Westport school board set to name new superintendent

The Board of Education at a meeting on Jan. 21, 2020 in Westport, Conn.

The Board of Education at a meeting on Jan. 21, 2020 in Westport, Conn.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

WESTPORT — A new face is poised to helm Westport Public Schools this fall.

On April 2, the Board of Education will vote on a permanent superintendent for the district, with much of the work to narrow down the list of candidates occurring prior to the spread of the coronavirus in town.

“Our second round of interviews, which was our last four finalists, was on March 8,” BOE Chair Candice Savin said, noting members were still taking health precautions. “We were hoping to do the announcement and have a celebration on the 16th of March, but given everything that’s happened we had to pause.”

The new schools chief will replace Interim Superintendent David Abbey, who took over after Colleen Palmer’s abrupt departure from the district last April.

While the BOE appeared thrilled to share positive news, Savin said members wanted to ensure the timing was appropriate due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The board used feedback from a community survey and input from other local dignitaries in making their decision. Joseph Erardi, of JE Consulting, then gathered information from residents to create a profile of a superintendent fit for the town.

At a BOE meeting on Feb. 25, Erardi said the feedback highlighted the need for long-term stability and an administrator that understood the schools’ climate and culture.

“In nearly every conversation I had — particularly with community forum — that moral compass was so important,” he said. “This community wants somebody they are going to be proud to call their new superintendent of schools.”

With Gov. Ned Lamont now signaling schools may be closed until the fall, the district will look to change heads in an anomalous time, but Savin assured virtual resources and collaborative efforts will help the process.

“Normally, we would have the new superintendent come to the district a number of times and spend time with us prior to the start date, and we’re hopeful we’ll be able to do that later in the spring,” she said. “But we, of course, have to be flexible in terms of gatherings and see how things will work out.”

She expressed confidence that Abbey would create a smooth transition for his successor, in addition to the school board developing an entry plan.

“I think we’re a little bit in uncharted territories, but I am very confident that this new superintendent is going to be able to take on the situation and lead very effectively,” Savin said. “They’re very experienced, very smart and very dedicated. I think it’s going to be successful even given the circumstances, and we the board are here to support that however we can.”