Teresa Lawrence’s career path has taken her far from her childhood home in Germany, but her passion for teaching has helped the students of Western New York to blossom for more than two decades.
Lawrence was named superintendent of the Grand Island Central School District last month and plans to take the reins June 10.
The director of curriculum and staff development for the Clarence Central School District for the past eight years, Lawrence sought the top position in Grand Island because she had grown to love the community while completing her administrative studies within the district.
“I have admired the school district and community ever since,” she said. “During the interview process, it became abundantly clear that the Grand Island School Board, and the community at large, values education. I believe together we can build upon an already top-notch school district,” she said.
Lawrence believes her combination of educational and career experiences made her an attractive candidate for the position, including her ability to listen and seek common ground with stakeholders while balancing what is best for students; a track record of achieving outcomes through collaboration; a strong work ethic; a history of seeking out educational opportunities; and a strong resume that includes positions with increased obligations and accountability.
These educational and career paths provided the foundation of what Lawrence describes as a global perspective to teaching, learning and leadership.
Her father was a U.S. Air Force officer and her mother is British, and the family moved to Germany when Lawrence was 5. From fifth grade through high school, she attended German schools, completing her studies completely in the language. She studied for and earned the American general education diploma with the intention of completing undergraduate studies in the United States, but she returned to Germany to continue her studies in mathematics before returning to the United States at age 20 to complete her undergraduate work.
“In 1990, I moved to Buffalo with the intention of completing undergraduate studies in statistics and math and returning overseas,” she said. “I never left.”
She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in statistics, an advanced certificate in educational technology and a doctor of philosophy from the University at Buffalo and a certificate in human resources from Cornell University. Her educational career began in 1991 as a middle school math and religion teacher at Queen of Heaven in West Seneca.
From there, she worked for several years as a consultant with LEGO Dacta, the educational division of LEGO Systems, Inc., based in Amherst.
Before joining the administrative staff at Clarence Central, Lawrence served for five years as the instructional specialist for research and evaluation for Williamsville Central Schools; one year as the program supervisor and assistant principal at Roosevelt Elementary School in Kenmore; and three years as the curriculum and staff development coordinator at Erie 1 BOCES.
While she originally was interested in quality control or actuarial work, the classroom beckoned.
“I was drawn to teaching,” she said. “I chose to stay on in Buffalo, where I began my career in education. I am currently in my 22nd year in education. I cannot imagine doing any other work.”
In addition to her work inside the schools, Lawrence has taken an active role in addressing the increase in prescription drug abuse among teenagers by serving as the lead coordinator of the Western New York Medication Drop-Off Campaign through the Drug Enforcement Agency and by assisting Kids Escaping Drugs. Lawrence sees drugs, bullying and other pressures as the larger challenges that students face daily, but she adds that since she began her career, technology has complicated matters.
“Technology has blurred space between ‘private self’ and ‘public self,’ ” she said. “Social media such as Twitter, Vine and Instagram keep more and more parents and trusted adults out of the loop of what they know to be their children, and what we know to be our students.”
Board of Education interim President Paul Krull explained that the field of candidates for superintendent began at 38 before the board narrowed the choice to three, and Lawrence’s blend of personality and background won over board members.
With the post will come several challenges, according to Krull, including increasing retirement costs and unfunded mandates from the state; yearly budget issues; the beginning of two capital projects totaling more than $60 million; contract negotiations with administrators this year and teachers next year;and the growing concern about the state’s testing mandates.
The board, however, is certain that Lawrence can meet the challenges.
“We think she is a great fit,” Krull said. “She will move the district forward and make it better for students, staff and the community.”
For Lawrence, the position is an extension of her mission of helping others within a field that she adores.
“I wanted a career in which I felt I could make a difference,” she said.
“I am at my best when I am working in service of others. After the first few minutes of teaching, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.”