From Start, Educator Solved Problems
Editor’s Note: This profile was prepared after Romona N. Wenck’s retirement as Laurens Central superintendent after the 2019-20 school year. Ms. Wenck will take over Oct. 1 as interim superintendent in the Cooperstown Central School District.
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
LAURENS – When Romona N. Wenck began her first year as Laurens Central school superintendent in 1998, a challenge already awaited her.
“I discovered we had a $4.5 million budget with a $450,000 deficit,” she said. “A tax increase had to happen to pay it off.”
She managed to get a “yes” vote on a 22 percent tax levy. “People wanted this school to remain in the community,” she said. “They’re proud of it.”
Now the longest-serving superintendent in the county is retiring from the school where she has worked, first as a phys-ed teacher, then as superintendent, since 1977.
“I turned 65 on Sunday (June 14),” she said. “I was talking with Coach Pat Grasso and I realized that, between the two of us, we had over 100 years of service!”
A Waverly native, Wenck majored in phys-ed at SUNY Cortland. “Two student teachers in my program went to Laurens, but I went to Oneonta,” she said. “I was Tony Drago’s student teacher, and he always introduced me as such!”
Graduating in 1977, she got a call from Laurens Central School. “They asked why I hadn’t applied for the physical education position,” she said. “I thought the other girls had, and I was told the school was waiting for me to apply.”
She got the job, and, in addition to teaching, coached volleyball, basketball, soccer, softball and color guard.
“I was in an all-girl drum and bugle corps from the time I was 11 until I was 21,” she said. “They gave me color guard because I knew how to march and write drill. The marching band is a big thing here.”
After 20 years of teaching, she wanted to be the athletic director, and went for her certificate in administration. “I was in one of the first distance-learning classes,” she said.
She was appointed interim superintendent in 1997 and given the full position the following year. “In every decision as an educator, you have to make what’s best for the students the number one priority,” she said. “And that’s always been easy for me.”
In 2008, she spearheaded a $23 million school upgrade. “We were holding classes in the cellar, in trailers,” she said. “Some of our wiring was from when the school was built in 1929.
“But there was a lot of community involvement and support, and it was a huge accomplishment. And all these years later, it’s still so beautiful.”
She added distance learning classes, shared sports programs with Morris and Milford central schools, and oversaw the creation of a job-shadowing program.
“I’ve always been an advocate for increased sharing of services between schools,” she said. “There are many opportunities to do so, while still keeping the schools in the hearts of their communities.”
Though her last year with her students was abbreviated by the COVID-19 pandemic, she still found ways to connect with them. “I go on the distribution routes when we took the food and educational packet drop-offs,” she said. “One day the bus garage designed a route, and we did a parade. Seeing everyone made me cry. It was an amazing feeling.”
She will be succeeded by Bill Dorritie, the principal and athletic director, with former Oneonta High School science teacher John Mushtare taking over as principal and athletic director.
But Wenck isn’t walking away from her duties as a teacher just yet. “Any way I can help in the field of education, I will,” she said.