Small crowd comments on what next school superintendent should be like
Published 7:06 am, Wednesday, September 2, 2015
A Tuesday forum on the school district’s search for a new superintendent of schools — typically, the highest-paid official on the public payroll — drew a crowd of about a dozen people.
The forum at Saugatuck Elementary School, led by two associates from Hazard, Young and Attea & Associates, Ltd, the executive search firm hired by the Board of Education, was an opportunity for the public to weigh in on qualities they would like to see in a successor to Superintendent Elliott Landon.
Landon will retire June 30 after 17 years at the helm of the town’s public schools.
John Chambers, senior associate with Hazard, Young and Attea, told the gathering the attending the intent was to listen to comments and input to help determine what qualities and characteristics the community hopes will be embodied by the new superintendent.
“Right now, we are in the information-gathering stage,” he said, adding the consultants would like to present a superintendent profile to the Board of Education on Oct. 5. Another community forum is scheduled Sept. 10, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., in the Town Hall auditorium.
He said the search group has already met with some town and PTA officials, and held a meeting earlier in the day with teachers.
The goal is to “identify themes — what we hear consistently from all the groups,” said Chambers, a former superintendent of the Bronxville and Byram Hills (Armonk) school districts in New York.
Among suggestions Tuesday were that the new superintendent be digital savvy and that he or she have a vision that encompasses the entire district, including elementary schools and not just Staples High School. One parent said she felt there was more focus on high school students, including “who will go to Harvard from Staples.”
The new superintendent should also be “super visible” in the classrooms and able to reach out to other parts of the community, including those residents without children. The issue of having a multi-cultural curriculum was also mentioned.
Former school board member Steve Halstead had a list of his own. He said the new superintendent should have educational leadership; be customer-centric; know how to empower and enable people, and have a lot of energy and resilience.
That person will also be responsible for the effectiveness and efficiency of the entire school district, he said.
This, Halstead noted, includes overseeing a budget “of $100 million plus as well as more than 1,000 employees and a number of different unions.”
“You blow one of those and you’re in trouble,” Halstead said.
One parent asked if the consultants could find out why some school administrators have left the district to take jobs in other communities. “That’s not ordinarily done,” said Chambers. But he said they would note that there is interest in that topic.
Chambers was asked how many applicants they expect to get for the job, and he said “several dozen.”
From that number, he added, the consultants hope to put “before the board about a half dozen qualified candidates.”
“This is a plum job,” said Deborah Raizes, HYA associate and former chairwoman of the Scarsdale, N.Y., Board of Education, who has 18 years of experience with superintendent searches. She said the search group will be looking for someone “to take a great district and make it better.”
She added they will be seeking top candidates, adding the Board of Education “will not settle” in hiring a new superintendent.
“This is frankly a very attractive job,” added Chambers.
He said that although advertising for the position will be used, “it is our experience shows that high-performing school district superintendents don’t come from advertising,” but are usually recruited.
He said the group would like to complete the search in early 2016.
HYA is the executive search division of ECRA (Education/Consulting/Research/Analytics) Group Inc., which has a Northeast regional office in Jersey City, N.J. The firm is being paid $22,500 for the search.
Landon announced his retirement in early May. Later that month, the Board of Education granted a final 2.63 percent raise for Landon, boosting his annual salary from $293,000 to $300,641, the highest compensation paid to a superintendent in the state.
The community survey for the superintendent search can be found at www.ecrasurvey.com/westport or can be linked to from the Westport public schools’ website, www.westport.k12.ct.us . The online survey will remain open until Sept. 18.