Ronda Brown recalls her first day at Randall Elementary School in Cortland as a kindergartner, a nervous only child overshadowed by taller, older children. The apprehension eased when Principal Cliff Kostuk spoke to the students at the morning program.
“He made the kindergartners feel welcome,” Brown, 20, recalled Monday at a retirement party for Kostuk and longtime school secretary Mary Wolff. “The big kids towered over us.”
The reassurances continued throughout her time at Randall School, said Brown, now a junior majoring in music at Onondaga Community College.
“I was all by myself. I had no one else to talk to, she said. “He was always asking how I’ve been.”
More than 150 people attended an ice cream social Monday outside the school in honor of the retirees.
As the event was getting underway, Kostuk spoke of his plans now that his 27-year career leading Randall School comes to an end Friday.
“I will travel a little,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing nothing at all for very long, at least not yet.”
Kostuk retires as the district closes Parker and Virgil elementary schools and converts the remaining three to grade centers: Barry to kindergarten to second grade; Smith to third and fourth grades; Randall to fifth and sixth grades. Kostuk has said he wanted to retire last year, but agreed to stay an extra year so the district wouldn’t have to hire an interim principal. Barry Elementary Principal Jordan Ashley will succeed him as principal at Randall Middle School.
Kostuk said he may look into working with students at SUNY Cortland in his retirement.
Kostuk said his wife, Mary, is also retiring Friday from the district’s buildings and grounds department, where she works as a secretary. She had worked full-time for the district for 25 years.
Randall Elementary School secretary Mary Wolff speaks with a visitor Monday at an ice cream social honoring Wolff and Principal Cliff Kostuk, who are retiring.
The couple raised three children, the oldest who moved with the couple to the district 27 years ago. All attended Randall School. Andrew is an environmental conservation officer, Lauren is a speech pathologist and Kay is an occupational therapist in South Carolina.
Wolff said she is moving to Tennessee and will share a house with her son, David, who is also a Randall graduate.
“I’m going to miss everyone,” she said “The staff is amazing. They made my job a pleasure. The students were great.”
Shortly before her graduation from Cortland High School, Brown returned to Randall Elementary School for Alumni Day to speak with the students and received some final words of encouragement herself from Kostuk that reminded her of that first day of kindergarten.
“He gave us a speech, telling us the world is big and we could take it on,” she said.