Throughout her 26 years in education, Katy Graves, Sag Harbor’s soon-to-be superintendent, turned to two simple skills when leading a successful school community: listening and learning.
Ms. Graves, who will take over for interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso on July 1, is the current superintendent of Stamford New York Central School District, a position she’s held since 2012.
“Part of the reason why I was so attracted to Sag Harbor is because during my research about the area, I’ve found it’s so much like where I live now, in terms of being a small town,” said Ms. Graves in a phone interview on Monday. “The local population is so rich in so many ways. People can tell you the history of the town going back 200 years. I’m still learning things about the Stamford district, and I can’t wait to start listening and learning about the Sag Harbor community.”
Ms. Graves, a Stamford native, said while she loves her current district, a severe dip in population and the possibility of consolidation with neighboring districts had fueled her search for relocation. “Our tiny pocket of the area has plummeted in school population,” she said.
During her time as superintendent, Ms. Graves said her first year on the job, Stamford was ranked 10 out of 19 schools in the district for ELA state testing. In 2013, the district’s rank bumped up to second out of 19. Similarly, in 2012, Stamford was ranked seventh for math state testing. In 2013, it jumped five spots to number two in the area.
“I try to do things with an asset-based approach,” Ms. Graves said. “I feel very strongly that you focus on what you’re doing right. You have to listen and learn from teachers to see what’s working well for them. Then you look at what does each student have going for them, and emphasize that. You blow on the embers that are warm. That’s how you start a fire.”
Prior to serving as superintendent, Ms. Graves was the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at the Windham-Ashland-Jewett Central School District for four years.
Ms. Graves got her start in education after graduating from State University College at Oneonta with a degree in home economics and clinical dietetics, and Sage Graduate School with a master’s degree in health education.
“I loved health, I loved wellness, and I went on to be a home ec teacher,” said Ms. Graves, who worked as a home economics teacher in Jefferson Central School for 12 years.
During Ms. Graves’s introduction to the Sag Harbor Schools community at a Board of Education meeting in late April, School Board members praised Ms. Graves for her “demonstrated ability” to put students first, which was clear after a story Ms. Graves relayed about her time as the principal at Otego Elementary School.
“We had a registered pedophile outside the building, and we walked every single child home,” she said. “We had every single staff member put on their coats, and we walked every kid home. It was a really proud day for me and the entire school. The crossing guard recognized the license plates, and I couldn’t have been prouder of my staff. In a small school, you can be very nimble, you can respond to student’s needs rapidly, and that’s why kids come back and stay attached.”
Ms. Graves said that during her first 100 days in the Sag Harbor district, her priority is “listening and learning.”
“I want to meet with as many of the school’s stakeholders, administrators, teachers, staff, and then go out into the community and listen and learn from those people. I want to know what the strengths of Sag Harbor are from their thoughts and perspectives so we can build the best possible vision for the district moving forward.”