Leadership, educational philosophy the focus of Westport superintendent forum

WESTPORT — Leadership skills, an aptitude for working with children, and transparency were some of the qualities highlighted for an incoming superintendent at a community forum on Monday.

The discussion at Staples High School, led by Joseph Erardi of JE Consulting, was an opportunity for the public to give feedback on characteristics they’d like to see in a potential successor to interim Superintendent David Abbey.

“One of the remarks that I share at every school board meeting that I attend when I speak is that the hiring committee should never ever settle,” Erardi said. “If everybody is not all in, do it again.”

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Around a dozen people gathered to voice their thoughts. Newly elected Board of Education members Youn Su Chao and Lee Goldstein were also in attendance as representatives of the school board. Currently, the superintendent hiring committee is the BOE, who will have final say on the choice.

Erardi noted the hiring of a superintendent could be the most important decision BOE members do in their tenure.

“When superintendent and community, superintendent and school board, superintendent and staff work, the whole community feels better,” he said.

Advertisement for the position is scheduled to take place from Jan. 5 to Feb. 21, with the first round of interviews planned for late February.

Among the qualities people wanted in a new superintendent was whether a person was not only good with their staff, but also great with kids. Community members also supported a superintendent that focused on social and emotional learning.

Westport resident Robert Selverstone said an educational philosophy based on social and emotional learning was key in any future candidate.

“All of the data we’ve had over the past century about social, emotional learning says when we pay attention to it students learn faster, they learn their cognitive subjects better, they have happier lives and they live longer,” Selverstone said. “I want a superintendent who comes in committed to integrating social, emotional learning with a cognitive curriculum.”

He added superintendents in the past have talked about implementing this form of curriculum, but did not follow through or invest in it.

“That, to me, is critical,” Selverstone said.

Staples High School PTA Co-President Netta Levy said it was important to look for a candidate who is forward looking and can push the district to new heights.

“I would argue so much stuff has happened in the last couple of years that we’ve been standing still in place,” she said. “It’s really important to get someone in here who’s going to push us, maybe beyond our comfort, but that’s where we need to go.”

As the forum continued, questions arose about the qualifications typically needed for the position, how wide the search spanned, and alternatives if no candidate was found within the proposed timeline.

Erardi said the search is not solely about the best resume received, but the right person for Westport public schools.

“I don’t in any way anticipate coming up empty,” Erardi said.

The next forum for community input will take place at the Staples High School library on Dec. 10 at 7 p.m.