OLEAN, NY—Since her earliest days as superintendent of the Olean City School District, Dr. Colleen Taggerty has kept an open door policy in place. She made it a point to have the automatic closure arm of her office door removed and a window added to its once solid surface. Her office, which is situated on the first floor of Olean High School, also contains bowls of chips, candy, nuts and fruit that remain open for the taking.
“The thing that I think I’ve prided myself personally in the most is being accessible to our entire community and to our student body,” said Taggerty, who plans to retire from her post at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
Taggerty started her tenure as the district’s superintendent in 2008, around the time the stock market crashed.
“We found ourselves from a stable financial situation to a very volatile, instable financial situation,” said Taggerty.
As a result, district leaders were forced to reduce or cut programs, lay off staff members and close schools. Taggerty said the community’s understanding of the difficult situation helped the district get through such turmoil.
“That’s probably when I learned how deeply supportive our community was,” said Taggerty, who grew up in Portville. “Since I have been here, I have felt supported almost 100 percent by our community.”
Dating back to 1980, Taggerty has worked as a teacher, a special education supervisor, an assistant program manager in professional development and a principal. In the decade prior to her current role, she served as the superintendent of the Ripley Central School District and the assistant superintendent for Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES.
“I’ve sort of run the gamut of pretty much everything you can do within a school system,” said Taggerty. “It’s given me the opportunity to really be able to understand each and every aspect of the school from the inside. If I never had those positions, I may not truly understand the difficulties that exist within them and the joys that come with them.”
Additionally, Taggerty said her compassion has made her a more effective superintendent.
“We all come to a job with our own personal hardships, and we need to be sensitive to that as we work with people,” she said. “I try very hard to do that.”
However, Taggerty insists she would never shy away from making a decision when necessary, as long as that decision would be made with the best interests of the students in mind.
Alexis Jennings, a graduate of Olean High School, recalls Taggerty always being very school oriented and supportive of her students.
“Everybody likes her, so it’s going to be really hard to replace her,” said Jennings, a junior psychology major at St. Bonaventure University.
Another Olean High School alum, Diana McElfresh, remembers Taggerty making hard decisions for the benefit of the school district.
“She had a ton of influence, and she made it a better and more efficient school district,” said McElfresh, a junior double majoring in journalism/mass communication and English at St. Bonaventure.
Laurie Branch, the vice president of the Olean City School District Board of Education, describes Taggerty as “tremendously active,” citing her attendance at school sporting events and her many early mornings at work as evidence.
“She really cares about the district,” said Branch.
Taggerty said her love for the district stems from the students.
“We have students that excel and exceed,” said Taggerty. “We also have students that are compassionate for one another.”
Under her superintendency, programs eliminated during the financial crisis were revived and fully developed. Furthermore, the district will be solvent for a minimum of the next five years.
“The time she put in and the effort that she put forth is second to none,” said John Morton, Taggerty’s husband of 28 years.
Taggerty, 59, contemplated retiring earlier but admits she had not previously felt ready.
“I am trying to figure out how to exit without feeling empty,” said Taggerty. “I want to leave while I’m still having fun, while I still love coming to work every day. I promised myself I was going to make sure I left before people decided it was time for me to leave.”