A Conversation With Kathryn Holden


Sag Harbor’s Superintendent is stepping down after nine years of service. She talks about the state of the school district today, the challenges for her successor and the community she has grown to love.

You’re about to turn over the reigns to a new superintendent. How do you feel about the state of the district?

I have very positive feelings about where the district is at this time. We have an outstanding faculty and the teaching assistants are the best you could find. Every department is strong. Our administrative team, well, when you look at the caliber of people this new superintendent has to work with, his administrative cabinet is exceptional.

And our test scores this year, all of our passing rates are 91 percent or higher and in some instances we have mastery rates of 85 percent. Also in the ELA, I think we were second on all of Long Island.

And then there’s the community. I was amazed when I first came to Sag Harbor and started to get to know the community. I was amazed at how well informed people were and they were all involved and they all had strong opinions and took interest in what was going on.

A case in point, when you compare other surrounding districts, you always have a stronger voter turnout here. I remember one year I was talking to Jan Furman, a former superintendent in East Hampton and we compared voter turnout. She said she had a good year, that 400 people came out and voted. I thought, oh my God, we had nearly 1600. And East Hampton is a much larger district.

I attribute it to he fact that we’re an old whaling town. There is a history of people going to town hall to debate. People stand up for what they believe in.

What are a few your favorite moments as superintendent here?

I loved being at the ground breaking ceremony when we all came together and broke ground to start the new building. We had passed the second bond and we all had this vision of what it would look like. Embarking on that journey was very exciting.

I loved being superintendent at the centennial ceremonies. For the students and teachers, it was so important to see the past and have a vision for the future. I loved the dinner when all of the current athletes were serving the old athletes and they were sharing stories.

I love morning program. I love the concerts and the art shows. I think we’re one of the only districts that uses the halls as an art gallery. I love just walking around the building. And it gives me great pleasure to think about that fact that this is a district where the students have so much respect for each other, that their has never been a piece of art work defaced.

I love the basket ball games. But they get so tense. You think, oh so and so is such a nice kid and the game means so much to them.

It was fun working with everyone to pass the nine budgets. I loved working with board presidents such as Gerry Wawryk, Sandi Kruel and Walter Tice, all of who were interested in building program and supporting faculty and students.

But What I love the most is I’m one of the few people in the district that gets to see everything. I get to see how students sang in fifth grade and then now, singing in their senior class concerts. Seeing the fifth grade science fair, then seeing the same students in the eighth grade science fair and then seeing them going on to the Intel contest. Take Lucy Wawryk for example. I remember watching her sit at the piano in morning program and play a piano solo. And now she’s the valedictorian. It gives me great pleasure to watch them grow.

So I guess this graduation will be extra special for you. You’ve seen these kids come all the way up through fifth grade. What do think Saturday will feel like?

Well, I won’t be thinking about me at all. Graduation has always been about the students. It won’t be any different than it always is.

However, after graduation I won’t be coming into the office on Monday. For me its sort of ceremonial in that I will walk away from the podium, I’ll walk to my car and I’ll drive out of the parking lot. That will be it. I’ll leave the podium, I’ll say goodbye to everyone and I’ll never to return to my office as the superintendent.

I do have the feeling though, the graduating seniors, I’ll be graduating with them. Some of them probably have their plans more solidified than I do. But we’ll both be going off to new adventures for the first time.

Is there anything you didn’t like about being a superintendent?

I didn’t like having to let people go. It would tear me apart. I would do what I had to and I followed all of the procedures, but it always very difficult for me. That was a part of the job that would haunt me. It was heart wrenching.

And the paperwork, ugh. You’d work for hours and hours and that mail would just keep coming in.

And I would keep long hours. It wouldn’t be unusual for me to be working on a Friday night at 11 o’clock. The custodians would come in and ask me, would you please leave – we’ve got to alarm the building. So I got them to teach me. I would sometimes sneak out of the building at one in the morning and think oh God, if some sees me…

When you announced your retirement, you told me you were going to write a book. Is that still the plan?

Yes. We’ve been working on it for a bout a year. We have a meeting in the next few weeks to continue working on it. It’s a collaborative book, being written by female superintendents on the East End. There’s Judy Worchester in Amagansett, Diane Youngblood in Bridgehampton, Linda Bruno in Southampton, Linda Rozzi in Tuckahoe, Joanne Lowenthal of Hampton Bays and Sharon Clifford on Shelter Island. They’re all contiguous school districts with female superintendents at the same time. It’s going to be a little bit of history, how this happened when women weren’t really getting superintendencies and why in this part of the country all of these women were selected in the 90’s. It’s going to be a little advice from our own experiences, some dos and don’ts and some reminiscing.

Any other retirement plans?

I have worked for 40 year and I have loved every minute of it, but I’ve never played. I’ve never played golf, never played bridge. I’ve read about and even taught about all of these foreign places, but I’ve never had the chunk of time to actually visit them.

I’m going to try and enjoy life. I would love to have time to be on the board of a theater, I’d love to take an art history course in college, I’d love to be part of a great books group. Now, I’m always reading books about educational leadership.

What was your favorite book growing up?

I remember reading Little Women in fourth grade. I cried for hours. I sobbed. My father even came up to my room to make sure I was okay. I loved that book. I remember staying up late at night, having a flashlight under the covers and reading about King Arthur. I miss that. I loved to read.

How’s your last week on the job been going?

First of all, I had to work all weekend cleaning out my office. It was very enlightening to look at everything I’ve accumulated over the last nine years. It was fun. Everyone knows what it’s like when you move and you have to pack and you find old pictures or old notes. I was looking at all the old budget information. It was a trip down memory lane.

What are some of the challenges you think the new superintendent will have?

I think firs the negotiations with the three bargaining units. And he will have to determine what the district will do with the facilities report. We have the report and we have a group meeting in early July to analyze what out of the six million worth of projects should be taken care of first and how it will be funded.

Another challenge is how do you continue to grow as a school system and build on what is good, but still find that balance financially between what the taxpayers can afford to pay and still meet the needs of a school district, professionally.

If you had to give the new superintendent some advice on dealing, what would you tell him.

I would say make sure you get to know the community. Always get you gas at harbor heights during the day, but stop at the Getty station on the weekends. Shop at Cromers and order your turkeys from there, but make sure you go the IGA at least four or five times a week. Get to know absolutely everybody and appreciate all the different characters in Sag Harbor. And always return phone calls.

Okay, now the serious answer.

Never forget that you are the steward of their school system. It’s their school system, they are their children and you are really providing the best recommendations, coming to the best decisions only after listening to them very, very carefully.

Never forget it’s their school system and their children and they care about both very deeply.

Any parting words?

I’m stepping down from what I believe is the best job in the world. I’m so grateful for the honor over the past nine years of being superintendent I’m so proud of our students and our staff and from the bottom of my heart I thank everyone for all they have given me. I consider myself blessed, to have been part of what I believe is the greatest school district in the nation.