After gathering input from the community about search criteria for the next Rockville Centre superintendent of schools, the search firm will begin recruiting candidates. Consultant Deborah Raizes of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates gave the highlights of the firm’s report at the Nov. 6 Board of Education meeting, which includes results of the focus groups and a survey.
“We’ve done a lot of focus groups,” Raizes said. “We met with a lot of people, and we took all that information and put that into our report.”
Raizes and a colleague, Judy Ferguson, spent the last week of September and most of October conducting focus groups, moderating open forums and reading surveys completed by community members. The full report is available on the district’s website.
“Now is the time that we’ll go through applications, as well as really heavily recruit,” Raizes said. “That’s why you hired us — to find the best possible people to present to the board as possible candidates for your next superintendent.”
She explained that the search is confidential, because “when it gets down to two or three people and the name becomes public, two very good people won’t get the job, and they become hurt in their district.”
“To get the quality of people that Rockville Centre should get, you really do have to do a confidential search,” Raizes added. “That means the Board of Education will be the only one interviewing the candidates. And one candidate will be announced . . . no later than the end of the winter. The expectation is that the next superintendent will be in place by July 1.”
She said that the process is moving along “at a good pace.” “One of the reasons we’re getting great responses is because of Dr. Johnson and his legacy of the incredible work he’s done in this district over so many years,” Raizes said.
Some 521 people filled out the survey and 153 people attended the focus groups. For the survey, Raizes said that 78 percent of respondents ranked the quality of education at 4 or 5, 79 percent said they thought schools were safe, and the majority said they felt “dedicated teachers” are among the district’s top features. “The strength of your district are the teachers and people appreciate what your teachers are doing for your kids,” Raizes said.
The biggest challenges and issues that respondents mentioned were suicide; how to handle students’ social and emotional needs; dealing with an academically challenging environment; the high expectations that students have of themselves, peers, parents and faculty — and addressing that perception.
“I think a lot of communities are dealing with vision and what the future should bring,” Raizes said, “and you roll that in with the social-emotional needs of students… It’s a difficult time for a lot of districts.”
People said they want a superintendent who can: “demonstrate a deep understanding of educational research and emerging best practices and implement strategies,” “understand and be sensitive to the needs of a diverse student population” and provide transparent communication.
“You have to put all of these characteristics into the whole mix of issues and the strengths of the district. These don’t stand alone,” Raizes said. “It all goes together in terms of what Rockville Centre is and what hopefully you need and how, as we recruit people and go through applications, we can really find the best fit for you for your next superintendent.”
During public comment, resident Brian McNamara asked Superintendent Dr. William Johnson about the political aspect of being a superintendent in the district. “Can you speak a little bit about the politics involved in the role,” asked McNamara, “and how it relates to Long Island and the state?”
“My advice to whoever takes this position is stay out of politics as much as you possibly can,” Johnson said. “However, that does not mean we should not be engaged and involved with our politicians who represent us.”
Over the years, Johnson said, he has been involved with local elected leaders and donated time to the state, having worked on two commissions for two different governors. “I found that to be exceedingly helpful to us our understanding of the context within which we have to operate as a system and as means for educating the children here in Rockville Centre,” he said.
He has also worked closely with the State Education Department, and chaired a number of committees.
“While I don’t recommend getting involved in the politics of any agency or any other governmental entities that represent us,” Johnson said, “I very strongly recommend that we have to understand that in a leadership position like this, in a local school district, there’s a larger and broader context within which we can both contribute and learn from in order to enhance the education of the kids in Rockville Centre.”