The search for a new superintendent is on track, though getting all the community has asked for in a candidate is no easy feat.
In addition to being a collaborative facilitator, a decisive manager, approachable, and financially astute, among many other qualitites, the perfect leader for the Tarrytown Union Free School District should also speak Spanish.
“This could be a tall order, but may be possible,” said Dr. Hank Gmitro of search consulting firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA).
Such were the findings at last week’s Board of Education meeting where two consultants reported on the status of their work thus far.
Gmitro and Deborah Raizes said they had given the community ample time in October and November to weigh in on what they wanted to see in a new Super. 246 people took the survey and 95 people came to several public discussions.
Some points of pride in the community, according to their findings, are the district's:
- academic achievements
- dedicated staff
- value in music and arts
- dual language program
- renovation of the facilities
And what respondents saw as the biggest challenges our system faces:
- administrative turnover
- sports fields in need of help
- tax cap/state mandates, particularly unfunded ones
- maintaining challenging academics at the elementary level with heterogeneous groups
- holding a high expectation of performance on all levels
- diversity – as well as being a point of greatest pride it was listed as an issue that can pose one of our greatest challenges. The Latino population expressed their hope in having a better advocate for their population and better access to information and communication.
- some staff members felt they had limited input in the system.
Looking at the record of soon-to-retire Dr. Howard Smith in particular: key to the community was his ability to bring diverse opinions together and managing competing demands when there are limited resources to work with. People described him as a man who is approachable and engaging, and very visible throughout the community and at various events.
And, noted Board member Sheila Conklin, a man with a very necessary sense of humor in the face of such a daunting job.
What the community has asked for in their dream candidate includes on the short list of characteristics summed up by HYA:
- “collaborative facilitator”
- “decisive manager”
- “engaged advocate”
- “effective communicator”
- “proactive administrator”
- “financial planner”
- “instructional leader”
- “visionary educator”
On his/her resume a candidate should list, according to the consultants' findings:
- “able to be or is certified in NYS as superintendent”
- “have superintendent or central office experience in a similar district”
- “preferably be bilingual and fluent in Spanish”
- “have a proven record of success in a similar district”
“People did see experience with a diverse student population as very important,” Gmitro said.
However, noted Raizes, “It is rare to find someone with all these characteristics.”
There were some points of some conversation among the board surrounding how far the candidate could come from and if serving a prior superintendency was necessary.
The consultants didn’t think coming from a different part of the state or country or not being a superintendent already would rule someone out, however Board VP Mimi Godwin stressed the need for a fast learning curve.
“Westchester county is a difficult county to have someone come in with a long learning curve. We don’t have a lot of time to waste," Godwin said.
Gmitro seemed an advocate for leaving the door open to possible first-timers who may stay longer and hold a deeper commitment. “A first-time super can really make build a passion and commitment to a place," Gmitro said. "They can really become engaged in a community.”
Finally Board President B. Joseph Lillis summed up, “There is a strong bias on the Board to experience, but we wouldn’t want to limit it to that.”
The consultants stressed the community's desire to have someone stick around “ for a while. "Someone very invested in the Tarrytowns, with a vision for the future,” Gmitro said.
What’s a while? asked the Board. These days, that's maybe five or six years tops in Westchester; certainly not standard is the dozen years that Dr. Howard Smith has given us.
Worth noting is that Smith was brought in by the same consulting firm in 2001. Though the process hasn’t changed any, Raizes noted that at that time the Board was “struggling with the dual language program… It’s fascinating to see how that has developed verses what a conundrum it was at the time.”
One point that didn’t come up from citizen surveys and conversations but which the consultants suggested the Board consider is technology and how the new superintendent will use and embrace it in bringing the system forward.
Board member Katharine Swibold nodded in agreement, mentioning the loss of the technology director in the high school last year.
Parent Ken Torosian spoke out when given the chance: he wanted the Board to consider a candidate for the “district that is not the district it was.” He wanted someone who understands how classrooms are operating now. Someone who knows “what things are like today and what we need to bring us forward.”
So far, the consultants reported that 48 applications were underway from both sitting and assistant superintendents. They will also be following referrals and recruiting independently.
They gave a timeline as follows:
- Interviews Dec. 14 and 15 here for those in the local area. Skype is an option for those who don’t.
- January for first round screening.
- Mid-January for second round.
- By the end of January, they will be giving their preferred candidates background checks.
- They will make a site visit to those candidates place of current employment.
- Finally, a formal announcement will be made in February or March of the selected person.
- A new superintendent could start working by July 1.