By Annette Hinkle
In June 2012, Dr. John Gratto retired as superintendent of the Sag Harbor School District. Since that time, Dr. Carl Bonuso has led the district as superintendent — but he’s done so as its interim.
On Tuesday evening, the Sag Harbor School Board took the next step in hiring a permanent superintendent for the district.
Dr. Chuck Fowler of School Leadership, LLC, the firm leading the search, explained where the district currently is in its superintendent search and the steps going forward.
“Our first task was to help you find an interim supeintendent,” said Dr. Fowler. “We did that and Carl is the superintendent who came to dinner and stayed.”
“We’re delighted that worked out so well,” he added. “Now we’re asking the board to approve a set of specifications to begin the search.”
Submitted for the board’s approval were a set of specifications which will advertise the superintendent postion in Education Week as well as on various websites. Dr. Fowler explained the characteristics in the posting were a reflection of the top priorities expressed by the school board and community in online surveys or focus groups.
He noted the top five skill factors stressed in the surveys were budget skills, experience in a similar district, curriculum skills, good working relationship with the board of education and superintendent experience.
“The collective bargaining issue came up numerous times and people said it was important the person not view this as an 8 to 5 job — they wanted a commitment to the district and the community’s way of life,” added Dr. Fowler.
The proposed ad seeks an experienced school administrator with strengths in budgeting, finance and facility planning. Emphasizing that Sag Harbor is a high expectation school district, the candidate will also be expected to provide curriculum leadership and have a track record of working well with a board of education.
The specifications also call for accessibility and stress a desire for a candidate with teaching experience, background as a building administrator and also superintendent experience. Other traits emphasized are strong communication skills, financial competence and success in collective bargaining, as well as a desire for the candidate to participate in the life of the community and, if possible, have experience with the International Baccalaureate Program (IB).
Dr. Fowler noted that the search is not without it’s challenges, as superintendent vacancies are increasing every year.
“A new report says 60 percent of superintendents are expected to retire in the next five years — resulting in 400 some vacancies,” said Dr. Fowler noting the average age of a superintendent is 56. “It’s an end of career kind of position.”
“In some searches in the New York City area, we’ve had as few as 15 people expressing interest in the position.”
For this reason, Dr. Fowler recommends conducting a “funnel like” national search— meaning the initial pool of candidates should be as wide as possible and narrowed later on. He added his firm will interview 15 to 20 candidates and inform the board of the top five to seven picks.
“At that point, the board interviews them and makes its final decision, with two or three finalists,” said Dr. Fowler who recommends advertising the position in late December and January.
“That’s the window of recruitment availability, especially if they’re experienced,” he said. “Essentially, what we’re looking for now is board discussion of those specs and approval to proceed with posting and advertising.”
While the board was happy with the language overall, board member David Diskin wanted a bit more.
“The only thing not in here is a passion for each child’s journey to discover who they are,” said Diskin. “That’s something that I feel could be added.”
“I think this is very complete,” said Mary Anne Miller. “The only thing that sticks out to me, is because the district is small, we have to do things differently. We have a small administrative staff … we’ve gone into busing and running the cafeteria, more special ed we’re doing ourselves. It would be huge if we could articulate those skills along with financial or collective bargaining skills. We don’t have a superintendent and three assistant superintendents to hash that out.”
Board member Dan Hartnett suggested emphasizing hands-on skills as well as the ability to delegate the delivery of services and programs.
“I think delegation is a piece of it,” added school board president Theresa Samot. “But they should be a role model or mentor to the team as well.”
“We’re a small district that does really big things,” added board member Sandi Kruel. “That person has to wear many different hats.”
Sag Harbor resident Allison Scanlon wants a superintendent who will stay in the district for a long period of time. Dr. Fowler noted the average time a superintendent works in a district is five to six years.
Noyac resident Elena Loreto asked the board if it had considered consolidation, perhaps with Bridgehampton school district.
“Is that something you want to consider before hiring a superintendent,” she asked.
“It’s a little premature for that,” responded Samot. “There’s been no discussion with the community or the Bridgehampton board about this.”
“We talked about scheduling a forum specifically about that later in the year,” added board vice president Chris Tice.
Dr. Fowler agreed to incorporate the suggestions from the evening into the ad, saying, “The concepts I’m hearing are a vision for high standards, a passion for raising those standards, mentoring in reference to management and hands-on kinds of experiences.”
The board asked Dr. Fowler to present the changes in advance of a vote at the October 28 meeting but resident Kate Lawton implored the board to proceed with the vote contingent on language changes.
The board agreed to do just that and passed a resolution subject to the revisions discussed at the meeting.
On Tuesday, the board also discussed recording school board meetings for live streaming or later playback online. Tice worried that recordings could be edited to quote people out of context.
“We want to have a video where people can’t cut or paste. We also have to be concerned about having students on video,” said Tice who added that some districts found once meetings went online, the public stopped showing up in person.
Scott Fisher, the district’s director of technology, notified the board that the moment the board starts recording meetings, it needs to make that clear to the public.
“That’s a permanent record and can be searched through FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] and requirements for retention of school district records,” he said.
“I wholeheartedly support we do this,” said board member Dan Hartnett. “Let’s take the time to do the research and make sure we have the policy piece, the liability and the technical issues in place.”
In other news: The Sag Harbor School Board will host information sessions on the November 13 bond vote, including “Supe’s Up” on Monday, October 21 at 7 p.m. in the Pierson Library, a Bond Fair on Wednesday, October 23 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Pierson High School and another Bond fair at the school on Saturday, October 26 from 10 a.m. to noon with a “turf tour” to East Hampton’s athletic field. Participants do not need to attend the full sessions. The bond proposal will also be discussed at the elementary school after morning program on November 1 and at the next Noyac Civic Council Meeting on November 6.