WESTPORT — The search is on to find a permanent superintendent for Westport’s school district.

The Board of Education has hired JE Consulting to spearhead the search along with input from the community. The firm also helped the district find a new principal for Staples High School earlier this year.

“One of the most important things in any search is almost in a backward design, knowing that Dr. Abbey will be here during the course of the 2020 school year,” Joseph of Erardi, of JE Consulting, said at a BOE meeting on Monday. “Making sure that the appointment will be well in advance to create a transition that works for students and for the community.”

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The search will include local, regional and national candidates, and Erardi will be attending the School Superintendents Association’s national conference for recruitment. The conference attracts nearly 4,000 superintendents, Erardi said.

Advertisement for the position is proposed to take place from Jan. 5 to Feb. 21. During this time, Erardi said it’s important any voice that wants to be a part of the conversation is heard.

To this end, the school board and Erardi will host two meetings — Nov. 25 and Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. in the Staples High School library — for faculty and community members to give their input.

“During that time, I will ascertain all the information and bring it back to the school board on Feb. 24,” Erardi said, adding he would present at a public meeting the qualifications the community is looking for in a new superintendent.

Following that meeting, the the first round of interviews with six to eight candidates will take place in late February or early March. A second round of interviews will take place around March 9.

“This puts you in a terrific position to name your new school superintendent by mid-March,” Erardi said. “We saw that as a great opportunity for that new school leader to at least be a part of the audience as you move through your budget season and as you move through your end of the school year activities.”

He noted though JE Consulting has yet to officially launch the search, the attention has already been robust.

“I stand here this evening incredibly confident that at some point mid-March the hiring committee, which is the Westport Board of Education, will be excited about your new school leader,” Erardi said.

Topics such as school board and central office relationships, climate and culture of the district, and confidentiality are all items applicants could inquire about.

Erardi’s role also includes ensuring all recommended candidates are vetted in their personal and professional background.

“If you don’t believe you have the right person, we do it all over again,” Erardi said. “That’s how critical this position is, I believe, for the public schools and for the community.”

Board members noted they and other town bodies would be heavily involved in the process. BOE Vice Chair Jeannie Smith, who served on the high school principal search committee, said she was impressed with JE Consulting’s past work.

“I’m grateful that you’re back and we get to work with you again,” she said.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com