Having Our Say

Posted on 21 November 2012

The Sag Harbor School District is in the midst of a search for a new superintendent. And we trust this time it will be done differently than last time.

In case you don’t remember, back in 2008 when the district hired Dr. John Gratto as its new superintendent, it did so with virtually no input from the public. One day he wasn’t the superintendent, next day he was — the deal was sealed before the community was given a chance to meet him. By the time the board introduced him publicly, the ink on his contract had already dried.

Not that the community really gets to have the final say on such matters. That decision belongs to the board. But we feel strongly allowing public input into major hiring decisions can go a long way toward building consensus and at the end of the day, most everyone can feel they had input into the decision to select the right man (or woman) for the job (even their man or woman wasn’t ultimately chosen).

Setting aside your personal opinions on whether you think Dr. Gratto was a good administrator or not during his time here, one fact remains. Because he was hired under a veil of secrecy, he faced a certain amount of resistance among some factions. That meant he had un uphill battle to wage against preconceived notions before even stepping foot in his office on his first day on the job.

And that wasn’t fair — either to Dr. Gratto or the community.

Public input into superintendent searches isn’t unheard of in this district. Before Kathryn Holden, Dr. Gratto’s predecessor, was hired, there was an opportunity for residents to “meet the candidates” prior to the board’s final selection — and that’s plural — it was not just Holden, but the other finalists who were introduced to the community.

And though the school board made the decision in the end, when Kathryn Holden did take the helm of this district as superintendent, there was a collective sense of ownership (if that’s the appropriate word). She was not the board’s superintendent, but rather our superintendent. We had chosen her as a community, come what may.

Now we’re in a situation where we again need a new superintendent. Next week, the district is giving the public a chance to meet the representatives from School Leadership, LLC, the consulting firm overseeing the search, so residents can offer their opinion on what qualities are important in choosing a new superintendent.

It’s a nice first step.

But it is a first step, and we hope not the only step the district will offer the public in the process of making this important decision.

With that in mind, we encourage the school board to make this process transparent — certainly more transparent than it was last time around. For the community to really feel it has a stake in this decision, we would strongly suggest that once School Leadership has narrowed its field of potential superintendent candidates to say three or so, residents be given an opportunity to meet those candidates face to face — learn what they stand for, fill them in about their expectations and weigh in on what they consider to be the most important matters to parents. We know that some candidates may not be eager to do this, especially if they haven’t informed their current districts of their job search — but feel its vital from our point of view.

It’s true that in the end, the Sag Harbor School Board is an elected body which represents us in many decisions that affect the students, teachers, parents and taxpayers in the district. They do have the final say. But when it comes to the filling of an important leadership position like that of superintendent the community’s voice must be heard during the process – and we’re not just talking about a meeting with the consultants, but rather a face to face with the top candidates themselves.

As a side note, we would also encourage the board (and by extension, School Leadership) to seek out superintendent candidates who are truly interested in committing themselves to this district for a decent amount of time. We’re a bit tired of administrators who come here for just three or four years before moving on or out. It would be nice to have a superintendent on our side who is interested in more than just riding out the last few years of their career on the East End and we advocate strongly for candidates who are interested in making a long term commitment to Sag Harbor, its students and residents.

We deserve nothing less.

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