Dr. Kliszus Retiring
Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus
Superintendent reflects on tenure as head of the Port Chester-Rye Union Free School District
When he was a child, Edward Kliszus’ mother would occasionally pull out a small wooden spoon from her apron pocket if he stopped practicing the piano too soon, wave it in the air as a type of wand for emphasis, and remind him to try again.
“The spoon would come out, she’d smile, and I’d wind up the metronome and try harder,” Dr. Kliszus said of his mother’s encouragement to practice the piano and trumpet. “She also encouraged me and my three sisters to read books daily like the Hardy Boys mysteries, biographies, and the many books of hers placed around our house. When I was about 8 years old my parents bought me a Popular Science magazine subscription I read into my teens while doing many of the science experiments.”
“She’d say, ‘You never know where music and reading books will take you in your life,’” the superintendent said.
As it turns out, it took him to the superintendency of the Port Chester-Rye Union Free School District, a position he accepted in 2011. His journey to the district was through teaching instrumental music for 10 years, director of performing arts, orchestra conductor, professional musician, adjunct college professor, running two not-for-profits, school principal, and school superintendent. And that journey will soon continue along another path as Dr. Kliszus is retiring at the end of this school year.
His own mother’s gentle, persistent encouragement is something he has seen from today’s parents in the district throughout his tenure.
“We have such wonderful parents who are supportive and doing such hard work for their children. They are the unsung heroes who beam with pride for their children,” the superintendent said.
It was the hard-working, supportive parents who, in part, attracted him to Port Chester.
During his tenure, Dr. Kliszus oversaw a $79.95 million bond project that included interior and exterior renovations to several elementary schools, an addition to the high school, and upgrades to the athletic fields.
He said too that in his mind, another significant accomplishment is assembling the district’s team of talented administrators.
“We’ve assembled a really fine group of administrators,” he said. “It’s the finest team of this nature I’ve worked with in my career. They are caring, focused, creative, collaborative and work daily to broaden opportunities for the children in our collective care.”
And that also extends to the district’s teachers.
“Our teachers are so dedicated,” Dr. Kliszus said. “What binds them all is everyone holding high expectations of the children. We let the students know they can and must do the work, and that their diligence will propel them to success. We nurture a work ethic leading to excellence, personal satisfaction and accomplishment.”
Student success is another point of pride for the superintendent. Through the years, graduation rates have increased, and the number of four year colleges and universities that local graduates are attending has expanded. In addition, students now have an opportunity to take more Advanced Placement courses, International Baccalaureate courses, plus athletic, club and other extracurricular activites young people need.
“Our philosophy – and it’s not just mine, but also that of our teachers and administrators – is that every time you add a course like a computer science, AP offering, sport or club, you are opening a door for a young person to find their passion,” he said. “If you can follow your passion, for our young people, that is a wonderful thing.”
Through the years, Dr. Kliszus recalls meeting preschoolers learning to tie their own shoes. He sees them grow into young adults who are literate in multiple languages and heading to the finest colleges and universities.
“We are an environment where a young people gain options and choices,” the superintendent said.
He wants students in Port Chester to know that they can develop into adults who become the next generation of scientists, attorneys, business magnates, philosophers, dancers, poets or even mountain climbers.
“I believe we must have a broad diverse curriculum so they can find what they really love and pursue it into adulthood,” he said.
Of course, the last year of his tenure in the district have been focused on managing COVID-19 and its impact on schools.
“I think we’ve done well,” was his assessment of how the district managed the global pandemic that saw businesses close for extended periods, sporting and theater events postponed and, most importantly, schools forced to turn to remote instruction in order to keep students and staff safe.
“We’ve worked really hard to make this work,” he said.
Port Chester Schools went fully remote in March 2020 and remained that way through the end of the 2019-20 school year. The district canceled sports, the spring drama production, prom and other school events. The one exception was when the governor permitted small gatherings, allowing Port Chester High School to host an in-person graduation ceremony. The event was broken down into several smaller ceremonies with limited numbers in attendance and all safety protocols —masks, social distancing, and regular cleanings between ceremonies — in place.
In the fall, the district offered remote learning through October, when students returned in a hybrid model. The school year was disrupted in November, when remote learning was put back in place due to the high numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in the community. The district returned to hybrid learning in January.
“Time will tell how much of an impact, and the nature of such, that the virus and school responses will academically affect students,” Dr. Kliszus said.
While academic instruction may not have suffered exponentially, students’ socialization, or lack thereof, may have a bigger impact, the superintendent said.
“They miss the socialization. It’s why we have recess for kids, to socialize. They need to play and work out occasional differences, not physically, but in a positive way. So, when kids don’t have that, they don’t practice certain coping skills associated with getting along with others or sharing with and supporting one another. I think in those areas we won’t know until kids are back (full time) and see, although I know our students are adaptable, intelligent, have strong family support, and will rise above any challenges.”
“I know our teachers engage with our kids. We are very adaptable. We’ve selected and instituted mitigating and supporting regimens with great care,” he said.
With just a few months left in the school year, Dr. Kliszus is beginning to think about what comes next.
“I think I will miss the energy” of the community, he said.
It might be time, he said, to return to his roots as a musician.
“I am a musician at heart, since I was 4,” Dr. Kliszus said. While he did not have much time to play often in recent years he looks forward to getting back to the piano bench to practice works like Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp minor (No. 20).
The other activity he hopes to pick up again is recreational reading. The topics of his reading throughout his career had been more scholarly and educational - and administration - focused.
“I have all these books I want to read and reread,” he said. “I particularly enjoy reading the works of Suzanne Langer like Feeling and Form, Leonard Bernstein’s The Joy of Music, or listening to Bernstein’s Harvard lectures like his The Unanswered Question, The Harmonic Series, or Mozart and Symmetry.
The one thing he will not miss?
“Calling snow days at 5 am,” he said with a laugh. “Superintendents do laugh about that” and the stress of making a decision one way or the other while trying to predict what the weather will be doing, in spite of conflicting weather forecases, when children and staff will be coming to school, often having to decide hours before.
“I wanted to make sure we love the children,” Dr. Kliszus said of his life’s work in education. “We have really high expectations, and they never disappoint us. Kids have to be told they can do it and be reminded they also need to practice diligence.”
His hope for the district is that parents look toward the future and work with district leadership to bring back some of the programs that the district lost or decreased due to budget constraints, including the stringed instrument program, elementary school librarians and art teachers, and add AP courses, expand the IB programs to all grades, and add more clubs and athletics.
“I want people to think about the future and what our kids need and deserve,” he said.
“Port Chester was a wonderful experience,” he concluded. “It’s a wonderful village and educational community that I shall miss dearly.”