CABE Report Highlights Community Preferences For A Superintendent

Representatives of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) Search Services presented a “Superintendent Leadership Profile Report” to the Board of Education, Tuesday, November 19.

The report highlights findings from more than 20 focus group meetings and interviews held between September 20 and November 7, according to the report, and reflect “key characteristics and qualities desired in the new superintendent” shared by participants.

Jacqueline Jacoby and Mary Broderick attended the meeting, while fellow CABE Search Services team member George Goens was unavailable to attend.

“The profile will be used to review applicants’ information,” said Dr Jacoby. “To look to see how the skills that the community of Newtown desires in the next superintendent and how that individual’s experience and skills align to help us process and decide who should be interviewed.”

Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed took over the role of the superintendent in May, following the resignation of Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson. The school board began looking for a permanent superintendent in March.

Dr Jacoby said the school board requested that CABE solicit feedback from as many stakeholders as possible. Along with the focus group meetings — which included school staff, central office staff, parents, clergy members, town staff, and town officials — Dr Jacoby said the CABE team also visited the senior center.

“In total about 575 people participated,” Dr Jacoby said, “and that is a pretty good-sized group from which we could gather a great deal of information for the profile.”

Results from a “Newtown Superintendent Search Survey,” which was available on the school district’s website from early September through October were also used. According to the report, 410 people responded to the online survey.

“The majority of surveys (69 percent) were completed by parents and community members,” the report reads, “(28 percent) completed by school staff including faculty, administrators and support staff, and the remainder completed by town officials, town staff, and students.”

Dr Jacoby said the findings are not “scientific,” but she said they provide insight into what qualities should be looked for in a permanent superintendent.

All of the responses, Dr Jacoby said, outlined three concepts: strengths, challenges, and qualities.

“We heard over and over again that significant strength of the Newtown public schools is found in its people,” Dr Jacoby said.

According to the report, other strengths listed were, “The comprehensiveness and quality of the educational program, as evidenced by progressive, rigorous, engaging curriculum along with a broad array of offerings including advanced placement courses and senior internships, was seen as strength, particularly when combined with a strong commitment to excellence. Newtown takes pride in the successful international outreach, music and art programs, the array of athletics and the many opportunities for students to explore their interests.”

With challenges, the report said three significant concerns were shared by the majority of participants.

“The first, repeated in different ways, was the concern about the financial challenges, both current and in the future for Newtown,” the report reads. “According to the respondents, Newtown schools must find ways to balance the economics of running the district with the need to not only maintain quality education but move forward with academic excellence.”

With regard to the future, concerns shared in the report include a “disconnect and what appears to be distrust about the education budget… Participants suggested that district leadership and the Board of Education need to work earlier and openly to share not only the needs of the system [but] also cost efficiencies to keep the budget at a reasonable level.”

Responders expressed desires for frequent communication and more strategic planning, according to the report.

“A third concern,” the report reads, “expressed frequently included the need to continue efforts to restore a sense of safety and security in both the schools and community with recognition that recovery efforts will require a long-term commitment.”

When reporting on what qualities responders want in a superintendent, Dr Broderick said people used words like strong, dynamic, sensitive, thoughtful, direct, and honest.

“Somebody who is knowledgeable and motivated,” Dr Broderick said. “Who is an experienced educator with proven leadership. Who speaks with honesty, and somebody who has an overwhelming desire to work with Newtown in this moment at this time. Someone who acknowledges the unique themes we have here right now.”

Responders also asked for a superintendent who is visible and accessible, according to Dr Broderick, and who will communicate with stakeholders often.

According to the report, “One participant said it best, ‘Newtown needs an exceptional individual who is an exceptional superintendent.”

Dr Jacoby commended the school board for including members of the community in the process of searching for a superintendent, and said the next step will be to begin interviews in conjunction with the school board of applicants.

Dr Reed said there is a reasonable chance a candidate fitting the qualities will be found from the roughly 30 applications for the position. Before that can happen, Dr Reed said a few things need to take place.

“I really think you need to look at a schedule of three to four evenings and get it resolved,” said Dr Reed, stressing the process should move along as quickly as possible. “…Because I think that is what you want to do when the search gets momentum. If you go too far into January, you will also begin to compete with districts that are beginning to come out early announcing vacancies of superintendents… Superintendents normally give a district almost six months notice.”

Dr Jacoby said the CABE representatives are paying close attention to the preliminary screening process for applicants.

BOE member David Freedman said he does not want the school board to rush through the process.

“We have to find the best person, the best candidate to fulfill the need of this district,” said Mr Freedman. “If we do it in a week, great. If we do it in six months, great. Whatever it takes, but at the same time I don’t want us to feel like we are being rushed just to get a body. Because we a need a person to be there, and somebody to guide us through the next century and beyond.”

Dr Jacoby said the process will be moved along as reasonably as possible.

“We’ve got a rich pool of candidates. That’s the most important thing,” said Dr Jacoby.

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