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Times Union

Town's New Principals Want To Make A Mark

Guilderland Ismael Villafane, Deborah Drumm fill positions left by husband, wife

BY ANNE MILLER, Staff writer

July 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Times Union, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

Fitting in at a new high school can be daunting. Finding a shared interest with current students can help.

It's a good thing, then, that the new Guilderland High School principal, Ismael Villafane, plays some mean Hacky Sack.

"Just ask my former students," said Villafane, or Mr. V, as his students call him. He was known to kick up his heels outside the cafeteria more than a few times during his three-year stint as principal of Ithaca High School.

He is one of two new principals in the district this year. Deborah Drumm takes the helm at Westmere Elementary School, her alma mater.

Villafane, 49, arrives in town this week.

Drumm, 50, previously with the Beekmantown School District in Plattsburgh, started July 1.

Together, the two educators have the potential to greatly impact the district and its seven schools.

"We're replacing two out of seven; that's more than a quarter" of the district's principals, said Guilderland Superintendent Gregory Aidala. "That's rather unusual."

Villafane, who will earn $104,000, and Drumm, whose salary will be $90,500, fill the vacancies left by husband and wife John and Joanne Whipple, who retired as principals from GHS and Westmere Elementary, respectively.

Both of the new arrivals already have plans for the Guilderland schools.

For Villafane, a Puerto Rico native who conducted diversity programs in Ithaca, that means exposing the 1,850 students to other cultures while adding more academic programs. Drumm, who has conducted workshops for teachers around the state, wants to capitalize on the district's interest in teacher development.

Drumm grew up in the Capital Region. The second child of five siblings, she said she often looked after her youngest brother, 17 years her junior.

"I've always loved working with children," she said.

She studied at the University at Plattsburgh for her bachelor's degree and the University at Albany for her master's before earning an administration certificate at the College of Saint Rose. She guided the Beekmantown and West Chazy elementary schools for the Beekmantown school district in Plattsburgh before accepting the job at Westmere with 573 students.

Last year, Drumm conducted workshops on language, literature and writing for teachers in Plattsburgh and in the region.

"I'm a firm believer in staff development. They really have a reputation for cultivating professional staff," she said of the Guilderland district.

Guilderland feels like home again, she said, although she and her husband have yet to close on a house.

"I've been here three days, and I feel like I've always been here," she said.

"A lot of people describe it as coming full circle," she added. "It was the right opportunity at the right time, and here we are."

Villafane grew up outside San Juan, Puerto Rico, and attended the University of Puerto Rico before traveling to Indiana and Texas for graduate school.

His mother was a teacher, he said, and his inspiration.

"I never saw her come home and say, `I hate this job.' She's still in education," he said.

He has taught Spanish, physical education and math, mostly in Austin, Texas, where he received his master's degree, and where he lived until 1997. He also served on the city's gang task force, as the Latin Kings, the Crips and the Bloods moved into central Texas. Those experiences, he said, will bring a new perspective to Guilderland.

"I enjoy seeing people who cannot do things, who do not have skills, teaching them so they can do things," he said.

He made the switch to administrator because, he said, `If I move beyond teaching, then I can help other teachers and reach more kids."

Two of his three children, ages 3 and 5, live in Saratoga Springs. Wanting to move closer to them prompted his leaving Ithaca, he said, despite earning tenure a month before announcing his departure.

That left some bad feeling in Ithaca, despite all the praise administrators there heaped on him.

"He's got a really wonderful way with the kids," said Bill Russell, Ithaca's assistant superintendent for curriculum. "He's not afraid to make hard calls."

But the district has not yet found a replacement.

"It was a great disappointment, because we had been very supportive of him and had just awarded him tenure," Russell said.

Ithaca's loss may be Guilderland's gain. Villafane said his previous school did not have the budget to allow him to establish a junior ROTC or International Baccalaureate program. He would like to implement both at Guilderland.

"Hopefully, this will not be two or three years" at GHS, he said. "My goal is to see my kids walk across the stage, get their diplomas and shake my hand."

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