Committee recommends Winsted’s Gilbert School hire headmaster, not superintendent
WINSTED — When Superintendent Anthony Serio and Principal Sue Sojka retire from the Gilbert School in 2021, a change in the school’s leadership will likely begin.
The Gilbert School Corp. board is pursuing the idea of hiring a headmaster, whose sole responsibility would be overseeing the students in grades 7-12.
Earlier this year, the Gilbert board authorized an ad hoc committee to study the merits of having a shared superintendent — Serio’s position — or a headmaster. The committee sent the board its completed report this month, and members discussed it this week during a regular meeting.
The committee, made up of community members, a student representative and school administrators, recommended that Gilbert hire a headmaster for the 2021-22 school year.
Sojka explained that because she and Serio are leaving at the same time, the school corporation decided to establish the ad hoc committee to review their positions and look at other options. Sojka is principal for grades 7-12, while Serio is a half-time superintendent for the Gilbert School. Among his other duties, such as working with the school boards at Gilbert and Winchester Public Schools, he is also a half-time head of school for Gilbert’s international student program.
“When Tony and I leave at the end of next year, the ad hoc committee is recommending (Gilbert hires) a headmaster, instead of hiring a principal and filling the half-superintendent position,” Sojka said.
If the Gilbert board were to hire a headmaster, the Gilbert Trust would choose its own replacement to oversee the international program. “The trust will have to hire its own person to oversee areas of the trust, including the international program,” Serio said.
Serio sees having a headmaster lead the Gilbert School as a positive step.
“I think it’s great that there will be a separation from the trust and the school,” he said. “Now, the trust will have a person, and the school will have its own person. We’re not going to hire a new superintendent.”
The ad hoc committee, as part of its study on hiring options, investigated the sharing of a superintendent Region 6 and the Litchfield Public Schools do, and arrangement that has been in place for more than a year with Chris Leone.
During this week’s meeting, the Gilbert board discussed that portion of the committee’s report.
“Regarding the (ad hoc committee’s) conversation with Chris Leone about the success of the merger of Region 6 and Litchfield, it’s generally felt that it’s worked out very well,”Serio said. “That’s a specific situation and shows that a shared model could work. But the ad hoc committee didn’t think it would work for Gilbert; that the headmaster model is what’s preferred at this time.”
The ad hoc committee also advised instituting the headmaster position while evaluating other administrative jobs at Gilbert, including the director of student services, special education and guidance, and the assistant principal positions.
Board members Nora Mocarski and Kristin Petersen, who are also members of the Winchester school board, asked about teacher evaluations and discussing expanding Winchester Superintendent of Schools Melony Brady-Shanley’s role.
During budget discussions and contract negotiations in April and May, the WPS school board indicated that they wanted Brady-Shanley to be superintendent of the Gilbert School as well as Winchester Public Schools. That was not considered in the ad hoc committee’s report.
What was considered was the opinions of students, members of the staff and the Gilbert community.
“Based on meetings with the Administrative Team, the Gilbert Education Association (of parents), students and the International Team, the overwhelming consensus was to pursue the hiring of a Headmaster for the 2021-22 school year ... It was also recommended that the two Associate Principal positions and the Director of Student Services position not change until the Headmaster was hired,” the committee wrote.
“The committee felt it was important to have input from the Headmaster before changing those positions.”
Student Evan Blass, who will be a senior in September and participated in the ad hoc committee’s study, said the students he surveyed agreed.
“(They) felt deeply that it was imperative to have one person in the school that was just dedicated to Gilbert School, and had the best interests of the school in mind,” Blass said. “I absolutely did try my best to get a wide variety of voices .. (and) different grade levels. Their voices should be heard.”
The next step for the Gilbert School board is to come up with a job description, which will be handled by the board’s personnel subcommittee.
As far as the WPS school board’s desire to keep a superintendent's position at Gilbert, and considering Brady-Shanley is concerned, Serio said Gilbert and WPS have not discussed it again.
“The original proposal at the start of the year was that Melony be the superintendent for both schools, but we said we were going to do this ad hoc study,” Serio said. “That’s separate from (contract) negotiations.
“At this point, it’s just a matter of going back and seeing if they’ll sit down and negotiate, and come up with a contract for the Gilbert School and the WPS Board of Education to educate their students on the secondary level,” Serio said.