Long-term stability sought in new Westport superintendent
WESTPORT — A savvy administrator who can empower others and plans to stick around — that’s what residents want to see in a new schools chief, according to responses recently collected by a consulting firm.
“I really enjoyed putting the data together because there’s so much pride in the Westport community,” said Joseph Erardi, of JE Consulting, while presenting the information at a Board of Education meeting Monday. “On top of that in this community, particularly the parent community, there’s a very deep belief that if their child or children attended Westport public schools, they’re ready. It could be higher ed, it could be the military, it could be the work world, but they are ready.”
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A pool of 29 candidates look to fill the top school administrator spot in the district, currently helmed by Interim Superintendent David Abbey, who took up the mantle in May after Colleen Palmer abruptly left the district due to medical reasons.
Community conversations, surveys and personal phone calls by Erardi helped outline what parents and residents want to see in a new superintendent. An emphasis was placed on an administrator that understood the schools climate and culture alongside an ability to successfully communicate with others.
“In nearly every conversation I had — particularly with community forum — that moral compass was so important,” Erardi said. “This community wants somebody they are going to be proud to call their new superintendent of schools.”
Of the applications received as of Friday, 18 were from current superintendents, with six of the remaining 11 having prior experience in the role. Erardi noted both men and women have applied from as many as 11 different states.
Importance was also placed on long-term stability for the role — Palmer was superintendent for three years, replacing Elliot Landon who held the role for 17 years.
“This community wants somebody who is going to stay,” Erardi said. “They are looking for longevity and they are asking you to find a way to ensure that.”
Faculty and staff also want a schools chief who will be visible and the community and in classrooms.
“They don’t want somebody sitting at central office,” Erardi said. “They want somebody that’s going to be in buildings. They want somebody that knows kids.”
An administrator that can listen and display “quiet confidence” was highlighted, as well as a person who is open to collaboration.
“I believe the superintendent needs to know there are parents that truly want to hold hands and work with them,” Erardi said.
Following the short presentation, the BOE held a closed-door search committee meeting to begin reviewing resumes of applicants prepared by Erardi.
“We are really excited to see what you’ll have to show us later,” BOE Chair Candice Savin said.
The school board plans to announce a new superintendent in March.