Interim Superintendent O’Brien targets school opening, ‘stabilizing’ district

Interim Superintendent O’Brien targets school opening, ‘stabilizing’ district

Confirms no one from NP ever reached out about Morisseau

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Robert O’Brien, who is serving as interim superintendent of schools following the resignation of Bridget Morisseau, says local families have no reason to be concerned that the district won’t be ready for the start of school on Aug. 29.

O’Brien told The Breeze this week that the district is in “good shape and ready to open school” at the end of the month, thanks in large part to the “strong central office leadership team” in place.

Whenever there’s an abrupt departure of the head of schools, there are going to be questions about how the district moves forward, said O’Brien, but he’s assuring parents that the day-to-day operations are in good hands.

Some of the big-ticket items O’Brien is working on are ironing out scheduling glitches with busing schedules and coordinating the ongoing construction of two new elementary schools. He said his past experience coordinating construction projects in Smithfield is helping on that front.

O’Brien said he’s not interested in the North Providence job on a long-term basis, but is more than willing to help his hometown district for now. He said he’s not sure on the exact length of time he’ll spend with the schools, and noted that the School Committee, at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 8, is scheduled to discuss his service and a timeline for hiring a new superintendent.

School Committee member Steven Andreozzi said the committee hopes to hire a permanent superintendent by January or February. While Andreozzi said he’d like to hire someone sooner, the committee is committed to following the process and finding the right person for the job. He said the position should be posted within the next few weeks, and the posting will likely remain up for 30 days.

O’Brien will, for the most part, work three to four days a week, said Andreozzi. As a retired superintendent, he is limited by law to work no more than 90 days in a calendar year.

Morisseau resigned last month after it was learned that she had used a school credit card to pay for thousands of dollars in personal expenses.

In a July 31 letter to parents and community residents, O’Brien, a former Smithfield superintendent and Ricci School principal, noted that his children attended local schools and his grandchildren currently attend them.

The interim head of schools assured parents that he will work to ensure that local children receive the highest quality education possible in a safe environment.

“I know the faith in North Providence schools has been shaken by recent events and there is work to do to restore trust and confidence,” he wrote. “However, I strongly believe that we have an opportunity to come together as a community on behalf of what matters most: our students. As your interim superintendent, I will be working to ensure that our primary focus remains on the quality of day-to-day teaching and learning in our classrooms.”

O’Brien had little to say about Morisseau, who previously worked under him as assistant superintendent in Smithfield before coming to North Providence. He confirmed rumors that no one from North Providence ever reached out to him about his opinion of her prior to hiring her last year.

Is that lack of checking typical?

“It depends on districts, some do reach out, some don’t,” he said.

If someone from the School Committee had called him, O’Brien said he would have told them that Morisseau “did a great job” with the duties she had, which were centered on curriculum development and professional development. Anyone who goes into a new superintendent role, even from an assistant position, has to “hit the ground running” on budgeting and other financial matters, he said.

Though he’s only superintendent in North Providence on an interim basis, O’Brien said he’s putting some “different systems in place” in the district. One example of a small change he’s implementing is to give school board members more information on various agenda items that come before them.

“I’m not looking to change the world, just stabilize things and make sure we’re able to open in (a few) weeks,” he said.

- Breeze Staff Writer Nicole Dotzenrod contributed to this story.