New superintendent feels like she’s coming home

New superintendent feels like she’s coming home

SMITHFIELD – Rhode Island native Judith Paolucci, pictured, is ready to return to the Ocean State.

“Rhode Island always remains the center of my life,” Paolucci said.

Paolucci, set to replace Robert O’Brien as Smithfield’s superintendent of schools on Aug. 1, took an unconventional path to the superintendency. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Rhode Island College in 1985 and went on to receive a master’s degree in environmental studies from Brown University in 1987.

After a three-year stint as an engineer at the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM), Paolucci spent 10 years as a science teacher in Rhode Island and then another two as a science curriculum coordinator. She obtained her PhD in Education from Rhode Island College in 2001.

“I didn’t just take the normal route to the job,” Paolucci said. “My experiences in the classroom inform my job as superintendent.”

To this day, Paolucci can still be found in classrooms interacting with students and occasionally assisting with lessons. She takes pride in her hands-on, personable approach to the job.

“I’m very visible in the classrooms in schools,” Paolucci said.

In 2003, Paolucci became the assistant superintendent of the Narragansett School System. Six years later she became the superintendent of the Yarmouth School System in Maine.

When she announced her move to Leicester, Mass. in 2012, a local newspaper described her as a “sought after superintendent.”

Paolucci lives up to that reputation, now moving on to her third superintendency.

After interviews with eight candidates, all current superintendents who hold doctoral degrees, the Smithfield School Committee chose Paolucci to fill O’Brien’s shoes.

“I think she’s a really good fit,” Sean Clough, chairman of the School Committee, said.

Clough added that Paolucci’s strengths in overseeing the budgetary process, school reconfigurations, and communication between schools and local government make her an asset.

Paolucci said part of overcoming difficult situations as a school district is accepting criticism.

“I’ve learned over time not to take things personally,” Paolucci said. “They key thing is stopping to listen and having sympathy for the other person.”

She also places emphasis on the relationship she maintains with colleagues.

Paolucci considers herself “a collaborative leader,” always eager to hear feedback from teachers and administrators. “We’re all part of a team,” she said.

And that includes the town, too.

Paolucci understands that the upcoming elementary reconfiguration process might be difficult, especially for the William Winsor Elementary School community.

“I hope to get additional input from the community,” Paolucci said. “And then taking all that input and finding the best possible solution.”

But first and foremost, her immediate goal is to gain a greater understanding of Smithfield and its people.

“I already got a great first impression,” Paolucci said.