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Kirnie reflects on time as Norwood-Norfolk superintendent


NORFOLK — When she retired after 6 years as superintendent at Norwood-Norfolk Central School on June 30, Elizabeth A. Kirnie was able to look back and see a number of accomplishments during her tenure.

Among the initiatives was the introduction of a program to address early literacy.

“We did institute the UPK (universal prekindergarten) program, which we had not had before. It’s changed just a bit over the years due to funding limitations, but it’s here to stay,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

Her tenure, which began Dec. 18, 2006, also saw the introduction of new evaluation systems for teachers and administrators, which had an effect on the staff and on the students at Norwood-Norfolk.

“The whole field of education has changed,” Mrs. Kirnie said. “Every year, I do senior exit interviews and let the departing students know that it’s OK to say anything. I really want to hear their feedback on what they would change, what they appreciated. When they’re not talking about the cafeteria or the price of ranch dressing or senior issues, they do talk about more substantive issues,” she said.

“This year, students asked me what’s wrong with our teachers. We have an excellent group of teachers at Norwood-Norfolk. I don’t think it’s possible to apply the kinds of change and degree of pressure for performance for teachers and not have it felt all the way to the student level, no matter how professional that teacher is,” she said.

“Hopefully, this past year was trial by fire and things will normalize in the next year,” she said.

Mrs. Kirnie’s time at Norwood-Norfolk also saw the increase of technology in the district.

“Looking at the new requirement for computer-based testing, I’m very gratified that during my tenure we were able to equip every classroom in the district with state-of-the-art technology,” she said. “Although it will be a transition to make sure we have enough of the appropriate hardware, at least the instructional technology is there. I’m gratified that we were able to do that.”

It was a time that saw difficult budget years, but there was only one instance when Norwood-Norfolk’s spending plan failed to pass.

“The year that budget was defeated was a year that Potsdam Central School’s budget was also defeated. It had to do with the general revaluation of property,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

There also were complaints about a property revaluation completed this year in Potsdam, but that didn’t affect Norwood-Norfolk’s $20.3 million budget for 2013-14. Voters approved the spending plan 213-102 in May.

“Fortunately, that didn’t happen and our budget passed handily,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

Norwood-Norfolk’s finances improved during Mrs. Kirnie’s tenure. Six years ago, the district had a bleak financial picture, with no fund balance. But in their 2012 report to the district, auditors from Poulsen & Podvin CPA P.C., Watertown, called the district financially healthy.

“The state of our finances at Norwood-Norfolk today compared to when I started — we are on solid ground, which is not to say we can ever sit back. I think that for now, although we’re not where I’d like to be, we’re not in the white-knuckle area yet,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

She said school officials worked hard with the community to overcome the financial challenges the district faced. “It does take that partnership to make finances successful,” she said.

Mrs. Kirnie also said the district has worked with the town of Norfolk and village of Norwood on projects that benefit all entities.

“We did bring municipal water to the school, which seems sort of basic. But before then, we could not take our water for granted, and now we can,” she said.

“It was with the encouragement of the Department of Health. That really started an era of cooperation with the village of Norwood and also the town of Norfolk.”

“When we put in our new fuel facility, we were able to partner with Norwood and Norfolk and with St. Lawrence County,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

“A relationship with the surrounding municipalities is really key to operating a successful school, especially when the school is a community center and used constantly.”

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