“Constantly Moving Forward:” A Celebration of Franziska Goodman 


Julien Amsellem, Managing Editor

Nestled in the back of the Central Office, in the room next to the superintendent’s, Mrs. Franziska “Fi” Goodman is primarily an administrative assistant for the superintendent. Yet despite her key role, she remains unknown to many of the students in the Hastings School District.  

Gregarious and constantly wearing a smile or giving a wave, Goodman, among other things, is well known for her impeccable fashion sense, and her stylish footwear often betrays her presence well before you see her. “I believe in dressing for the job you want, not for the job you have,” she proudly said.

Approaching the celebration of her 20th anniversary working for the district, Goodman says she’s “been very happy here” and is looking forward to the coming years. As Goodman moves into the beginning of her third decade in Hastings, she decided to reflect on her time with the school, an exciting journey that has seen 10 superintendents along the way and many highlights. 

On the Move: From Munich to Westchester 

Goodman’s life began in Munich, Germany, and she came to the United States as an immigrant when she was a toddler. Her parents moved to Endicott, a small suburb in Western New York’s Broome County. As she grew up, she moved in a southwesterly direction, eventually landing in Lake Peekskill and then Peekskill. She attended public school there as a teenager, but although she prepared for college, she said it was “not in her cards.” “Being from [that] generation, especially [as an] immigrant, girls did not go to college,” she expressed. Yet Goodman had a zeal to learn and wanted to extend her education, so she proposed an idea to her father: “How about secretarial school?” Contrary to typical college, secretarial school would teach her  “executive secretarial skills, shorthand, typing, organizational, [and] business” purely for the purpose of a job, and her father agreed. 

She went to Berkeley College in White Plains and “It landed me a job very quickly because I excelled through the program. The two year program—I finished in nine months.” While her first job was in real estate, she said, “Someone actually recognized my organizational skills and suggested that I would do well in corporate America.” She took her chance and succeeded, staying in corporate America’s legal arena for 20 years while working for general counsels and executive vice presidents. In these positions, she saw the importance of picking up new knowledge and she “realized that to be elevated to other positions, you needed to have education.” To work around her familial restrictions, Goodman “worked during the day and went to college during the night,” eventually graduating from Pace University. Throughout her life, this passion to learn has remained with her, and she said many of her employers have noted that “I liked to dabble in different things and that I had an interest to learn.” 

Shocks and Successes: Working the Job

After taking time away from her corporate career to raise her daughter, Emily, Goodman, calling herself “a very proud parent,” wanted to re-enter the workforce and find a new position. There was a job opportunity in the Hastings District for a secretarial position and she chose to apply. Goodman met with Anne Brennan, “the Director of Pupil Personnel Services at the time,” and although she thought the interview went well, she did not really think of the interview as anything more than a test run. This “was my practice interview,” she chuckled. “Let’s reflect. How did I respond, how can I do better, what can I improve on.” 

Yet much to her surprise, “By the time [she] got home, there was a [message] on my answering machine that said ‘We’d love to have you start. When can you start?’” 

“I was shocked,” she grinned, happily adding, “Needless to say, I’ve been here ever since.”

Goodman’s job is a very particular oneIt resembles the job of an administrative assistant but includes many nuances that have worked well with her specialized skill set. “I’m actually here for the superintendent. I’m not in a bargaining unit. I’m what you call an unrepresented employee,” she explained. Officially, her job title is the Confidential Secretary to the Superintendent.

Her work for the superintendent includes scheduling, talking to community members, setting up meetings, creating the school calendar, and forming agendas. “I do a lot of calendar work,” she said, constantly reminding, refocusing, and keeping things on track. Goodman also offers advice to superintendents based on what has happened in the past, and they welcome her guidance, considering her extensive experience within the district. Each time she works for a new superintendent, Goodman loves to create an “entry plan,” a specialty of hers. “That entry plan is something I developed over time, where I have a new superintendent or an interim meet with different stakeholder groups: faith leaders being one, village government being another, PTSA leadership, SEPTA leaderships.” 

Her job has also shifted with the times, with new developments in technology and educational practices and regulations, meaning Goodman has had to be adaptable and flexible. When she began, everything was “pen and paper,” forcing her to complete tedious tasks by hand, and often twice. “There were two calendars: one on my desk and one on [the superintendent’s] desk. And I didn’t leave until the end of the day, until both those things were in sync, because things changed hour-to-hour.” 

An Unparalleled Experience 

 Goodman’s time in Hastings has led to her working for many superintendents. While she acknowledges the frequent change that has occurred, she explained that it is less dramatic than it appears. 

“I know there’s been quite a revolving door, but there have been some moments of stability.” 

She recounted each of the superintendents she worked under since she was hired and had only positive thoughts and compliments for each of them. In 2002, her first year in Hastings, Goodman’s superintendent was Dr. John Russell, who remained for five years. He was followed by Robert Schaps, from Massachusetts, but as there was delay in his start date, former HHS principal Tom Fazio stepped in as interim. Four years later, Dr. Schaps changed districts and was replaced by Timothy Connors, a two-year interim from White Plains. Dr. Connors helped search for another superintendent, and Dr. Roy Montesano took over, remaining for five years. Here, Goodman interjected to emphasize her earlier point: “So, believe it or not, there was some stability there, right? We had 5 [years], 4, and another 5, so we’re looking pretty good.” In 2017, Dr. Tony Sinanis took the position but only lasted a year, and was replaced by Dr. Charles Wilson, a one-year interim from Pelham. Most recently, Dr. Valerie Henning-Piedmonte, Goodman’s first female superintendent, held the position for two years and was succeeded by Dr. William McKersie, who currently has the job. Due to lag time between McKersie’s appointment and arrival, Mrs. Melissa Szymanski, the assistant superintendent of curriculum, filled the position over last summer. 

Slightly winded from her listing, Goodman concluded by saying, “So when you start doing the count, you can see there are a lot of different personalities.”

Regarding whether she had a favorite superintendent through her career, she responded diplomatically: “No parent will say they have a favorite of any of their children, so I’m going to go along that path.” With a nod to her flare for learning, she added, “With each, they had their own leadership style. And for me, as their secretary/assistant, it was welcoming for me to learn the style.” 

Despite the new challenges that came with each superintendent, Goodman always had the support she needed to get the job done. “They had enough confidence in me to believe that I could do certain tasks or certain projects.” This has marked Goodman’s career with many “aha” moments: she has often found herself saying, “Hey look at me go, I can do this!” The mutually supportive relationship that Goodman experienced with all her superintendents has caused her to maintain contact with eight of her ten former bosses. “What am I looking at? 80%? That’s not a bad percentage,” she exclaimed, adding how privileged she feels for these bonds. 

Resilient, Adaptable, Optimistic

With a career as enjoyable and long-lived as Goodman’s, the fact that she finds it dotted with highlights should not come as a surprise. Amazingly, one of the pinnacles for Goodman during her time in Hastings came at the start of her time here, nearly two decades ago. Dr. Russell had begun a strategic plan for the Hastings district along with consultant Richard Mandel, and Goodman offered to help. In describing a strategic plan, she explained, “What do we see ourselves doing three years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now? What are our goals during certain benchmarks, and how do we achieve those goals? How will they benefit our students, how will they benefit our stakeholders?” This plan was a multi-faceted approach to determining the trajectory of the school, with certain objectives, or “tangible deliverables,” to be fulfilled. “It was very extensive; it was a lot of work involved,” she said. “There was forming committees, and doing round table discussions, and finding out what the community wants.” Yet the experience was “exciting and new” and she seized the moment, leading to a plan that was eventually adopted by the District. “I really liked the fact we saw it to completion.” 

Another high point for Goodman was “being involved in a lot of searches,” mainly for superintendents. When looking for Dr. Schaps, she worked with Charles Faler, who belonged to a search firm called “School Leadership.” “And he came to our district and he enlisted my help to send things out to the community. I would start using my creative juices and put things together like letterhead questions, and formats, and binders. And he liked it so much he actually incorporated it into his business,” she remarked happily. Goodman saw this as an exemplary compliment to her organizational skills. 

In addition to the peaks of her career in Hastings, Goodman has also seen her fair share of difficulties, primarily the pandemic. “In particular, of late, this pandemic, and the stress,” she said, “the stresses are not what we can just touch, feel, and see—there are other stresses involved, the emotional side.” 

More generally, she said, “I think the field of education is very difficult today. I think it’s getting more and more challenging as the years go by, but I don’t think it’s something we can’t overcome and can’t move forward from.” Triumphant over all else, Goodman’s sense of positivity towards life is what powers her, and she emphatically believes in looking towards the future, or “constantly moving forward.” 

“One of things I feel very strongly about is always moving forward, always,” she stated boldly. “It’s always good to look back and reflect, but I always like moving forward, as long as we learn from looking back and reflecting and using whatever we glean from that to move forward. But that is who I am. I like to move forward.” 

No matter the topic, Goodman’s positivity shines through. When considering the superintendent replacement rate, Goodman optimistically said, “And I’ve seen a lot of turnover, but I think we learn from that turnover, sincerely. We constantly learn, thankfully.” 

Always Learning, Always Thankful 

In looking back over the entirety of her work in the Hastings district, Goodman expressed the love she has for her job and the serendipity of life experiences that prepared her for it. In relation to her young love for learning, she said, “I really think this boded well for me as far as being able to handle different personalities, different leadership styles, and different environments.” 

With all this variation, Goodman stressed the importance of some consistency, and she sees herself embodying some of that stability. “You always need to have some consistency. I think what has been consistent has been my organizational skills, my communication skills, and my passion, especially in this organization, the Hastings school district.”

In addition to consistency, Goodman also values the various communities that support the school and help her shine in her position. “To understand that my clients are the residents of this community who pay my salary because they approve the tax increases, so that supports the schools, right? Not only programs and the materials that we may have, but also the personnel staff and staffing that is required to provide resources to our students. So I get very emotional about that because I really do feel very fortunate in that regard. But having said that, I want to add that I am also fortunate because the other faculty and staff members of this entire school district make me feel good. Without them, without their convenience to help me if I have a question to ask, to stop and teach me something if I don’t know, to guide me if I’m asking the wrong questions, they make me look good because I’m able to succeed in what I do in supporting a superintendent.” In layman’s terms, she reiterated this idea: “No one’s an island. We all have to work together, and I feel very fortunate about that.” 

While reflecting, Goodman ended by underlining one of her core beliefs: that she sees herself as an ambassador to people. “We’re public servants. I take that to heart,” she said, very animated. She constantly strives to be helpful and added, “I get excited when I’m able to lead [students and parents].” Goodman sees her place as a public servant today as a result of her experiences as a child. Her father was a baker and, as a sugar lover, Goodman was always eating his goods. Eventually, her father told her, “You’re eating my profits, Fifi. I want you out in the front. I want you with the public.” Although nerve-wracking at first, Goodman soon embraced this role and it instilled her with a love to help others. “I believe that was the platform that helped launch me into public service,” she said while reminiscing. 

These childhood lessons carried over into her professional career and caused one of the most resonant moments in Goodman’s life. “I remember when I came to interview with Dr. Russell and he offered me the job and I, quite frankly, was shocked,” she said. “But what Dr. Russell said to me has stuck with me all these years, and it goes something like this: ‘Fi, what you don’t know about education, I can teach you, and others can teach you, because those are teachable things. But what you have is innate, and what’s innate you can’t teach.’ I took this as the highest compliment I’ve ever been given.” To this day, Goodman still cannot name that exact innate quality Dr. Russel mentioned, but she knows it has been of great import to her success. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the approachability factor. But whatever that innate quality is that Dr. Russell saw in me works for what I do with public service today.”

Today, Goodman still inhabits her office in the Central Office, surrounded by old and new faces alike. While one is likely to see Goodman around her office, an encounter is entirely up to chance and mostly unpredictable. However there are few things that are certain: this sharply dressed woman’s heels will be clicking away and she will be “constantly moving forward.”