By Tom Dinki

The Allegany-Limestone Central School District Board of Education has offered an interim superintendent position to Mark Ward.

The board agreed to offer the role to Ward, a former superintendent of Ellicottville, Olean and Salamanca school districts, during an executive session Oct. 10. Ward, who retired as Ellicottville superintendent in June, accepted the offer Oct. 11.

“Mark is a very experienced superintendent,” said Dr. Joe Zimmer, board president. “He was recently a superintendent as of June, so he knows all of the current state regulations, and we believe he has the talent and skills to manage the school district as we search for our permanent superintendent.”

Zimmer noted that the board will vote on a resolution at the Oct. 10 regular meeting to officially appoint Ward, who has yet to sign a contract.

Allegany-Limestone Superintendent Dr. Karen Geelan announced in August that she has accepted the superintendent post at the Valhalla Union Free School District, and will depart Oct. 31. Ward is set to take over Nov. 1.

Ward, 64, figured he would serve an interim role at some point during retirement, and while he said he didn’t necessarily expect it to happen so soon, the opening at Allegany-Limestone intrigued him.

“I’d like to think my experience having been a superintendent in three different districts and 42 years in education helps along the line obviously, and what they were looking for is maybe what I could provide,” he said. “Having been in the business a long time, there’s not many things you don’t deal with.”

The board only expects Ward to serve about four to six months, as it hopes to have a permanent superintendent start by March or April. Advertisements on the opening will go out in the next few days, and the application process will close by the end of November, said Zimmer, adding that the board hopes to conduct finalist interviews in early January.

“It’s a relief for us to know we have a very experienced superintendent that has agreed to take over the position while we search for a permanent,” he said.

The board’s search consultant, Western New York Education Services Council, conducted focus groups last month with district administrators, teachers, parents and students to receive input on the type of candidate they’re looking for. Zimmer said the board reviewed that feedback Oct 10.

“They’re looking for someone who is focused on student achievement, someone who is a good communicator, someone who engages with the community,” he said.

He said the board feels the district was on a good trajectory with Geelan, and is looking for its next superintendent to continue the initiatives that have already been started, including the district’s upcoming $17 million capital project.

“That’s obviously going to be a big part of the next three to five years,” Zimmer said. “So we need to have someone who is going to continue those projects and continue to develop academic excellence in the school, continue hiring quality teachers and administrators, and keep the good reputation of the school district as one of the best in Cattaraugus County.”

Ward noted that making sure the capital project stays on course is one of his main objectives, something he’s had experience doing at his three previous districts. However, he added his role isn’t necessarily to change or vastly improve the district — just “steady the ship.”

“I’m not the change agent. I’m not there to do that,” he said. “I’m there to pave the way for the next superintendent so that he or she can pick up and just move the district forward in the positive direction that it’s currently in.”

(Tom Dinki is an Olean Times Herald reporter. He can be contacted at