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A handful of non-board members attended the Board of Education’s community forum held at Newtown High School on October 18. The event was held as an interactive evening for community members to offer input on the qualities of the district’s future superintendent.
Board of Education Chair Keith Alexander noted the low turnout when he opened the evening. The attendance, he said, was “okay,” because an online survey is also available on the district’s website, newtown.k12.ct.us, by clicking Superintendent Search Survey.
Following the meeting, Board of Education Vice Chair Michelle Embree Ku said that the online survey had 254 responses as of October 19, and the average time people spent taking the survey was eight minutes.
Before members of the public shared input at the forum, Mr Alexander offered some information about the superintendent search. At the Board of Education’s meeting the night before, the board voted to hire a search consultant from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) for the superintendent search. The school district also used CABE for its last superintendent search.
After accepting the resignation of former Superintendent of Schools Dr Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, at its meeting on July 18, the Board of Education unanimously appointed NHS Principal Dr Lorrie Rodrigue to be the district’s interim superintendent. Dr Erardi started in the district in April of 2014. Former Superintendent of Schools Dr John Reed had been serving as interim superintendent before Dr Erardi came to the district.
“The idea is to find out what people are looking for. Obviously, people are looking for a great leader,” said Mr Alexander. He added later, “The idea is to try and get some depth on things that we think [of as] what’s special for Newtown, what does Newtown need that maybe the generic superintendent wouldn’t cover?”
While searching superintendent candidates, Mr Alexander said the board will use the public input to “kind of filter it through the community.”
Both Board of Education members and community members contributed as Mr Alexander and board member Rebekah Harriman-Stites filled out poster paper with responses. The group worked first on filling out the qualities a superintendent should have, before filling out the challenges that will face the next superintendent, and things the district does well.
Under qualities that should be looked for in a superintendent, the group asked for vision, “collaborative rather than patriarchal,” the ability to delegate, a proven history of respect, evidence of trust, integrity and character, empathy, accountability, student-first goals, business acumen, and more.
“This person has to stand up in front of the Board of Finance and the Legislative Council and defend this budget,” said Board of Education member John Vouros.
Board member Dan Cruson, Jr, added, “And build it correctly to begin with.”
Challenges the group listed that the superintendent will face included managing fluctuations in enrollment, managing special education services and budgets, regionalized services, addressing the need to manage the curriculum and culture, transportation, school start times, and budget planning, building, and advocacy,
When listing what the district does well, the group offered diversity of curriculum and opportunities, culture and climate, professional development and personal learning communities for educators, a willingness to try new ideas, engaging parents in the community in general, and a collaborative Board of Education, which was added by Ms Harriman-Stites.
As she was writing it, Mr Alexander explained the Board of Education does not have a combative relationship with its superintendents. That aspect, he said, is, “not a minor selling point” for prospective superintendents.
As the forum was coming to a close, community members Katie Burke and Chand Ahuja reflected that a number of the leadership qualities listed leaned toward hiring a candidate with experience.
“My concern is, especially because of the complexities of where we are,” said Mr Ahuja said, “I would not want this to be somebody’s first superintendent job.”