Editor’s Note: This is the article that appeared in the July 8, 2010, edition of The Freeman’s Journal, the first edition after C.J. Hebert assumed the superintendency at Cooperstown Central School.
By JIM KEVLIN
COOPERSTOWN – C.J. Herbert is at the eye of a storm – a storm of construction.
The Cooperstown Central School District superintendent’s office, which he inherited July 1 from Mary Jo McPhail, is in the middle of a construction site.
On either side of his office, the 1968-era science labs have been gutted, to be replaced with 21st-century equivalents by fall.
Hammers sound. Saws buzz. Sanders grate.
During an hour-long interview, though, Clifton J. Hebert III didn’t bat an eyelid.
Calm. Steady. You sense that about the guy: He not going to rush willy-nilly into his new job.
A case in point is the front-burner issue he inherited: What to do as a result of the Good Friday shooting of one CCS sophomore by another.
Hebert – for the last time: it’s pronounced “AY-bear,” a la Canadien – said he plans to talk to his teachers and administrators, “to get feedback on what they feel is the atmosphere.”
“We have to be honest with ourselves,” said the new superintendent on his second day on the job. “If we do find there are areas we need to address, we will.”
If the shooting grew out of bullying, or racism, or some systemic issue, that’s one thing, he said.
If it resulted from a troubled individual acting out, that’s no less serious, but would call for an alternate strategy, he said.
While the matter calls for “immediate, ongoing attention,” Hebert’s looking at a six-month time frame to come to a conclusion on what big-picture, long-term approach is appropriate.
Ask school board member Theresa Russo what impressed her about Hebert, she’ll respond, “He is intelligent.”
Ask Mary Leonard, the school board vice president, she’ll say “intelligence.”
How that might guide him was suggested in his experience as principal at Hudson Falls High School, where math scores had been lagging for a while.
He instituted “collaborative reviews,” where math teachers would sit in on each other’s classes, discuss problem areas together, give each other suggestions and work out approaches to improvement.
Next time around, test scores were up 10-12 percent.
That outcome, he suggested, was a result of looking at the data “qualitatively and quantitatively.” Hard numbers are one thing, but there are “dangers in disregarding anecdotal evidence.”
Hebert was raised in Natural Bridge, Jefferson County. His mother was a local girl; his father worked at Fort Drum. He went through the Carthage Central School system.
Graduating from SUNY Oswego, he received advance degrees at SUNY Albany while teaching English in Corinth, on the Hudson River south of Lake George.
When the high school principal retired unexpectedly, the school board quickly decided they wanted him for the job.
They named an interim principal – retired guidance counselor Nick Matino, an Hebert mentor – for that fall semester, while he fast-tracked credits for his principal’s accreditation.
Four years later (in 2002), he crossed the Adirondack Northway to Hudson Falls, a high school twice the size. “I wanted to venture out on my own in a new district,” he said.
Why Cooperstown Central? It’s progressive, it puts the needs of the students first, “and there’s a pattern of working toward excellence,” he said.
“It didn’t hurt that it was in one of the most beautiful regions in the state,” said Hebert.
For now, Hebert is renting on Lake Street and driving back and forth to the Hudson Falls area on weekends, where wife Tammy is Corinth Central interim middle school principal.
She is looking for a position locally. Son Cliff, 17, will be a CCS junior in the fall. Hebert also has two grown children.