Sunday, December 10, 2023

Dan Ward takes helm as Hudson Falls School Supt.

By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer

New Hudson Falls School Superintendent Dan Ward is Washington County to the core.
“I’m a lifetime resident born and raised in Fort Ann on a dairy farm,” he says. “So I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working up and down the Route 4 corridor here for my entire career and only living out of Washington County while I was at school, in Potsdam.

“I was at Fort Edward for five years. And prior to that, I was at Fort Ann for 16. I started out as a middle and high school science teacher, and then transitioned into the middle high school principal there.”

Of taking the job at Hudson Falls, Mr. Ward says, “I’m really excited to be here. My plan is to do the remainder of my career here, and to do a body of work that I can be proud of…and providing the very best opportunities for our students going forward. And really making a difference to the students, the staff, the community, and really Washington County. That’s why I’m here.”

Mr. Ward said, “So far it’s been fantastic, really, really supportive group up here.”

Entering the new school year, Hudson Falls will be entirely in-person, every day.

Everyone will wear masks.

Does Mr. Ward think the masks make it harder for students to learn? “Absolutely, yeah, I do,” he said. “It’s a challenge.

“I’ll go back and use my wife’s classroom as an example. She teaches Pre-K at Hartford school, so she’s working with 3, 4, 5 year olds…

“When you’re trying to work with students and make letter sounds and things like that, it can be difficult…even getting to know people’s names.

“With the masks on, it’s been challenging for me as an adult. ‘Okay, I think I’ve met you, but I can’t see your whole face. Is it you or not’…

“There’s certainly some challenges in making that personal connection. That being said, if it’s what it takes for now, to get everybody back in session full time, that’s what we’re going to do. But I know it’s a trade-off for sure. If we didn’t have to be masked, we wouldn’t be.”

Mr. Ward says, “The mission is: As open as possible, comma, SAFELY all in capital letters. Everything’s got to be safe for our kids and for our staff, and parents and visitors and everybody.”

He notes, “We did take the masks off a little bit of time here in the summer, then we had to put them back on so we could ensure that our students could get through the last two weeks of summer program without having quarantines every time there’s a positive.”

“There’s a group of administrators that we’ve been talking about our re-opening plan with, because they know the small details of their buildings, certainly better than me 45 days or 50 days into the position here. But everybody’s on board.”

What advantages do his Washington County roots give him? “I think I understand the community. You know, Fort Ann isn’t that much different than Hudson Falls and Fort Edward. And for certain Hudson Falls and Fort Edward are very similar.”

He notes of Fort Edward, “85%…is surrounded by Hudson Falls with about 15% touching up against South Glens Falls.”

“I’ve had some of the same experiences that our parents have had, because I’m their age now. I have two children, my son who’s 19. And my daughter…who is 17. She’ll be a senior at Fort Ann this year.

“So I know about the Washington County experiences. The good, the bad, the isolated areas of our school districts, and also some of the challenges that the small villages like Hudson Falls face, as well.”

Why did Mr. Ward make the superintendent jump from Fort Edward to Hudson Falls? “Bigger school district, bigger opportunity and still in Washington County,” he said.

“I love Fort Edward, it was a great place, treated me well. And I’m proud of the work that I did while I was there.

It’s a challenging time for schools. Is his job as an administrator still enjoyable?

“Oh, yeah, absolutely. Larger school, different challenges, different scale.”

What does he think of Fort Edward’s potential merger with South Glens Falls?

“That’s totally up to the people down there…It’s a great school. They’ve got a big decision to make. And I’m hopeful that they’ll choose a model that they can most get behind and support.”

Hudson Falls has unique challenges: Biggest school in the county, 60% at poverty level

Hudson Falls, Washington County’s biggest school district by far, offers an array of challenges.

“Our school district has just about 2,270 students, says new Superintendent Dan Ward. “We’re about 60% poverty, so our kids need to be here [in school]. We have about 20% special education students.”

He says, “Remote instruction, although it was the best that we could do last year here at Hudson Falls, and every district really…our students need more than that to be successful, to be successful citizens, to have a great school experience.“

Mr. Ward notes, “We’re three to six times larger than every other school in Washington County…so to get a comparable sized school, we have to look at Warren County or Saratoga County.”

He said they need “a plan that works for Washington County, because that’s where our Department of Health is. We also want to make sure we’re not missing some of the big school pieces that my colleagues in Washington County don’t have to be as concerned about.”

Such as? “Even as simple as opening day for staff? When you’re talking about 500, as we are here in Hudson Falls, that’s over the mass gatherings limits that Washington County is comfortable with right now, where in smaller districts like Hartford or Fort Ann or Fort Edward, that number is probably closer to 100 and 100 to 110.” — Zander Frost

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