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UP CLOSE: Mary Dietrich reflects on time on Lake Placid school board

June 28, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Mary Dietrich walked down Main Street with the Lake Placid Middle-High School behind her. A man walked passed her while pushing a stroller with his daughter in it. They greeted each other, and Dietrich commented how beautiful his little girl was.

"He's a former student," she said, "and such a great father nowadays."

After six years of serving as Lake Placid school board president, Dietrich officially stepped down from her position at the end of the 2017-18 school year, and even though her time on the board has ended, she has a history with the school that will always stay with her.

Article Photos

Lake Placid Central School Board of Education President Mary Dietrich stands in front of the middle-high school.
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

Dietrich and her husband, Dean, the North Elba town justice, both taught for more than 30 years. Many of the years were in Lake Placid. Their children graduated from the district.

"It was always kind of a special place to us," she said. "Our family went through it together, and [the district] felt like family. We had a lot of friends there. The students were great; I can't think of better students."

In the late 2000s, the district started going through some rough times, and Dietrich was asked to run for president.

"It was hard to turn my back on that," she said, "so that's why I got involved."

When she and fellow board member Patti Gallagher, who also stepped down this year, joined in 2012, the school lacked staff in integral positions.

"We were in a situation where there was no guidance counselors," she said. "One guidance counselor was out on maternity leave, and the high school one had just resigned. The high school principal had resigned. The interim vice principal, who became the interim high school principal, resigned. So there was no leadership at the high school. At the end of our first year, actually, the elementary school principal resigned also to take a position in another school district."

The solution didn't rest on just Dietrich's shoulders.

"We are a seven-person board," she said. "I want to stress that it's not one person that makes the decisions. It's not one person that makes things happen. It was all of us working together. All of us were concerned with where the school was at that point - the low morale from not only the staff and the faculty but also the students."

One of the best decisions the board made was hiring Roger Catania as superintendent, Dietrich said.

"I think he brought up a lot of trust from not only the faculty and the staff but also the whole community who had known him as the guidance counselor," she said. "You know, he had a really great reputation, and he was known as a really ethical man that would put the interests of the students first, so I think that was probably our best accomplishment."

She likes to tell a story about the day Catania began as superintendent. She was in the high school for another matter and was approached by a teacher who gave her a globe.

"You know this is upside down," she said to the teacher.

The teacher had given the globe to a co-worker who had been feeling particularly depressed one day.

"I told her that there would come a day when she would be able to return this globe to me with her with the world turned right side up," she said, "When Dr. Catania took the reins as superintendent was the day that that globe was returned with the world turned right side up."

While schools are full of teachers, faculty and students, Dietrich said it can be challenging getting parents involved with the district's activities.

"One of my frustrations has been when people tell us we don't know what's going on and that we need to communicate better," she said. "We've made that a real focus in the last six years, and I think we're more transparent and collaborative."

Since Dietrich joined, the board started live streaming its bi-weekly meetings on YouTube, uploading its agendas to the district's website, posting updates on Facebook and mailing out newsletters.

"We try to get the word out as best week can," she said. "I also like to remind people that communication is a two-way street. We can provide the information, but it does take some effort to sometimes access it. I would encourage people to take the time to come to a board meeting. If they can't come to a board meeting, watch it as we stream it live. You can watch it at your convenience. Know what's going on in the school district."

Despite stepping down as president, Dietrich wants to still play a role in the district's future. She plans on being a member of the Lake Placid Educational Fund, a group that provides grants for the district's innovative teachers and students who want to help their school and community.

"The school been a big part of my life for a long time," she said. "People may not always agree with the decisions that I've made, but I did have the best interests of the students at heart. When you hear people say 'the students are our future,' I truly believe that, and anything that we can do to help them progress and be citizens of this world is only going to help us."



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