. The child struggled with learning disabilities, health issues and poverty.
The family couldn’t be sure of presents under the Christmas tree or a good dinner on Thanksgiving. The kid barely had a chance to succeed — until the school intervened.
That’s the kid Bacigalupi wants to hand a diploma to — and will be able to now that he’s been named superintendent of the Dryden Central School District.
Bacigalupi, now principal of Parker Elementary School in Cortland, was appointed superintendent last week by the Dryden Board of Education.
He starts July 1 in the Dryden post that carries a salary of $145,000.
It’s the reward of seeing students like the one he wants to deliver the diploma to that stands out as Bacigalupi’s reason for being in education — and for returning to Dryden.
Bacigalupi was Dryden elementary school principal before he came to Parker Elementary two years ago. He says the teamwork at Dryden impressed him and is something he’s looking forward to returning to.
He talked more about that particular student.
“I experienced a student in Dryden who had so many things going against them,” he said.
Some of the challenges included poverty, learning disabilities and health issues.
“I had the opportunity to see that student transition to middle school, a student who had such difficulties there in the first grade and by the time he left elementary schoool, he was in a much better spot because of the work the team had done.”
The work from the team-staff and faculty at Dryden-for this child and others included partnering with community social service agencies, doing home visits and forging relationships between families and the school to ensure all students have equal opportunities for success, he said.
The school even goes so far as to ensure families have presents and meals for holidays, he said. When he was there, Bacigalupi recalled the district providing Thanksgiving meals for about 100 students, and gifts for close to 60 families on Christmas.
“All those things we did for that particular student and others at Dryden,” he said.
In that vein, one of the things Bacigalupi wants to address as superintendent is strengthening community partnerships, such as with mental health agencies or family counseling services, to provide that kind of wrap-around care.
He also wants to increase transparency and accountability between the district and the community and foster an environment that retains students and talent in the district, he said. He will go from overseeing 238 students at Parker to leading the 1,600-student Dryden district.
Dryden school board President Margie Malepe said Bacigalupi’s experience with statedesignated focus schools, which the state says need improvement — including Parker Elementary, Dryden Elementary and Dryden Middle — was “one of the many factors considered in the decision- making process.”
She said Bacigalupi was selected over finalist Elizabeth Coyle, from Ithaca City School District, because of his skillset and experience.
Bacigalupi is leaving at a controversial time for the Cortland district — the board is expected to vote to close Parker and Virigl schools next week to address its financial troubles.
Bacigalupi says leaving at such a time is bittersweet. He would like to see any transition to a new configuration through to the end but he’s proud of the steps he’s made with the city district.
“Back in October or November when they started saying they may be closing a school, my job was to get people ready for that and to be able to communicate whatever was coming down the pike in a way that was transparent,” he said.
Now, he said, the Parker community is prepared for any closure.
“At least I feel everyone understands why it is happening, they have cleared that emotional hurdle,” he said.
Having the experience of a school closure under his belt is uncommon — an experience not all school administrators go through, he said.
Other lessons he has learned at Parker include the importance of communication, being able to listen to concerns and still make an unpopular decision, and the value of social media.
Under Bacigalupi, Parker school made use of a Twitter feed and learned to get ut in front of situations, he said, citing the attention the school received after a methamphetamine bust across the street in February 2017.
Cortland Superintendent Michael Hoose said Bacigalupi will be missed.
“He’s been an excellent administrator and advocate for students and families,” Hoose said.
Given that Cortland’s school board may vote next week to close Parker Elementary, the district plans to hire an interim principal for one year, Hoose said.