New Paltz CSD Appoints Stephen Gratto to Superintendent Position 


    During its October 19, 2022 meeting, the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education (BOE) approved the appointment of Stephen Gratto, of Schroon Lake, NY, as the District’s next superintendent of schools. Gratto was selected via a four-month search process and will assume his post on January 1, 2023. He is replacing Dr. Bernard Josefsberg, who has been serving as interim superintendent since July. 


    An educator since 1994, the Plattsburgh native currently serves as the superintendent of the Schroon Lake Central School District, a position he has held since 2015. Before working at Schroon Lake, a small district with fewer than 300 students, he served as the principal of Northeastern Clinton Central High School for eight years. Before the principalship, he was a physics/science teacher for the Peru Central School District in Peru, NY and Mascoma Regional High School in Enfield, NH.


    Gratto says he is driven to be involved in community engagement and partnership to enrich and expand student opportunities. “I look forward to working with a larger community, and a larger school which has opportunities that a smaller school does not,” he says. 


    He is especially proud of his communication and rapport with his school community. Gratto says that creating or attending community events, availing the school buildings for community use, developing a robust continuing education program through collaborative efforts, and even serving as a substitute bus driver during the pandemic all helped to build bridges between the school district and the greater community. He also says substitute bus driving during driver shortages enabled him to gain a new appreciation for and valuable insight into the drivers’ daily challenges, fostering a new connection with staff, students, and families. “Having done what the drivers do, I appreciate what they do even more,” he said. “It can be hard to fully understand what others do without doing it yourself, but when you walk in their shoes, you can appreciate them more and gain greater empathy.” 


    Gratto, a recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Scholar distinction, cites his time spent as a Fulbright exchange teacher in Uppingham, England, as having a profound impact on how he regards student-teacher relationships and dynamics. He witnessed an early model of fostering social-emotional wellness for students in which the school created smaller groups of students assigned to respective teachers for daily check-ins, oversight, guidance, and mentorship–an approach he found to be highly efficient, effective, and personalized in meeting student needs.  


    While the new superintendent’s path from classroom teacher to district leader is not uncommon, Gratto’s path to the educational field was a road less traveled. For six years, he was an electrical engineer designing integrated circuit chips for International Business Machine Corp. (IBM) in Burlington, VT. Gratto says that although he enjoyed engineering, he sought more fulfillment from working directly with people.


    “I felt I was more of a ‘people person’ and wanted to see immediate gains from my efforts and felt I would get greater satisfaction from working with kids. This turned out to be true,” he said. “IBM was great preparation for teaching, but I am much happier as an educator, and each step I have taken has been a very positive one. I have been very fortunate to work at some outstanding schools, and I look forward to using my knowledge and experiences to serve the students, faculty, and staff of New Paltz Central School District.” 


    As for moving from the classroom to the district office, he adds, “Being a teacher has a great impact on students, but being an administrator means you can have a greater impact on a wider body of students.” 


    According to New Paltz BOE President Johanna Herget, the board’s list of priorities and subsequent decisions were largely informed by the sweeping response of nearly 800 respondents to a community survey created by Ulster BOCES District Superintendent Dr. Charles Khoury, which identified and prioritized the most desirable traits and qualities for a superintendent of schools. She says that the community feedback overwhelmingly called for hiring a candidate with superintendent-role experience, experience in the classroom, and strong fiscal management. Herget and the board unanimously agree that Gratto checks those boxes, and also meets the community’s requests for a strong communicator who can establish a climate of trust and respect, create and foster a positive atmosphere, and demonstrate strong people skills.


    “The board was very intentional in selecting a candidate who has the experience and knowledge of systems needed to implement district initiatives and priorities,” Herget says. “Mr. Gratto’s thoughtful and methodical approach to every aspect of his work impressed us,” she added, noting in one instance, he recognized a need for community access to education and in response established an adult continuing education program. “His proven track record of using data to make decisions will be vital to moving the District forward post-pandemic in order to meet the needs of all students.” 


    “His presence and involvement in his current and previous districts really stood out, as did his easy, straightforward communication style,” she says. “He was very open, honest, and accessible in his interviews.” His passion for his work also made a strong impression on the board. “It was clear that he lives and breathes doing this work. We heard from his previous district that he is at every event, he is in the hallways, and he is fully engaged.” 


    Herget recounted that the board was also delighted to learn of Gratto’s good rapport with his district. “His track record is solid,” she says. “We like his consistency and appreciate his natural trajectory of being an engineer, then a teacher, then a principal, and how he remained in each post for a significant time.” 


    And while the married father of three boys has been considering a career move, Gratto describes being in the fortunate position to be very selective about where he applied. “I wanted a great next step,” he says. Based on his background of positive experiences, he wanted to continue expanding his capacity by working with a larger community of which he could be a part. He also enjoys the New Paltz community and its landscape immensely.


    Gratto insists his first few months in his new position will involve deep listening. “I need to get out, be visible, talk to people of every level,” he says. “I need to learn about the culture, what went well, and what needs to be worked on.” He also says that creating a fiscally responsible budget while maintaining programs, addressing school safety, and “putting together the best staff possible” by filling open or interim positions all appear on the near horizon. As for longer-term goals, Gratto says he is a firm believer in putting students where they can succeed, so “examining that process from bottom to top” will help ensure the District is providing its best efforts and resources. 


    Gratto earned his education in upstate New York with a Master of Arts in Teaching degree, a Certificate of Advanced Study in Administrative and Supervisory Service, and a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. He received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Clarkson University. He holds permanent certifications as a School District Leader, School Administration Supervisor/School Building Leader, and a permanent New York State teaching certification in General Science (7-12), Physics (7-12), and Mathematics (7-12). 


    Gratto is just as energetic outside the school walls; he is an active outdoors person as a hiker, camper, canoer, bicyclist, basketball player, and coach. Indoors, he enjoys reading and theater. Less conventionally, Gratto has been a professional juggling, unicycling, rope walking, and comedy performer since boyhood. Having his sons perform with him in his show is one of his greatest pleasures.


    Plans for introducing the new superintendent to the New Paltz faculty, staff, students, parents, and community are underway and will be announced when finalized.