currents

An educator for the community

Dr. Nancy Hackett takes over as SUNY Sullivan board chair

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 8/5/20

LOCH SHELDRAKE, NY — Forty years ago, when Dr. Nancy Hackett started her career in education, she probably didn’t anticipate this particular, interesting year.

But if nothing else, her …

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currents

An educator for the community

Dr. Nancy Hackett takes over as SUNY Sullivan board chair

Posted

LOCH SHELDRAKE, NY — Forty years ago, when Dr. Nancy Hackett started her career in education, she probably didn’t anticipate this particular, interesting year.

But if nothing else, her time as a teacher, principal and superintendent have taught flexibility.

That will come in handy. She’s just been named chair at SUNY Sullivan after four years on the board. Along with president Jay Quaintance, the board members and the faculty, she will deal with the fallout from coronavirus and the economic chaos that it caused.

 “I’ve always been in education,” Dr. Hackett said. “I knew in third grade that I wanted to be an educator... For me, it was always something where I would continue to grow and learn.”

The great thing about education is that teachers learn as much as their students. Dr. Hackett kept learning. She’s been a teacher at a community college in upstate New York, worked in schools public and private, urban and rural. And, of course, she has good feelings about Sullivan County, because she spent years as superintendent at Sullivan West.

As we talk over Zoom, the word “community” keeps coming up. The community of students, the families and business community and the county at large. Because of course, SUNY Sullivan—and any other school—does not graduate its students into a vacuum.

 “Being a resource for the community, that’s the exciting part,” Dr. Hackett says.

Community colleges are unique. According to a 2016 research brief by the College Board, they offer open admissions and low tuition. They’re everywhere, close to home if you don’t want to go too far or can’t afford room and board. This “makes them an important pathway to post-secondary education for many students, especially first-generation college students and those who are from low-income families.”

First-generation and low-income students have challenges that others don’t, including family obligations and the need to work, that make staying in tough. Dr. Hackett credits the faculty for their hard work keeping people in the program. Some of those teachers come from similar backgrounds to the students. They get it. And, “students get wonderful attention.”

Student age doesn’t matter. “I taught a community college class with a 17-year-old, a 60-plus-year-old,” Dr. Hackett said.

How the school fits into the economy is critical, and will be more so in the future. A community college “can be a lot of different things, a starting point for people coming out of high school, people who need to retool their profession,” she said. “They can get a certificate or another type of training.”

That last bit is important. Over the last couple of decades, Sullivan County has seen shifts in the kinds of work available. More jobs in healthcare. Work in computers. Online positions if you have the infrastructure to pull it off.

At SUNY Sullivan, they “can identify needs and put things in place to support those needs.” She mentions hospitality, too. “A community college can really adjust to the needs of a community... What type of training do they need to go out into the world and be successful?”

So they’ve “buil[t] partnerships with business,” Dr Hackett said. “Jay [Quaintance] has been working hard to reach out and make partnerships, working on projects from the ground up.”

There are challenges, of course; finances are the most key. Nobody knows how much state or federal aid will be available. “The important thing is going to be that with enough financial support they’ll move forward and adapt,” she said.

“I think it’s going to be a very unique September,” she continued. And it offers a chance to consider “what’s working, what’s not working.” To do that, she said, you need to get feedback from everyone, listen to what people are going through. “Use this as a learning opportunity.” And a chance to re-evaluate. “I think there’s some really great learning to come from it if people take the time to breathe.”

That’s important. Retention for fall 2020 is holding on, but “people aren’t making decisions like they did in the past.” Students from New York City might want to stay close to home. But on the other hand, as Quaintance noted recently, Sullivan County students might want to stay close too...which means they are turning to SUNY Sullivan, their local college.

Turbulent times.

But no matter what, Dr Hackett says, there’s this, the message she wants her students to take to heart: “We’ve got you. We’re going to take care of you.”

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