June 17, 2016 -- In the nearly six months since Michelle Brantner agreed to become the district’s next top administrator, no grass has grown beneath her feet.
While continuing as superintendent of schools for Moravia Central Schools, Ms. Brantner immersed herself in all things Marcellus by: meeting weekly with Interim Superintendent Judith Pastel; paying three visits to campus for one-on-one discussions with administrators and Board members; and buying and moving into a new home here.
She even stopped by to watch volunteers build the new playground at K.C. Heffernan Elementary last month.
“It’s great. We’re very, very happy here, and the neighbors are all lovely,” Ms. Brantner said. “And the vibe in the schools has been joy and happiness. Marcellus has a fine reputation, and the data I’ve collected so far bears that out.”
After she officially takes the lead on July 1, Ms. Brantner said her No 1. goal will be getting to know the district and community by listening to all perspectives and gathering information. At the same time, she’ll be working to smoothly take the baton from Dr. Pastel, who this year prioritized improvements in the areas of curriculum development and alignment, data-driven instruction, professional development and more.
She now also faces the challenge of helping the district navigate through its capital project, which hit a snag in May when construction bids came in higher than
expected—a familiar scenario for her.
“When I started in Moravia 7 years ago I walked into the almost identical situation. It was eerie. I wondered if it was me,” she said.
Although she understands that many are disheartened to feel the project temporarily lose its momentum, she also sees a silver lining to the setback: “The added time will help us on the planning side. The most important thing is to have the right end product for the kids.”
Before moving into the top job at Moravia, a rural district in the Finger Lakes region with a student enrollment of 987, Mrs. Brantner served as a high school principal in Lansing for seven years. Before that, she was an assistant high school principal in Newark, New York. She began her career in education in 1991 as a Spanish teacher in the Norwood-Norfolk School District.
A career in education was not a foregone conclusion for Ms. Brantner, who says she was not one of those who transformed her girlhood bedroom into a classroom so she could teach her dolls. Her plan was to become a psychologist. But the early course requirements in college involved a lot of experimentation on lab rats, and she began to quickly formulate Plan B.
“I always loved kids, and I had an affinity for Spanish,” she said. “The decision was subtle and easy.”
Spanish teacher, it was. She changed her major to secondary education, kept psychology as a minor and never looked back.
Her continuing ability to think like a teacher has made her a stronger administrator, she said, because she understands the perspective of those she’s leading, even if they can’t understand hers.
“I tell teachers, ‘I can’t give you this perspective. But I’ve known yours, and I need you to trust that I’ll honor yours with my decisions.’”