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Ridgefield Assistant Superintendent of Schools Kimberly Beck is mentoring with Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, this school year through the University of Connecticut’s Executive Leadership Program.
She is one of two aspiring superintendents currently mentoring with Dr Erardi. Newtown High School Principal Lorrie Rodrigue is also mentoring with Dr Erardi through a program at Central Connecticut State University. A look at Dr Rodrigue’s experience will run in a future edition of The Newtown Bee.
Ms Beck is working toward her superintendent certification. The program began in July with a course that looked at the aspirations the course members have. Then members of the program were matched up for internships.
“They get to know you through the course in July, then they match you up with somebody; potentially that works out from a geographic standpoint and with what your interests are,” said Ms Beck.
As much as possible, Ms Beck said mentors and mentees are also matched up based on personality.
“I feel like I won the lottery,” she said on one of her days in Newtown recently. “[Dr Erardi] has experiences in other towns as a superintendent. It gives me a comprehensive look.”
Dr Erardi, Ms Beck said, has shown her that it is possible to be an instructional leader while caring about kids and “the bottom line.”
“He leads with an extraordinary sense of purpose, but in such a humane way. Those are the intangibles that I am learning,” said Ms Beck.
Ms Beck is in her fourth year as assistant superintendent in Ridgefield, and because of that, she said she is familiar with the job of a superintendent.
“But it is the way in which he does it,” said Ms Beck. “I credit UConn for the match, but I credit him for being incredibly generous with how he has brought me into the learning.”
Ms Beck said she is included in scheduling and e-mails updating the Board of Education, among other things.
“He is generous in the time that he will spend. Whatever I can make work in my schedule he will make work in his schedule. I think that is a uniqueness about Dr Erardi,” said Ms Beck.
Ms Beck’s 120-hour internship lasts for the school year. She also takes courses throughout the year. She will be done with the program in July, and she expects her certification to be finalized before then.
For a long time, Ms Beck said she did not think she would want to be a superintendent.
“I am a teacher first. I love teaching and learning,” she said. “But I really truly love curriculum design. I love observing teachers and working with leaders, and trying to find the best way to bring kids to a place of understanding, not just around content but about themselves.”
Public education, Ms Beck said, is in need of improvement, and she wants to be part of that effort. Being a superintendent, she said, will help her transform public education.
After her internship is complete, she said she will begin a deliberate process of searching for a district that would be aligned with the types of educational achievements she would like to accomplish.
Ms Beck lives in Goshen with her family and commutes to Ridgefield. The time spent in Newtown has been worth every minute, she said, and she feels it has supported her work in Ridgefield.
Not Hero Worship
For the program, Ms Beck keeps a journal logging Newtown communications she is included on, providing analysis, and reflecting on what she would do if she was the superintendent. The program warns against going into “hero mode,” Ms Beck said, and it stresses that the mentors are human and make mistakes.
“Invariably, I can take what he does and apply it to me being a different person and leader, but I wouldn’t do it any differently. Every single time,” said Ms Beck. “It’s really funny. I do at times have to put myself back in check and say, this is not hero worship. It’s identifying what is being done masterfully.”
Ms Beck earned her undergraduate degree in elementary education at Framingham State University in Massachusetts. She earned her master degree in literacy at Central Connecticut State University and earned her mid-certification at the University of Bridgeport, she said. She has taught elementary school, middle school, and graduate school.
“I was in the classroom for about ten years before becoming an administrator,” said Ms Beck.
Dr Erardi has been an incredible mentor and guide, said Ms Beck, adding that the entire Newtown leadership team and central office staff have been welcoming and supportive of her.
“[They have] allowed me to see how truly special Newtown is,” she said, adding that it is a place where people care deeply about teaching, learning, children, and each other.
Dr Erardi said he has mentored a number of people through the program or others like it for years. The superintendent said he aims for his mentees to have authentic learning experiences.
Particularly this school year there is a “volley” with learning, Dr Erardi said. Ms Beck learns from her experience in Newtown, and Dr Erardi said he learns about the way Ridgefield conducts its business.
“It’s new learning on both sides of the table. It is clearly valuable time for me. I look forward to the opportunity each year,” said Dr Erardi.
For those seeking certification as superintendents, Dr Erardi said it can be a balancing act between a full-time professional career, course work, and internship hours. Ms Beck, he said, also has to balance her responsibilities in the high-performing school district of Ridgefield.
“I think you can really tell the substance of the person who is in the program, who aspires to be a superintendent, by how they balance personal, professional, and real work to the internship. In [Ms Beck’s] particular case it is nothing less than magical,” said Dr Erardi.
Ms Beck has also helped Dr Erardi this school year in solving a number of issues, he said.
“And in many cases she has provided information which has been invaluable for me to make decisions on how we are going to go about doing work,” said Dr Erardi, adding that his time with Ms Beck has been a “terrific partnership.”
A look at Dr Rodrigue’s internship with Dr Erardi will be in a future edition of The Newtown Bee.