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Batavia City School superintendent Margaret Puzio sat down with WBTA News Wednesday morning, to take a look back at her career thus far at the head of the City School District. Puzio has announced her pending retirement at some point in 2012, when her current contract runs out.

Puzio has served roughly 3½ years as superintendent since taking over from predecessor Richard Stutzman in 2007.

Her replacement will be Christopher Dailey, recently promoted to Deputy Superintendent for the district. Dailey has served over 3 years as Batavia High School principal.

Below is the text of our full interview with Margaret Puzio:

Take me through your career in education.
I've been in Batavia for 10 years, actually. I was the assistant superintendent, and then I was deputy superintendent for a year. Prior to that, I was the principal at Pioneer Central High School, in Cattaraugus County, for 5 years. And prior to that, I was a high school assistant principal at Sweet Home high school in Amherst, New York. And before that I was a teacher in Williamsville, and a teacher in Buffalo.
I've been at it for 35 years total, but more now as an administrator than a teacher. I did take 12 years off, to raise 3 kids (laughs).

You've been in Batavia for ten years, as superintendent for 3 ½, and it will be 4 years by the time your retirement comes around...
More like 4 ½ probably. It'll be 4 years on July 1st, and I'm planning to stay on into the next school year. There are a lot of things in the hopper right now...we have the possible elementary school reconfiguration, we have the tax cap, we have all our contracts being negotiated, new teacher and principal evaluations...the Board and I are hoping to create a very smooth leadership transition in all of those areas. There isn't a person alive who can walk into all of that, and just pick-up and carry on. So we wanted to be flexible about what that might look like.

Ten years in Batavia - what's the best thing about Batavia and the school system?
The kids. I always brag about the kids in Batavia. One of the things that's amazing to me, is that people talk about teenagers and how rude they can be, or how self-centered they can be. And yet so many times I've walked up to the high school with a briefcase or something in my hand, and without fail one of the students holds the door for me. And they don't know who I am, really, though they may have seen my picture or something. And also, the whole City of Batavia is culturally - people are very warm. Even if you don't know people, they greet you, they say 'good morning.' When I'm shopping here, people are very friendly. I'd say that's been the best part; it's a comfortable place.

With that in mind, what makes next year a fit point to end your career?
I think the most important thing for me is: I have four grandchildren, two of whom are out of town. I'm crazy about those kids, and I'd really like to spend some more time, and have less rush to get back when we go visit. I'm kind of jealous of my husband, because he gets to go to a lot of their little plays and things in school, that I haven't been able to go to. That's what I'm really looking forward to.

You speak about having "irons in the fire" or "things in the hopper." Certainly during your tenure, you've had a lot of "irons in the fire." That's quite a challenge for one person.
I think the biggest challenge in my job, as I have seen it, has been the fiscal constraints that kind of - this period of history of our country, starting in 2008, has been a period of great financial upheaval and uncertainty. The things that we have taken for granted: that we would always have three neighborhood elementary schools, that we would always have all the sports, that we would have music programs catering from our smallest to our tallest...those things have now come into question. And I think that's been the biggest challenge, because there's a constant weighing of values - what do you value more than something else? And with each one of those values comes a constituency, a group of parents and kids for whom that's a very, very important part of the school district. So, almost as soon as I took over as superintendent, we entered into this period.

A lot of stress on you? Does it change your life?
I don't think you're a human being if you don't feel the rollercoaster of the emotions, working with people all the time. It's an intensive job. In a lot of ways, you're the court of last resort for parents, so you see a lot of slices of life, I call them - people bring you their problems and their issues. And you wouldn't be human if you didn't take some of that with you. And you want to help, and I do help...and that's probably why I went into education in the first place, to be able to make a difference. But sometimes you reach a limit, and it's hard.

Turning to the "public eye": seemingly over the past three years, you and the district have come to the forefront time after time - the items that come to mind are the "fake student abduction;" the state's issue with your district's excess reserve funds; the elementary building consolidation; the East Avenue sports park plan;  the artificial turf field at Van Detta stadium; tax increases in proposed budgets; lately the "Merry Christmas" issue; among others.
There are those who would term your tenure, "ridden with controversy." How would you respond - is that something that every superintendent goes through?

Well, I think with any leader, you can't remove your leadership from its context in history. So you lead in certain times, and different times call for different "leaders" to portray different characteristics. In times of great prosperity, you look to your leader to be the person who is looking out for how the organization can grow and offer more opportunities. And I think when we looked at the turf field, it was a very visionary thought - that this stadium is in ailing condition, and there really isn't a way on the horizon to fix it. It is the centerpiece, somewhat, of that little area of town. And so, there was a vision there to put something together: not only would the turf field draw people to Batavia, but the stadium renovations would be a matter of pride.
But it goes back to what we talked about earlier: in times of economic distress, it's a matter of competing priorities. And I think that's the story, a little bit, of the Sports Park, the stadium...they're visionary things, and right now we're just making sure we have enough "meat and potatoes." So it's difficult to say the leader makes things controversial - it isn't. The leader exists within that moment in history. And I think we had a vision of what Batavia is and could be.

Meaning you, and the public perception?
I don't think me, because I think as a superintendent, I work very closely with the Board of Education. So whatever we brought before the public was definitely from the Board of Education, none of it really came from my personal vision. As we worked together, facilitating conversations among the civic leaders on the Board, we looked at possibilities and opportunities, and those were some of the ones that came forward. The public wasn't in the mood for that, or wasn't in the right frame of mind, for either the Sports Park on East Avenue, or the stadium - that's how America works! The public gets the final say, but that doesn't mean you don't bring ideas forward, and that doesn't mean you don't try to do good things - maybe you dress them up a bit differently, bring them back out...but we have to move forward.

We know the reality, from talking here, is to make sure we have "the meat and potatoes." All constraints aside, what is your vision for the future of Batavia City schools - and what is your legacy?
I think for sure, the Batavia City School District has a long history of being an economically and fiscally-sound district - and well-run. And I think my legacy, to some extent, is that all of those things are still true, even though we've been through some very harrowing years. We haven't done anything to lessen our financial security going forward, so the district will be fiscally sound.
Part of looking at the elementary school consolidation...the reality is, educationally, it's a very good idea. Should it come to pass, I think that will be partly because I'm able to put together a vision of what that could look like, with our administrative team. And the most important goal, always, is that it would be the best idea educationally - not necessarily physically.
Going forward - will the repairs to the stadium be made? I don't know that. I don't know what will ultimately happen, but a lot will depend on the context of finances within New York State. Clearly, districts like Batavia who are dependent on state aid, need that state aid to go more toward districts like us, and less toward the districts that are not so dependent.
I started out talking about things that are taken for granted: it's very important that educational opportunities in Batavia be every bit as good as they area Pittsford, or Williamsville, or Long Island. And if there's anything I would wish for in this district, it's that we could continue to assure that kids could keep taking AP courses, and music lessons, and field trips, and do all the things that are part-and-parcel of the K-12 educational experience. And there's no reason why they shouldn't. But it is certainly a future dream and hope that we maintain the fiscal wherewithal, to provide the high quality that's been tradition in this district.

But some scary financial times ahead?
We did not fall prey to emptying out our reserves. We've made some very judicious cuts, to avoid using reserves. We've left most everything intact.
I think looking forward, Chris Dailey knows that he has big shoes to fill - not mine, necessarily, but Dick Stutzman's and others going back. All of our superintendents have carefully guarded that fiscal aspect, and so going forward, a lot of that will be Chris learning how to do that.

Anything else to add?
I don't think so. I said a lot more than I thought I was going to say. And "Merry Christmas!" (laughs)


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