New school superintendent up for challenge

John Gaiptman will be the new superintendent of schools for New Westminster starting Monday (Feb. 17). -
John Gaiptman will be the new superintendent of schools for New Westminster starting Monday (Feb. 17).
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John Gaiptman has put out a few fires in his days as superintendent and CEO for the Greater Victoria school district so he’s up to the challenge of battling the infernos that have consumed the New Westminster school district.

Friday (Feb. 14) is Gaiptman’s last day in his Victoria office.

Saturday he’ll board the ferry for his new home, on Sunday he will set up his new office at Columbia Square and on Monday he’ll begin to get a handle on the issues facing the New West district.

Last week, the New Westminster board of education named Gaiptman, 58, as its new superintendent and CEO replacing John Woudzia, who took an administrative job with Vancouver Community College at the beginning of the month.

"Adding CEO makes it clear that employees report to one individual," said Gaiptman.

Gaiptman has worked in the school system more than 35 years, qualifying for full pension.

He taught special education and math before being hired by Victoria in 1993 as a principal at Lambrick Park secondary.

He worked in four district administrative positions before being named superintendent in 2002.

“I’m not an old man and I’m in good health,” said Gaiptman in an interview from Victoria on Wednesday.

Gaiptman said the Victoria district has had to make some tough decisions during his tenure including converting the system to three levels—elementary (K-5), middle (6-8) and secondary (9-12), the same as New Westminster.

“Prior to that we were a little bit of everything,” said Gaiptman, who was also involved in closing seven schools leaving the district with 50. “[The closures were] very difficult because I’m a big believer in public education and in schools.”

He also pointed out graduation rates rose during his tenure.

Gaiptman, though, steps into a situation where a fractured board of trustees is dealing with an accumulated deficit of more than $5 million it has pay back, and has had acrimonious relationships with parent groups. The divisiveness didn’t bother Gaiptman during his interview with the board.

“I was absolutely blown away by their passion for public education. You do what you have to do, you do what you can for public education,” said Gaiptman. “It is being threatened, and … if you do not truly believe in public education then we are in danger of losing something that is very special for not only students but for democracy.

“I am walking into New Westminster with my eyes wide open, and I really believe I have the skills necessary to make people be absolutely proud of the New Westminster school district and proud to be able to send their kids to school in New Westminster. Nobody is pushing me to New West, and if this goes well, that’s great.”

Whether his stay is for a good time or for a long time has yet to be determined.

The announcement from the board last week that Gaiptman would replace Woudzia also said they will continue to search for a new superintendent.

“If they find a dynamic person 10 years younger than I am they would be foolish not to say goodbye to me. I get that, and I understand that. The contract that I signed says give me a month and tell me,” said Gaiptman.

“What I’m hoping is they won’t have to rush into a decision. Let them find the right person without being under duress. It could be a short time, but it could be a substantial time.”

The first fire Gaiptman may have to deal with concerns the New Westminster secondary parent advisory council. The PAC wanted to know by today (Feb. 14) what programs would be cut and which ones retained in 2014-15 in time to meet out-of-district application deadlines.

Gaiptman, however, said he needs time to ensure everybody has been consulted.

“The last thing I should be doing is saying go ahead and send something out,” said Gaiptman. “I will not be pressured into making an error. For me to make a decision without talking to the principal of the school, I wouldn’t do it … but that doesn’t mean I’m going to dawdle, or spend all sorts of time to do research, but I do need some time to make sure we’re doing the best thing for the school district.”

NWSS PAC chair Stephen Bruyneel feels the board has had enough time to make up its mind and believes the information it asked for is being prepared and could already be available.

“The school board has had our request for almost a month now,” wrote Bruyneel in an email to Gaiptman. “We want that information—now … So yet another budget process is not good enough for us.”

Bruyneel also told Gaiptman he will update parents with the little information he has “so they can act accordingly to meet the needs of their sons and daughters.”

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