Community shares hopes for next school superintendent

Community shares hopes for next school superintendent

Joseph Erardi, a consultant aiding the North Providence School Committee in their search for the district’s next superintendent, speaks to parents and teachers during a community forum last week at North Providence High School. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Twenty-three individuals have submitted applications to be superintendent of schools in North Providence, according to Joseph Erardi, an independent search consultant hired by the School Committee to aid with the hiring process.

“I’m absolutely certain that your next superintendent is in that pile of applications,” Erardi told the School Committee at a community forum on Nov. 28. The event was meant to take the temperature of the community, assessing what residents would like to see in the next school leader and sharing an overview of the hiring process with attendees.

The opinions and suggestions given by community members during the forum will be shared with the hiring committee, to be considered as they interview candidates for the job. The deadline to apply was Nov. 23, and interviews were scheduled for Saturdays, Dec. 1 and 8.

Erardi said the district “is in a very good space” in regards to the application/hiring process, and noted that the committee received 252 responses to its online survey, which asked for input on needed characteristics and attributes of a highly successful district leader. A total of 325 people shared comments either via the survey, phone or email, which will be used to shape the question bank that the hiring committee uses during its upcoming interviews.

Erardi said he read every word of the survey responses, about 900 pages. Overall, he said members of the community expressed a desire for an honest leader who they can trust, with the “quiet confidence to delegate responsibility to others.”

The North Providence community prioritized the following skills as essential needs for the new superintendent:

• A proven track record of bringing multiple stakeholders to a common understanding of what’s best for children;

• Leadership experience and proven success as a school administrator.

• Exceptional communication skills;

• Highly capable to lead a strong workforce and engaged community.

• And believes in empowerment within the district.

Respondents also expressed the top five character traits they’d like to see in the next superintendent, which included “genuine care around all aspects of the work,” honesty, strong listening skills, forward-thinking and trustworthiness.

Themes that emerged from the survey included the request for a “deep and thorough background check,” that the superintendent plan to remain in the district for an extended period of time and that they listen and learn before embarking on change, recognizing that the district is “not broken.” Other themes included wanting someone “user-friendly,” visible and connected; someone clear, concise and detailed while communicating with stakeholders; and someone with “appropriate priorities” who puts children first.

Stakeholders at the public forum expressed similar desires for a leader who is accessible, experienced and here to stay. Arthur Parise Jr., a special educator at Marieville Elementary School, said, “this is my third year and will be my third superintendent. Hopefully whoever we pick is here for the next three to 10 years.”

Mary Hillman, a parent in the district who was raised in North Providence, said she wants to see a superintendent who, “can stay the duration, is honest and sincere, and is someone who, when they think about coming to work every day, they think about the kids. They have to have the kids’ best interest in mind. In my opinion I haven’t seen that in the last couple of superintendents, which as a great concern of mine … I’d like to see that dedication.”

One parent of a special needs child in the district said she’d like to see that special needs children are considered in this process, while Hillman said she hopes they’re also a champion and advocate for medically challenged students.

Erardi asked attendees to provide an “elevator pitch” to their next superintendent, with 45 seconds to share something about North Providence and the success they may or may not have in the district.

“They need to go out and see and understand things for themselves. Stop listening to what other people say about the district and go out and see what’s happening in the schools, then form your opinions,” said NPHS Science Department chair and teacher’s union president Michael Cicerone.

“Keep the pulse on what’s happening in the district,” advised Tara Cooper, a parent of three children at the elementary, middle and high school levels. “I’ve had some good relationships with past superintendents, but everyone should feel comfortable to say: here is my issue, how do we work collaboratively to make this a better situation?”

Cooper also noted that there are a number of “amazing things happening in the district, with strong teachers who put in a lot of effort.” Erardi said he has heard that “over and over again” about North Providence and the strength of its school district.

School Committee member Roderick Da Silva said his message for the new superintendent would be to, “come to work every day, roll up your sleeves, enjoy your work and be consistent.” School Committee Vice Chairwoman Gina Picard said her expectation was, “advocacy for all students; someone who creates opportunities for all of our kids.”

“I do think North Providence is a gem, and our strength is our staff, kids and community,” she added.

Erardi said the candidate for hire would be made fully aware of all of the district’s strengths – as well as the challenges it faces. While residents are proud of the quality of school staff and students in North Providence and their connection to the community at-large, they also recognized its need to maintain the level of excellence “within the turbulent fiscal picture of both state and local dollars,” retain high-regarded staff members, improve school safety, balance spending and aid with students’ transition from one school to the next.

“I think, what everyone is trying to say is that they want the superintendent to never lose sight of the children,” said Erardi.

While the first round of interviews closed on the first of the month, Erardi said there’s no “magical number” of people who will be called back for a second interview.

“If someone is superlative above every other candidate, there may be only one person called back,” said Erardi, adding that there is also a possibility that “higher quality candidates may be in additional searches.”

“Never settle,” Erardi told the two members of the School Committee in attendance at the public forum – members Gina Picard and Roderick Da Silva. “If the hiring committee isn’t excited about the new superintendent at the end of this process, we’ll do it all over again.”