2017-10-06 / Front Page

School district begins superintendent search

BY RIKKI N. MASSAND

An executive search for the next “CEO of the school district” is well underway, with Garden City Public Schools taking on professional help to evaluate candidates.

The first presentation on the search, a look at Garden City Schools’ “Leadership Profile,” takes place at the Wednesday, October 11 work session in the high school library, and a report from consultants will be subsequently posted on the district’s website. In August the Garden City Board of Education approved a $32,280 contract with consulting firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA) to conduct a national talent search to fill the position. Before candidates are selected for interviews, HYA had face-to-face discussions about the district and its unique qualities with the faculty and members of the community in the last two weeks of September.

HYA Consultant Debbie Raizes was a board of education member in Scarsdale for six years and a board trustee of Leslie University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She’s been a search consultant for the past two decades. Her partner from HYA, Dr. Robert J. Roelle has 20 years’ experience as a superintendent of schools in Ossining, Westchester County. At the school board’s August meeting, Board President Angela Heineman commented that Raizes will be the lead consultant, having led superintendent searches on Long Island, upstate, and in New England. “She’s conducted approximately 90 searches, mostly in high-performing Westchester, Long Island and Fairfield County, Connecticut districts,” Heineman said. 0

Conducting a search for a new Garden City leader starts with knowing the people in the district. As the first of the school system’s strengths, the students of Garden City Schools, whom the next superintendent will ultimately oversee and strategize for accordingly, were mentioned in the highest regards to Raizes.

A dozen parents seated at the September 29 session hosted by Raizes at Garden City Public Library described students here as “community-oriented, kind, supportive, focused and hardworking.” They said the New York State Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia, visited Garden City and commented that she was impressed by students’ abilities to advocate for themselves.

Another strength parents raved about last week was the top faculty talents Garden City has attracted, and to boot, despite heavy schedules the teachers and administration are always open to meeting with parents for discussions. “The district is not a stepping stone – we hold onto teachers for a long time,” one resident commented.

Vision and Communication Sought

Hand-in-hand, another clear strength for Garden City is a very involved base of parents for each of the district’s schools and grades. However as parents explained to Raizes they see the PTA serving as a driver for Garden City Schools to communicate more with its families, the sentiment expressed is that across the village parents are being forced to be reactive rather than proactive.

Several parents noted that the district does use Twitter, linked on its home page of the website, but the PTA uses Facebook and that was seen as a primary way residents (parents) are getting their schools’ information and updates. However, one compliment delivered to Raizes about the former superintendent, Dr. Robert Feirsen, was that he held a terrific working relationship with the Garden City Police Department and Commissioner Kenneth Jackson, ensuring students’ safety at and around schools. The parents gathered said they truly appreciated timely updates on any “suspicious incidents” and items that Feirsen relayed, often through a district email blast and/or posting on the website.

One parent detailed the experience of moving into the Garden City school district after their daughter had attended elementary grades at a cooperative learning school (Co-Op) in New Jersey. They tell Raizes that Garden City Schools’ curriculum should be adaptive, and allow for students “to be individuals in the learning environment and not performers.” In their prior experience, their daughter was able to work collaboratively within small class group settings and students directed themselves more.

“Here it is more about being a performer. When kids are motivated to learn intrinsically they are better off. We need a superintendent who can engage the teachers to think differently, instead of them falling back on traditional course instruction,” the parent explained.

Another parent of Garden City Middle School students explained pressures children can feel because in school and socially, “Garden City is an achievement-oriented community.” Raizes asked if that is a positive or negative attribute, and parents said it can be both simultaneously.

Parents spoke about the difference between achievement and accomplishment, and the village’s culture of “need to succeed” mentalities in competition. A resident at the September 29 session told Raizes that at every grade level in Garden City, homework is laborious and burdening. Other parents agreed and said Garden City must be more attuned to aiding the mental health of students, starting with the lower grades on up, because “across the board kids are stressed out.”

“The social and emotional well-being of the kids needs to be looked at. We are potentially putting kids at risk. God forbid they get an 85 on a test,” one resident told Raizes.

One mom suggested yoga practice and mindfulness for a few dedicated minutes throughout a school day. Another discussed how in the Roslyn district, a school principal makes announcements over the loudspeaker or intercom to initiate the next three minutes of mindfulness practice throughout every classroom or gathering.

Seated behind her, a parent said Stratford Elementary here began a mindfulness program in its 2nd grade classes and that can potentially serve as a model for Garden City’s other schools.

“Teachers also loved taking those 30 minutes a day for mindfulness. That should be district-wide and that should come from our next superintendent,” another parent said.

Another attended with her young son and said Garden City’s primary schools, Hemlock, Locust and Homestead, should involve more play and experiential learning activities. She told Raizes children will be introduced to learning more effectively if social skills are being developed along with different units of curricula.

“They learn best when they are active. Consider the whole child, and that should start at the primary level. We would really like to see someone hired who has a vision for the district that incorporates more than just achievement or looks at it in different ways – what achievement can mean versus success in traditional ways and have the kids think outside the box. I don’t think that all the time our stu- dents leave Garden City Schools with the skill sets they need to be successful in life in other areas,” a resident said.

Raizes asked if there was currently enough of an emphasis put on developing critical thinking skills in the district, and parents said there was a need for students to do less “regurgitating stats and information.” Parents at the September 29 session considered that instruction and lesson planning in Garden City could be less “test-based and traditional” and more project-based work, or involve “different molds of assessment, encouraging kids not to just memorize” as one Middle School parent suggested.

Later during the session the Garden City Middle School program and an apparent ‘valley’ in the overall topnotch school system, something district parents have observed, was earmarked as a concern Raizes and HYA should look into as they start to evaluate candidates. A few parents suggested that the Middle School may be underperforming, and they hoped a new superintendent will immediately address their concerns.

Another point raised during the focus group was for the next Garden City superintendent to emphasize the values in learning by doing, or learning from failure to “try, try again.” Parents talked with Raizes about the upcoming PTA speaker event scheduled for Tuesday, October 24, at Garden City High School when Jessica Lahey, the author of “The Gift of Failure,” will present to the community.

In line with this perspective, a few parents told Raizes a new superintendent must be willing to take risks as needed. Others said there must be balance and stability and the goal would be achieving the risk-taking in curriculum and other instructional methods “without making it detrimental to students.”

Raizes asked for clarification, if as a community Garden City wants a new superintendent “willing to take risks but also having the stamina to fail.” She soon told the audience that throughout the month, in the course of meeting with faculty and parents, there appears to be a “groundswell for evolution and risk-taking.” She said Garden City is not exactly looking for a change agent, but a person that is an experienced administrator in a high-achieving district and “an innovative visionary.”

Process Ahead

Raizes said the HYA team is planning to interview up to 15 applicants in person and then narrow the field down to a handful, “to provide the board of education five or six candidates by early winter.” She explained that the timeframe must be kept fluid with professionals’ commitments, but also right now, at the start of a school year, is a perfect time to conduct a search:

“We really think Garden City will be ahead of the curve with any other districts’ searches that are going on, and we expect to get great candidates for Garden City,” she announced. To date Garden City Public Schools has advertised its superintendent position in EdWeek magazine and on its website, plus other education professional job boards, but not in The New York Times or other large newspaper publications.

To start the September 29 focus group at the library, Raizes told 13 people in the audience, all district parents and/or parents of alumni, that she and Roelle will present a written report for the school board which will be presented at the October 11 session.

“We will have written report as well as results of the anonymous online survey (distributed to the community September 15 and closed October 2). So far we’ve gotten a lot of good responses to the survey. The board will be see comments made without the name of community members or faculty attached to those. We take the information from focus groups and survey responses and talk about the consistent strengths, consistent issues as well as individual issues of the groups and characteristics people are looking for in the next superintendent,” she told the parents on September 29.

Some candidates Raizes has targeted “are people who are happy where they are now.” She says confidentially will ensure no professionals would carry concern about applying for the job during the course of the fall. “Over the last 15 years, confidential has become the only kind of searches that I would do,” Raizes said. Also, she specified a review of assistant superintendents and current superintendents in other districts. Parents and the consultant discussed the candidate’s familiarity with New York State education, and people with relevant experience from the tristate area. Residents said there would be a better common ground to have connections with local families. Raizes noted that HYA has contacts all across the country, but local candidates are likely to apply.

“With Common Core, although New York has different laws than other states, it is easier to come from other states than it used to be. Generally speaking it depends on people’s various qualities. A lot of time people talk about New York State experiences and if that is important to you as a community we would look for it. We would not close it out from other high-quality candidates, however,” Raizes said last week. She added a caveat that school administrators’ pension plans “are not portable” and that increases the number of in-state applicants for administrator or faculty jobs, as they are in the state pension system.

Dr. Catherine Knight, public information officer for Garden City Schools, emailed the following information to the News last week to preview the October 11 presentation:

“There have been many opportunities for community input during the Superintendent Search process, the Community Forums being one piece of the larger initiative. The board’s actions were read into public record by President Heineman at the August 9 meeting. The timeline and actions were also noted in Board President Angela Heineman’s “Letter to Parents and Residents” dated September 15, which was emailed to parents, and published on the district’s website and in The Garden City News… All of the comments collected by Ms. Raizes and Dr. Roelle will be combined by HYA to create a Leadership Profile of the qualities and experience sought in Garden City Public School’s next Superintendent of Schools. The Leadership Profile will guide HYA as they seek top candidates for the position. HYA will present a slate of candidates which the Board of Education will interview using the Leadership Profile as a guide during the interview process,” she wrote.

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