EAST GREENWICH—Over 350 members of the community including school faculty, staff and local residents have either attended informative sessions, completed surveys or spoken to officials over phone and email as to what type of person they would like to see occupy the schools superintendent position following Victor Mercurio’s departure from the position earlier this month. In all, 14 separate meetings were held to assess residents’ concerns and a survey was made available online as part of the committee’s initiative to engage the community as stakeholders in local governance.
JE Consulting, headed by Dr. Joseph Erardi, was hired by the school committee to lead efforts to assemble a top-tier list of candidates for the superintendent position. Erardi addressed the school committee Tuesday to lay out the information gathered from the community-oriented initiative and what it means for the expectations of the next district superintendent.
“The common theme that I heard in nearly every meeting was about climate and culture,” Erardi said. “The new superintendent not only has to speak to climate and culture, but also needs to represent it. And representation, from what I’ve listened to, is about visibility and it was about accessibility.”
The community as a whole tended to prioritize a number of specific character traits that they would like to see in a superintendent, according to an executive summary circulated by Erardi. Among the top traits were enthusiasm, honesty, intelligence, listening skills and a strong moral compass. The community also agreed that the greatest measures of success in the school district were prepared students graduating from a PK-12 experience, the staff, the partnership between the community and the district and the existence of a safe and nurturing environment.
Further, the community members who expressed their concerns tended to believe that the town’s turbulent fiscal situation in recent years, and the problems associated with retaining staff and offering social emotional support to students, are the greatest challenges that the district faces. Meanwhile, the skills that community members desired to see brought to the table were the ability to enhance the culture of the district and empower others.
“Along with that, a number of folks weighed in on the hope that your new superintendent will be respectful in understanding the political framework and be respectful of the fiscal framework that has to take place in regards to creating programs for all children,” Erardi said. “Their hope and their expectation is that your new school superintendent is a lifelong learner, is someone who believes in professional development.”
Relatedly, town council member Caryn Corenthal announced during public comment that the town council would be inviting the state legislature to participate in a discussion of the upcoming legislative session on Jan. 27. The announcement is likely to encourage a greater cohesion between the partnership currently being fostered between the school committee and town council.
“We will be discussing school funding,” Corenthal said. “So, perhaps, somebody here might want to attend.”
In all, the school committee has thus far set the bar for the next superintendent high, and is likely to try and continue to serve the many demands that local residents have regarding the role of the schools in the district. Particularly after a recent demographic study found that many residents with children move to the town specifically for access to the schools.