Archer therapy dog

Principal Chris Clapper works as his certified therapy dog Archer, a 7-year-old standard poodle, relaxes at Emily Howland Elementary School in Poplar Ridge. 

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen

Principal Chris Clapper is leaving Emily Howland Elementary School by the end of the year to take the top post at another upstate New York school district.

Clapper, who has lead the Poplar Ridge school for five years, will be the new superintendent for the Alexandria Central School District. His last day with the Southern Cayuga Central School District will be Dec. 27, and he will start at his new district the next day.

Clapper was well-known in the elementary school for bringing his standard poodle Archer, a certified therapy dog, with him to roam the hallways. He has said using time with the dog as a student reward has helped curb misbehavior.

Clapper said this week that he is grateful for his time with the district, as he began there as a high school social studies teacher 15 years ago. District parents and staff alike were consistently supportive with him, he said. He's never occupied a superintendent's chair before but he's ready to try his hand.

"I've worked at Southern Cayuga for 15 years and I've enjoyed every bit of it, but it was time for a new adventure," Clapper said.

A notice on the principal vacancy was posted to the district's website Nov. 15, with a Dec. 12 deadline for applications. Although district Superintendent Patrick Jensen was awaiting the Alexandria district's appointment of Clapper for final confirmation, Jensen sent out the notice because hiring can be tricky during the holidays, he said, so he wanted to give applicants time through Thanksgiving weekend to ready their applications. He said the district has received applications already.

The job notice said the selected candidate would begin in a probationary capacity March 1, but Jensen said it would depend on the candidates, as he said some contracts stipulate 30-day or 60-day periods before administrators can start at another district. Starting salary will be $85,000.

The notice said the district is seeking a student-focused "knowledgeable and inspiring educator" with a background in administration and teaching. Along with filled-out applications, hopefuls should send a resume, a letter of interest, credentials with copies of certifications, transcripts, fingerprint clearance and at least three employment references.

Mid-January is being targeted for interviews with selected candidates with three separate committees consisting of  faculty and staff, community members and parents, and district administrators and board of education members, one after the other. Jensen hopes to have a finalist by late January.

As the district recently confirmed Clapper's appointment with Alexandria, plans for filling Clapper's chair in the meantime, such as with an interim principal, haven't been hashed out. Jensen is leaning towards placing a retired experienced administrator in the interim role — paid on a per day basis — as districts have done in similar situations.

Jensen praised Clapper's efforts with the district as an administrator and a teacher. A superintendent job involves long hours, immense responsibility and little sleep, Jensen said, but he believes Clapper is up for the task. Jensen also joked that the district needs to ensure the principal candidate has a dog they can bring to school.

"(Clapper has) proven himself here at Southern Cayuga to be a great administrator, so I support him," Jensen said.

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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Education Reporter