If Wes Greenleaf could change one thing about his time as school facilities director in Groton, it’s this: He’d have helped come up with a plan that convinced voters to reinvest in the public schools.
“It is vitally important to Groton that they reinvest in their buildings and that we come up in with a plan that the public will approve,” he said. “It’s our fault that we have not convinced the public and that we not have come up with a plan that’s acceptable to the public."
Greenleaf, 62, retires as school facilities director on Oct. 20, after 33 years. He’s served through 11 superintendents, including Paul Kadri and now Interim Superintendent Randall Collins.
A lifelong resident of Groton, Greenleaf attended its public schools, and went on to earn advanced degrees in educational leadership and industrial engineering.
A Q&A about his proudest moments, his biggest challenges, and his advice for the next facilities director is below.
Why did you make the decision to retire?
It’s time. The numbers work out that way. I had intended to go in April, but I delayed it because of certain situations with the schools right now. I just couldn’t take off at that time because of the circumstances. But you get to my age and realize that time is finite.
Looking back, what do you consider some of your proudest moments?
I’ve been through 84 grants and I’m honestly proud of it. It’s over $130 million (in projects) according to the state. They were telling me this, that the total to the town is roughly $90 million for facilities modernization (and) construction of new schools. I’ve been dealing with State Department of Education for so many years, I’ve been through generations up there.
What’s been most discouraging?
The biggest discouragement is we have not been able to pass the next (school building) initiative. That we’ve had several failures, and that I still believe that the public doesn’t understand that with the schools, it’s not a maintenance issue, it’s a modernization and renovation issue. . . It’s the board of education, it’s our office, its our responsibility to come up with a plan, (and ) to convince the public when things need to get done. We have not convinced the public, and that challenge remains.
What was the hardest part of the job?
In my time, we closed eight schools and that was very, very difficult, because one of those was my grammar school. (Groton Heights) In fact, my uncle was in the original class when they opened it. When we closed the school, my principal was still there.
That was tough. Closing schools is very difficult because people with kids in the schools or people that have gone to the schools have an attachment to the school for good reason. . . It’s a very difficult thing to do. But when it’s an economic issue and it doesn’t make sense to keep a 10-room school open because the cost per student is so high, or because the building is so far gone that reinvestment in it doesn’t make sense, those decision are made. I don’t make the decision. But I’m part of the process.
What, in your view, is the biggest challenge the town faces in terms of school facilities?
We have got to come up with a plan that’s acceptable to the public, but we also have to balance the educational needs of the district. Some of those needs include racial balancing, keeping schools as close to their neighborhoods as we can, deciding if we want to have one middle school or two middle schools, and educationally, I feel very strongly that a single middle school is the right answer for Groton. And not just educationally, economically it makes a lot of sense, too. Those are the tough decisions and they are all intertwined.
What’s your advice to the next facilities director?
Become familiar with all the issues in Groton as quickly as possible. And there will be overlap time, and I’m going to share that with that person what I’ve learned over the years.
You have got to keep a positive attitude and focus on the educational needs of Gorton. The job here is to be an advocate for education. Sometimes our positions are contrary to how much money people think we can spend, but we have to focus on what is required to carry out the educational mission.
What will you miss?
I’ll miss working with the education community. I really, really will, especially the principals and the central office. They’re a great bunch of people focused on education and we work very closely together to accomplish those goals on a daily basis.