By Terry Rogers
Milford School District Superintendent, Dr. Phyllis Kohel, announced this week that she would retire, effective June 30, 2016, at the end of the current school year. Dr. Kohel said that she felt it was time to bring new perspectives and fresh ideas to the district.
“I’ve been in the district for over 30 years,” Dr. Kohel said. “Although I find it extremely hard to think about retiring, I think that the Board of Education has developed a succession plan that will make transitioning into a new superintendent into the district effective and efficient.”
Dr. Kohel began her career in Milford as an English teacher in 1984. In 1991, she became the assistant athletic director and began working at the district as a guidance counselor in 1996. She served as the assistant principal at Milford High School from 1998 until 2000, becoming principal in 2000. She accepted the position of Director of Student Support before leaving Milford for a brief time, taking a position as the Superintendent of Woodbridge School District. After the retirement of Sharon Kanter from Milford in 2012, Dr. Kohel returned to Milford to serve as Superintendent.
In March 2014, a referendum requesting an operation s increase and funding for a new Middle School failed with almost 55 percent voting against the new school and just over 58 percent against the operations increase. In May 2015, a combined referendum requesting an increase in operations funding and a new high school also failed with 54 percent voting against the measure. Some residents stated that they voted against the referendums because they felt the district had not been fiscally responsible and that they had lost faith in the current administration.
“I can’t deny that the work put into these two projects and the results certainly set me back on my heels,” Dr. Kohel said when asked if the failed referendums led to her decision to retire. “It’s quite upsetting to have even a few members of the community think that the district has not been fiscally responsible when I know, without a doubt, that it has. The Milford School District, the administrators and teachers have done a phenomenal job making do with what they have. It’s a little frustrating when you see a critical need, but can’t get everyone’s support for it.”
Dr. Kohel says that she faced several challenges when she took the position in Milford. She said that the district had issues that had to be addressed in operations, personnel and academics. One of the challenges was the decision to close Milford Middle School as she knew the emotional attachment many Milford residents had to the school. Dr. Kohel said that there was no option in the decision as the school had become a dangerous site for serving children.
“Trying to get a referendum passed to demo the old Middle School and build one in its place was extremely difficult,” Dr. Kohel said. “Of course, that referendum failed, but it gave us time to regain a perspective on how to create a plan that would suffice for 10 to 15 years down the road. Regardless of those challenges, I think we’ve turned a corner and are making progress. We have a long range plan, including a viable succession plan for this job, and I believe we’re set on a good course. Our schools are doing well. The elementary schools are performing in the top ten percent of the state, our PSAT and SAT scores are up and we are growing.”
As for her successor, Dr. Kohel says that when both district level directors, Sylvia Henderson and Travis Moorman, moved on to other districts, the board knew they needed to develop a plan that would include hiring someone who would be ready to step into an Assistant Superintendent position. When interviewing for the Director of Elementary Education and Director of Secondary Education, Dr. Kohel said they were focused on choosing the right candidates during the interview process. She said that the board is confident both Dr. Bridget Amory, the new Director of Elementary Education, and Dr. Kevin Dickerson, the new Director of Secondary Education, both fit those needs in Milford. She said that the person who replaces her needs to be someone who is fair, collaborative and willing to listen to all parties before making decisions that are in the best interest of the district.