NORTH COLLINS — On the evening of Nov. 29, the North Collins School Board announced that Joan Thomas was its choice for interim district superintendent. Three days later, Thomas was in her office, meeting with staff members.
Thomas brought a 40-plus-year career in education to the table and said that she is “just not ready to totally retire. It’s unfortunate Holy Angels closed, but I need a focus.”
Her last position was as both president and principal of Holy Angels Academy in Buffalo. She took that position, following her retirement as superintendent of the Orchard Park District in 2010.
During her tenure at the all-girls Buffalo school, Thomas instituted a first-ever middle school program, to boost enrollment. The school’s board, along with the Grey Nuns, who operated the school, decided to close its doors in June.
Thomas, a Hamburg resident, said that her interest in the North Collins position stemmed, in part, from its location. “It only takes me about 15 minutes to drive here,” she said.
She added that the district’s academic reputation brought her to the school, as well. She noted that, while schools may be ranked in various sports by size, all compete at the same level in academics.
“[The fact] that North Collins was named a silver medalist and is ranked nationally is a credit to a very dedicated staff,” she said, adding, “The community should feel very proud of the academic
achievements. A community is only as strong as its school district.”
Thomas credited the school’s success, in part, to the two building principals. “They have done a phenomenal job in maintaining academic performance, while also dealing with the increase in testing, teacher evaluations and other things that have arisen over the past several years,” she said.
Although Thomas’s first day at North Collins coincided with parent-teacher conference day in the junior-senior high school, she was not able to meet with any parents, due to her schedule. “I want them to know my door is always open if they need to speak to me,” she said.
Thomas said that one of her first encounters with the student body kicked her back into principal mode. “A group of boys began a snowball fight at the school entrance and I asked them to stop,” Thomas said. “They asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I told them I was their new superintendent and they would be seeing a lot of me from now on – to which they replied, ‘Where’s Mr. Halsey?’”
Thomas explained that the former superintendent had taken a new position.
When asked about issues she sees as needing immediate attention, Thomas said, “The business administrator position needs to be looked at. It really is too much for a superintendent to take on the full responsibility.”
She said that she also plans to continue a review of the district’s transportation system.
Thomas said that she does not believe the district will have a difficult time attracting a pool of candidates. The school board’s target to name a permanent superintendent is July 1.
She said that she also sees no problem with the consolidation of various administration positions into the superintendent’s role, during the past several years.
“A superintendent has to have their finger in every aspect of the district,” she said, “Most importantly, if they don’t know the answer to something, they need to know how to pick up a phone.”
While she said she has not been a transportation or special education director, or a health officer, “I have had to supervise those positions; I know what it means.”
Asked if she might consider applying for the full-time position, Thomas said she rarely says no to anything. “I am a very high energy person,” she said. “I think I was a very effective superintendent and I am glad to be back in the public sector.”
Thomas said that she also recognizes that she has a duty to perform, as interim superintendent.
“We have a nice period of time here to get to know the district and prepare for a new superintendent,” she said. “I want to make that transition as seamless as possible.”
After two days on the job, she said, “The people here have made me very comfortable and have been very generous to me.”