June 17, 2011
Turecek reflects on topsy-turvy run
Marathon superintendent proud of tenure, looks to build New Roots
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Marathon Schools Superintendent Tim Turecek stands Thursday outside the Marathon High School. He is leaving the district after resigning in February and has taken a position at a charter school in Ithaca.
MARATHON — Tim Turecek smiles as he talks about his next step in life.
Starting Aug. 1, Turecek will be the dean of students for the New Roots Charter School in Ithaca, a 125-student school that opened in 2009.
“I’m scared to death but I’m also really excited,” said Turecek, 50. “This is the next step in my life and I’m really looking forward to getting started.”
After seven years, Turecek resigned Feb. 9 as Marathon superintendent of schools, two weeks after delivering a guest lecture in an advanced psychology class about human consciousness. The lecture revealed simmering tensions with district teachers that dated back to his arrival in 2004.
As he approaches his last days in Marathon, Turecek says he wishes he had a better start but that he was proud of his accomplishments.
“My experience in Marathon hasn’t been easy,” Turecek said. “But I think it’s been a crucial time that I wouldn’t give up for anything.”
If Turecek has any regrets about his time in Marathon, it is that he was too aggressive about trying to change school programs and that he alienated some teachers by criticizing work they had spent years developing.
Turecek said he had received direction from the Board of Education to overhaul some school programs. He says, in hindsight, that he went about it in the wrong way.
“I should have been more humble when I came here,” Turecek said. “I hurt people’s feelings with my disrespect for them ... Some people could never really get past that, and I understand that.”
Jim Povero, president of the Marathon Teachers Association, remembers Turecek’s first days as being very uneasy. Povero said before Turecek had met with teachers, he sent them a textbook about improving instruction. Povero said Turecek’s introductory speech to the faculty focused on how the district needed to change. There were early concerns about how Turecek was talking to teachers in front of students.
“The first impression was not good,” Povero said. “We kept getting the idea that he thought we were broken and that we needed to be fixed.”
Turecek said his relations with teachers did get better but that some never forgave him for his early missteps. About two years into Turecek’s tenure, the teachers voted that they had no confidence in him. They had a second no-confidence vote after his January lecture.
Other issues related to Tech Paths, a software system designed to create maps of the curriculum. Povero said the teachers were reluctant to make the switch and that Turecek tried to make them do it on their own time.
Turecek said the “trigger” that ultimately led him to resign was the Jan. 25 guest lecture he gave to an advanced psychology class. Turecek said he is a writer and has expertise in psychology. As an educator, he said he wanted to give the lesson to students and that he doesn’t regret giving the lecture.
He talked to the students about the “structure of human consciousness” and “how if we can understand the structure of human consciousness, we can understand what makes us human and what’s important in life.”
The lecture led to questions from the students about Turecek’s religious beliefs. When asked by students, he said he didn’t believe in an afterlife.
“I shouldn’t have said that,” Turecek said this week.
Turecek said the lecture led to gossip and “untruths.” People said he delivered an atheist message, that he had pushed his ideology on students, that he didn’t believe in God.
Turecek said none of that was true.
At a board meeting two weeks after the lecture, Turecek resigned, marking the beginning of the end of his time in Marathon.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Board of Education President Floyd Parker.
Parker said he wished Turecek well and that he thought the superintendent and the district accomplished a lot together.
“We negotiated a couple of contracts with the teachers union, we did two or three building projects, we passed every budget,” Parker said. “Things went pretty good.”
Turecek is heading to New Roots, a charter school that opened in fall 2009. Turecek has been involved with the school since its founding and said it is his “dream job.”
He said he is concerned about the “corporatization of schools,” how education has become more about test scores and competing in a global marketplace than about imparting students with “wisdom, depth and ideals.”
Turecek said New Roots is a small school, where students work in programs that are more specialized and build connections with the community through coursework.
He has been on the school’s board of trustees since its founding about four years ago, helping to shape school policy and goals.
“Tim helped design the school,” said Jason Hamilton, chair of the board of trustees at New Roots. “It’s great that he’s coming to us with that enthusiasm and energy. He wants to make a difference, and we’re really happy he will be with us.”
Hamilton said Turecek’s departure from Marathon coincided with New Roots’ search for a dean of students.
Parker, Povero and Turecek all said they were ready for the next step. Parker just finished the search process to hire South Jefferson School District elementary principal Rebecca Stone as Marathon’s next superintendent; Povero is retiring after spending his adult life as a teacher in Marathon; Turecek is establishing new roots in Ithaca.
They all wish each other the best. While his time in Marathon was not easy, Turecek said he would not trade it for anything.
“The story is still being written for me, for Marathon and for New Roots,” Turecek said. “I think I had to have this experience with Marathon, and Marathon had to have me. It’s all part of a journey.”
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