At last evening’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent of Schools Robert R. Pritchard, Ed.D., submitted his letter of resignation for the purpose of retirement, effective December 31, 2022.
“After recently turning 60, I learned that I am eligible to retire based on my military service combined with my 28 years in public education. After a long and satisfying professional life, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to shift gears and focus on family and personal pursuits,” he said. “I will head into retirement with great pride in the work that we have done together…It has been a privilege to serve the South Orangetown Central School District as the capstone of my public education career.”
Board of Education President Leon Jacobs remarked, “We appreciate your service to our District. I look forward to continuing to work with you in the months ahead toward a smooth transition.”
Since Pritchard became superintendent in July 2015, he has guided the implementation of the District’s strategic planning process to set goals, measure progress and guide program, capital and long-term financial planning.
“The relationship among students, teachers and curriculum has been central to our strategic planning. Everything ties to the instructional core. Student success is a function of kids wanting to come to school and feeling eager and motivated to do meaningful work with real world relevance guided by highly-qualified, dedicated teachers. As an administrative team, we worked to operationalize this mission-driven focus through goal-setting, budgeting and accountability,” he explained. “We also strengthened the connection between our business office and curriculum and instruction. By looking at budgeting differently, we’ve created a fiscally-stable funding environment which drives resources to the classroom so that we can prepare students for their world. We’ve done that while maintaining low debt, keeping administrative costs under 10 percent and being mindful of the burden on our taxpayers.”
As superintendent, Pritchard developed the District’s administrative structure and capacity to: build and sustain a high-quality academic program focused on college and career readiness; transition from a special education to a pupil personnel model to better serve the academic, behavioral and mental health needs of all students; and, support enhanced data-informed accountability; communication and family engagement; and, health, safety and security.
“When I interviewed for this job, we had something like a 94 percent graduation rate and roughly eight percent of our students qualified for free and reduced-price meals,” recalled Pritchard. “Over the past seven years, our demographics have shifted but our success rates have remained strong. We’re still sending our graduates onto college, careers and other rich and rewarding opportunities after high school. At the same time, we know that every student in the small percentage of non-graduates has a name and unique circumstances that prevent them from crossing the stage at graduation. So, we’ve worked to put programs and services in place starting in kindergarten to identify students who may be at risk–academically, behaviorally or socially–and support them in being successful.”
Pritchard noted that a key aspect of capacity-building has been the development of District staff relations in terms of establishing formal processes for recruiting, hiring and retaining the best teachers and staff–and maintaining productive relationships with its seven collective bargaining units. “South Orangetown has the best people working in its schools. And once we get them, they stay here,” he said.
Since March 2020, Pritchard has led the District through the COVID-19 pandemic, including the initial pivot to fully remote learning in Spring 2020, the shift to hybrid learning in 2020-21 and the return to full-time, in-person learning for all students this year with robust programming and services to address COVID-related learning gaps and loss.
“Our District was seen as a central, unifying force at a time when our community was truly frightened and many were struggling,” he recalled. “We became a lead agency operating 24/7 to offer services, such as meal delivery and public health crisis management, with the support of key community partners. We listened with empathy to the diverse voices, concerns and desires of our students, families, staff and community members and responded thoughtfully.”
During Pritchard’s tenure, the District embarked on district-wide improvements to buildings and grounds to enhance health and safety and to support program growth and development. Most recently, he led the District’s $49.9M Capital Improvements Bond Project through a successful public referendum.
“Our physical plant needed work and more funds had to be allocated for basic maintenance. We also began looking at how to improve facilities in ways that augment students’ ability to perform in the classroom, such as lighting, climate control and air quality. This required us to shift our thinking from a budget-to-budget approach to long-term capital planning. New York State allows school districts to keep up with capital improvements through the tax cap formula and our voters saw the value in that,” he said.
Pritchard looks forward to continuing the cycle of continuous improvement in his final six months in SOCSD.
“What I’m most proud of is that we do great things for kids,” he declared. “We’ve preserved and expanded exceptional learning opportunities for our students and done our very best to ensure that every student can reach their highest potential.”
The Board of Education will announce its plans regarding a superintendent search in the coming weeks.