Robert Edwards is no stranger to the Cortland Enlarged City School District.
He grew up in Cortland, graduated from the high school in 1988 and later taught history and psychology for 10 years in the high school, he said.
He thought that because of the memories he had there — and with an opening after current Superintendent Michael Hoose announced in January his plan to retire at the end of the school year — it seemed right to apply for the position.
“I always thought if I could serve the students in the district, anyway, at least I could put my hat in the ring,” he said.
After months of interviewing and discussing, the school board named Edwards the next superintendent May 28. He will start July 1.
The current executive director of instruction and personnel at the Phoenix Central School District, Edwards spent his professional career teaching at various schools before switching to the administrative side of education in 2012.
Following his graduation from Cortland High School, Edwards attended Hartwick College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history.
He then taught history at King and Low Heywood Thomas School (now King School), a private school in Stamford, Connecticut, until 1997 when he attended the University of Alabama to get a master’s degree in history.
Following that, he taught at two more private schools Montclair Kimberley Academy in Montclair, New Jersey, and St. Steven’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia — before coming back to Cortland High School in 2002.
Beyond teaching ninth-grade history and 10th- and 11th-grade psychology, Edwards also coached eighth-grade girls basketball and was the head coach of boys modified lacrosse at the junior high school.
“I had a wonderful time teaching at the high school and working with what I felt was a very strong and professional staff,” he said.
Following his time at Cortland High School, he became first an assistant principal in the fall of 2012 and later the principal at Baker High School in Baldwinsville until 2016 when he left for his current position in Phoenix.
Edwards was chosen after several rounds of interviews among seven candidates, narrowed down to two by the district’s Board of Education, said Janet Griffin, the board’s president.
After that, the two finalists had to prepare an entry plan for ways to improve the district and meet with stakeholder groups, including administrators, members of the teacher’s union and residents, before they gave their input and decided Edwards was the best candidate.
“His entry plan was exemplary,” Griffin said.
His entry plan was to listen to district and school staff and learn as much as possible, Edwards said.
“So it will be a lot of me meeting with people, a lot of talk and listening on my part,” he said.
Some of the biggest problems regarding the district that Edwards will have to address include the budget, which may see its first spending increase in five years, but has reduced reliance on reserve funding, and how to cut expenses without cutting services to students, Griffin said.
State aid, too, will be limited for the upcoming school year due to the coronavirus pandemic reducing state revenue streams.
“I’m very confident he’s able to attack these issues,” Hoose said. “The staff is amazing and will work their hardest to make sure he and the district are successful.”
As the school year ends, Edwards will be working with his staff to figure out plans for how reopening might look like come September. He hopes to bring visibility to his position and to work with other administrators and school staff to get work done.
“I’m hopeful that’s the mindset that helps the district,” he said.