By Amanda Wyatt
The first phase of Sag Harbor’s search for a new superintendent kicked off this week, as the Sag Harbor Board of Education held six public forums for residents to weigh-in on the selection process.
On Tuesday, November 27 and Wednesday, November 28, representatives from School Leadership, LLC — the consulting firm overseeing the search — met with members of the community. Despite a considerable amount of public interest on the subject, on Tuesday some of the meetings were sparsely attended.
School Leadership, the company hired by the board of education to help them develop a set of criteria in order to hire a new superintendent, used the forums to define what qualities the Sag Harbor community hopes the new superintendent will have.
According to Drs. John Gangemi and Albert Inserra of School Leadership, they plan to meet with the board of education on Wednesday, December 12 to present a summary of their findings.
On December 19, the board of education will adopt specifications for the superintendent.
Sometime after January 1, advertisements will begin running both regionally and nationally for the position, according to School Leadership. School Leadership will interview approximately 20 candidates during February and March, and then expect to recommend five to eight people to the board of education for consideration.
“From that point on,” said Dr. Inserra, “it becomes the board’s responsibility and the board will do the [final] interviewing.”
He added that the board of education may consider other candidates not recommended by School Leadership, as well.
The board of education has said it hopes to make an appointment in April, and ideally, the new superintendent will begin working in July.
At Tuesday’s forums, Dr. Gangemi said that searching for a superintendent was no easy task. The position of superintendent itself, he said, was becoming an increasingly tough position.
“It’s really a hard job. The pressures on superintendents now are greater than they’ve ever been,” he told the audience.
Dr. Gangemi cited Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR), tight school budgets, and possible cuts in superintendent salaries as reasons for waning interest in the job. He added that in the past, School Leadership would receive anywhere between 100 and 200 resumes for an open superintendent position. But today, they “would be happy to receive 35 candidates.”
Still, Gangemi and Inserra pointed out that the Sag Harbor school district had many draws. Sag Harbor’s locale and quality of life was a plus, they said.
Furthermore, Sag Harbor is “an improving school district,” he said.
“It’s been on the incline for many years,” said Bob Schneider, former principal of Pierson Middle/High School. “There is an opportunity here for somebody to really shape the progressive educational program, much more so in a school district this size than in some larger, more bureaucratic places.”
Other audience members also pointed out that the school district faced a number of challenges the superintendent would have to be ready to meet. Some pointed out the incoming superintendent would have to understand the unique culture of the East End, as well as the “eclectic” and “diverse” Sag Harbor community.
A number of parents brought up the continued implementation and expansion of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program as a challenge. And others, including two who wished to remain anonymous, discussed the need for enrichment programs for gifted students at the elementary and middle school levels.
When it came to the criteria for choosing a superintendent, a number of audience members voiced concerns about finding someone with a strong background as an educator, not just as an administrator.
Schneider hoped the next superintendent would be more amenable to innovations in education, as well as nontraditional learning activities, such as trips abroad. He did not want a leader with a “provincial” view of education who believed that learning only takes place “with kids at desks.”
At the same time, others hoped for a school leader with the ability to manage money well. Beth Barth noted that Sag Harbor’s previous superintendent had made fiscal responsibility a high priority.
“The community has a lot of concerns about how much taxes they pay, and there are a lot of people who live here just barely,” she said. “It is very difficult to maintain a family in this community.”
Another concern was having a superintendent who planned to stay in Sag Harbor for the long-haul.
“I don’t want a superintendent who’s coming here for the last five seconds of their career, so they end at the top of their pay scale and retire to Florida,” said Kate Lawton.
And for other audience members, they believed the incoming superintendent should be a good communicator and diplomatic.
“I think we need a leader who’s not going to pit one side against another, but who’s going to bring everybody together,” said one parent who requested anonymity. “The leader needs to be trusted by the community.”