ALLEGANY, NY – During Dr. Karen Geelan’s time as Allegany-Limestone School District superintendent, attendance at board meetings dropped. No longer were 40 to 50 people regularly filling the seats, voicing objections and pointing to problems. In fact, the board began asking people to come to meetings.
“When she came, the district was in a great deal of turmoil,” recalled Dr. Joseph Zimmer, president of the Allegany-Limestone Board of Education. “There was a lot of dysfunction that needed to be settled down. The goal was to calm down distance in the paper, as we were constantly in newspapers for issues in the district.”
Geelan had not been planning to end her tenure as superintendent of Allegany-Limestone School District. But she was presented with a professional opportunity she felt she could not pass up, and starting Nov. 1, Geelan will fill the role of superintendent at Valhalla Union Free School District in New York’s Westchester County.
The Allegany-Limestone school board has hired a search consultant with the Western New York Educational Services Council to conduct a professional search looking for the next superintendent of schools. Retired Ellicottville superintendent Mark Ward will serve as interim superintendent. In addition to Ellicottville, Ward has served as a superintendent of the Olean and Salamanca school districts.
Geelan said she feels confident leaving Allegany-Limestone because the district is in a good place academically and fiscally, with many improvements made during her time there.
In her six years as superintendent, Geelan kept the district up to date with meeting state regulations. She also got district schools into pilot programs.
Geelan said she believes the reason she has been successful during her time as superintendent is because she pays close attention to the needs of their area.
“It’s listening to people as well as looking at data and using everything I know from my studies and my experiences to deal with the issues at hand with an eye always to the future and positioning us as best we can for the future,” she said. “I intend to do the same thing there.”
When Geelan arrived in July 2011, she focused on cleaning up policies and establishing personnel procedures, especially for faculty hiring. Zimmer remembered that she made difficult decisions in terms of personnel.
“She also had to tighten up student policies, like enforcing the dress code and the code of conduct,” Zimmer said. “But she had a level of consistency with these rules, which was a good thing.”
While enforcing these rules did not always make Geelan popular among the student body, both Zimmer and Helen Stangle, a 2015 graduate of Allegany-Limestone High School, emphasized the wisdom of decisions she made during her time as superintendent.
“I think she did a good job during the time she and I were there,” Stangle said. “I think if she wasn’t liked by the student body, I don’t think it was her fault. She was just doing her job. You can’t please everyone; therefore, her decisions were probably with the best intentions.”
As superintendent, Geelan worked on many projects to help improve the school district. Asked to name her greatest accomplishments during her time at Allegany-Limestone, Geelan could not pick just one.
“One accomplishment is in the works right now and I’m very proud of that,” she said. “We’ve begun our capital project that will be done in September 2020 without any additional costs to our taxpayers and we’ve lowered taxes the last three years, in addition to establishing purchase cycles, replacement cycles for our buses, textbooks and reviewing curriculum. We have reconfigured schools in more efficient manner and along with that, our administrative team.”
Geelan also is proud of the relationships the district has built with unions by collecting bargaining agreements that are respectful of both the worker and the district. She also helped institute learning stipends to ensure that staff and administrators continue with professional learning to best serve the students.
While Geelan intends to pay attention to the needs of Valhalla when she arrives, she said it would be premature to say what she wants to do as superintendent of Valhalla. “I want to do what’s best for them as I’ve always wanted to do what’s best for everyone here.”
Geelan said she is looking forward to starting her new position but will miss the people of Allegany-Limestone.
“The people who work here, the families we serve, the students who attend our schools – that’s the heart and soul of Allegany-Limestone and that is by far what I’ll miss the most,” she said.