Although the audience never exceeded 10 people, those who did attend the Locust Valley School District’s parent forum on Jan. 6 had plenty to say. They were invited by School Leadership LLC, a firm dedicated to preserving public schools across the country, to Locust Valley High School to discuss what they would want to see in their new superintendent who will be hired for the 2020-21 school year. Dr. Thomas Dolan, an interim superintendent is on contract through the end of this school year.
School Leadership’s Charles Fowler, Ray Melucci, former superintendents, and Frank Chiachiere shared information at the meeting. Fowler having worked in several districts in different states and Melucci ran the Seaford and Merrick school districts. Chiachiere is president of Valley Stream District 13’s Board of Education.
Parents were asked to base their comments on three different questions: what would attract a qualified superintendent to the district; what the challenges would be; and what types of prior experiences a superintendent should have. Fowler said they would send out notices to roughly 1,400 districts across the United States advertising the position. The candidates would be vetted taking into consideration the parents’ answers to the three questions. There will likely be between 30 and 50 candidates, Fowler said, and a decision should be made by late April or early May.
Denise Connolly was one of the first parents to speak, saying that one of the most important things to her sixth-grade daughter was that the new superintendent be visible to the student body. As an elementary student, she never knew who the superintendent was, and Connolly, a teacher, agreed with her daughter’s point.
“I think visibility to the students is big,” Connolly said. “Not only letting them know who you are but being personable and not only to the staff members, but to students as well.”
Fowler said this idea of increased visibility was consistent with the 14 high school students with whom he, Melucci and Chiachiere previously met to discuss their ideas. The students said it had been unusual for them to see the superintendent more than twice a year, something that they all want to be remedied with a new superintendent. Additionally, he said the students want someone who will stick to their guns and make tough decisions that will benefit the entire district, not someone who will make a decision that appeases one angry parent.
Another issue raised by parents was the maintenance of the International Baccalaureate program, which consists of college-level courses available to high school students. Hayley Byron said the IB program helps Locust Valley students stand out to colleges because not every district on Long Island has the program. She said she has heard talk of removing the program in the past and strongly believes it should stay.
Jen Jones, who has a child just starting the IB program agreed with Byron, saying that the program brings people to the community and prepares students for higher education.
“It does help our children who come from a small school really stand out,” she said. “We’ve heard many students who really advanced in college and were able to have opportunities of studying abroad and doing many things their peers couldn’t because they didn’t have those credits and didn’t have the learning style necessary.”
Parents also agreed that the superintendent needs to be involved with the Locust Valley and Bayville communities. Parent Carl Friedrich said this would be a true sign of leadership, especially considering his belief that the district hasn’t been as communicative with the public in the past as it should have been. One remedy he suggested was an enhanced presence on social media, allowing the superintendent to not only keep the public updated with the district’s activities, but also to interact with community members.
When speaking on the qualifications the superintendent would need, everyone there agreed that teaching experience was important, as well as having been a principal or assistant principal. Connolly said she has worked with several superintendents over her career as a teacher and has found that a lack of empathy and knowledge of what the district’s staff goes through can inhibit superintendents from doing their jobs effectively.
“Unless they’ve been in the classroom and know what it’s like to be in a classroom, they don’t know [that side],” she said. “Unless they’ve been a principal, they can’t really associate and understand what a principal goes through.”
Some parents said they would prefer that the new hire already have some experience as a superintendent, although they admitted it may not be realistic to expect someone to have worked for decades at that level. Instead, Friedrich suggested that a candidate with a few years of experience as a superintendent could greatly benefit the district coupled with being a strong communicator who would consider the needs of those around them.
Fellow parents, as well as representatives from School Leadership, agreed with Friedrich’s idea, saying this type of person may be the best to seek out.
Parents who wish to provide their input on the district’s search for a new superintendent can do so at www.surveymonkey.com/r/lvcsdsupt.