An Officer on Land and Water and in the Schools

by Paul Riede

Back when he was an assistant superintendent in Penn Yan, a small community in New York’s Finger Lakes region, Clark Godshall was looking for an opportunity to pursue one of his typically arcane hobbies — grant writing. He found it close to home, where the fire department was getting by with a 1954 pumper. He soon had $50,000 in hand to replace the old truck. Not long after, he was elected to the fire commission.

The story is typical of Godshall, now district superintendent of the Orleans/Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Medina, N.Y., about 40 miles northeast of Buffalo. He loves the kind of detailed work others might consider onerous. And he loves getting involved with organizations — where he usually rises to the top.

“His idea of taking a vacation is going to a conference,” says Rebecca Albright, a longtime board member of the BOCES, an intermediate unit offering shared services and programs to area school districts. “He just absolutely loves learning, and he loves to open doors for other people who want to learn.”

Godshall, 54, is president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. He previously served as president of both the New York State Association of School Business Officials and the Association of School Business Officials International. And he’s a board member of the National Center for Education Research and Technology and a governing board member at AASA.

As leader of the BOCES for eight years, Godshall is credited with expanding its offerings to its 13 member school districts, which serve 43,000 students. The BOCES offers a growing career and technical program directly serving 1,700 high school juniors and seniors, 30 percent of whom are special education students. It also runs a night school that provides training for 3,000 adults in various trades.

Godshall also conducts superintendent searches for member districts. Increasingly, he says, those searches focus on a key issue: “How can you lead during tough times? We have this great program; how can you save it?”

The economic downturn is his main focus now as well. New York is debating just how deeply to cut education funding, and Godshall has little doubt hard times and layoffs lie ahead. The recession, he says, is a “test of leadership.”

Tom Rogers, executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, says one of Godshall’s strengths is his willingness to face such challenges head-on. “Clark is very comfortable putting tough issues on the table and addressing them,” he says.

Godshall finds inspiration by putting himself in a position to learn all kinds of things from all kinds of people — and that means staying active in outside groups. At one conference, for instance, a custodial committee meeting left him with a nuanced appreciation of the best floor waxes to use in his district. At a meeting in Albany, he noticed that every other light in the Capitol garage and basement had been removed — a reminder of both the state’s desperate fiscal condition and of the imperative to conserve energy.

Godshall does have some nonwork-related hobbies — coin collecting, genealogy and antique car restoration — to which he brings a similar attention to detail.

He also brings the same leadership qualities. The house he shares in Barker, N.Y., with his wife, Barbara, a special education director, overlooks Lake Ontario, and he has been commander of the local boating power squadron for the past two years.

He says he was too busy last summer to spend much time in his 28-foot Sea Ray. And he doesn’t expect much relief this year, as the economic crisis deepens and his challenges grow within his district and beyond.

“The students will show up at the door next September and we will be ready for them,” he says, “but we will have to be creative.”

Paul Riede, a freelance writer, is the editorial page editor at The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y. E-mail:


Currently: district superintendent, Orleans/Niagara BOCES, Medina, N.Y.

Previously: assistant superintendent, Penn Yan, N.Y.

Age: 54

Greatest influence on career: When I graduated as a bio-chem major, a University of Rochester professor, John Montean, convinced me the field was ripe for a teacher with my credentials. Within a year, I had my master’s and a teaching job at age 21.


GodshallClark Godshall

Best professional day: Whenever our special education and alternative education students graduate, I am renewed. Many would not make it without the special programs we offer.

Books at bedside: The 21 Indispensible Qualities of a Leader and Developing the Leaders Around You, both by John C. Maxwell

Biggest blooper: As a new school administrator 25 years ago, I was excited to make snow-related, school-closing decisions. The transportation director picked me up at 5 a.m. to check the roads. Five minutes later we were in a ditch. The decision was easy.

Key reason I’m an AASA member: Where else can I count on national advocacy, superior communications, great networks to tap, and access to an exchange of ideas that never tires.