Sullivan West’s interim superintendent

Home is where the heart is

By TED WADDELL
Posted 11/30/21

LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY – On Tuesday, November 23, the Sullivan West school board convened a special meeting to formally appoint Dr. Kathleen Bressler as the district’s interim superintendent …

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Sullivan West’s interim superintendent

Home is where the heart is

Posted

LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY – On Tuesday, November 23, the Sullivan West school board convened a special meeting to formally appoint Dr. Kathleen Bressler as the district’s interim superintendent of schools, to take over the helm from Stephen Walker, who will move on to a new position effective January 4, 2022.

Bressler, the district’s current assistant superintendent for instructional services, will be officially sworn in for her new role during the board’s regular monthly meeting on January 20, 2022.

For her, it was a return to her home turf, as in 1996 she graduated as valediction from Livingston Manor, where her beloved mother Elizabeth O’Leary taught second grade for 16 years.

“I give a big shout out to my mom,” she said during an in-person interview with the River Reporter.

After graduating high school, Bressler earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Binghamton University, then continued her higher education at Mount St. Mary College, where she was awarded a master’s in elementary and special education, and most recently an educational doctorate in education policy, planning and leadership from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA.

Along the way, Bressler had several role models whom she credits with forming her vision of what it means to be a professional educator in these difficult and ever-changing times.

“I have had the fortune of having strong mentors,” she said, singling out Michele Hemmer, whom she student-taught for in Livingston Manor; Eileen Conway-Whitaker, former director of student services at Liberty, and Walker himself.

“I’m thankful for all the experiences they gave me,” she said, adding, “Steve showed compassion and flexibility to students, teachers and parents. He would always work to empower others and promote creative solutions. I have truly enjoyed working with him.”

Bressler, 43, is the proud mother of four children who attend Sullivan West: 10-year-old Bryce is in the fifth grade, eight-year-old twins Lillian and Lukas are in the third grade, and five-year-old Brynn is moving up the ladder of knowledge in kindergarten.

Karl Bressler, her husband and an attorney, maintains an active law practice in Livingston Manor.

Prior to joining the administrative team at Sullivan West, Kathleen Bressler worked in several positions in a York County, VA school district, notably as a special education teacher and high school assessment and compliance coordinator, before moving up to become the middle school assistant principal.

In Sullivan County, she served as assistant director, and then was director of student services at the Liberty Central School District.

In 2018, she was hired as the assistant superintendent for instructional services at the “Home of the Bulldogs.”

Attending the special meeting to appoint Bressler to her new position as “head of the class” were representatives of the board: President Rose Joyce-Turner, along with members Katrina Chellis, Juliette Gabel, Brian Kitson, Kristy Sigelakis and Jennifer Nystrom.

In a letter to the Sullivan West school community, dated November 24, the board reflected on the three-and-a-half years under Walker’s guidance, stating in part, “During that time, our schools have made progress in several areas, including technology, social-emotional learning, and the development of a teacher coaching model.”

Addressing the appointment of Bressler as interim superintendent of schools (January 4, 2022 to June 30, 2022), the letter said, “Dr. Bressler has provided strong leadership to our instructional and special education programs over the past three years, and her leadership will enable our district to continue to move forward for the remainder of the 2021-202 school year.”

The letter closed by stating that the board plans to keep the community updated on the process to identify the next superintendent of schools, “and how you can help provide input into that selection.”

During a conversation with Bressler in the wake of the recent BOE meeting, she talked about several issues confronting education and challenges facing the local school district.

“The pandemic is not over; we cannot anticipate what new challenges await at Sullivan West. We need to find ways to keep supporting each other—teachers, administrators, and parents—for the sake of our students. It is by these relationships that we will be able to progress through these challenging times.”

Bressler stressed that one of the most important goals for the district is “to keep moving forward... our focus will be on continued communication internally and with our larger Bulldog community to help build an understanding of how we are meeting our student’s needs.”

In response to a question regarding what it’s like to work in a rural school district with a student population of approximately 1150, Bressler replied in part, “There is nothing like working in a rural community... there is tremendous support when someone in school, or the larger community is in need. Knowing that this level of support is there in our community is comforting as a leader.”

During a conversation with Walker after Bressler was appointed, he called her “the real deal,” later adding in an email, “Kathleen’s vision for Sullivan West schools, combined with her experience as a school district leader and her principled decision-making approach, make her the ideal leader for the district at this time.

“It has been my privilege to have worked with Kathleen over the past three years, and I know the district will continue to advance our vision for the student experience under her leadership.”

In a letter to the community at large, Bressler closed her thoughts with, “I’m proud of the work that Sullivan West does together for our students. Please feel free to contact me at bresslerkat@swcsd.org if you would like to share your thoughts on where we can build upon our strengths as a district, and where we can look to improve.”

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