Three Superintendent Candidates Vie for Helm of Island Schools
By IAN FEIN
After five months of searching and two different interims, the Vineyard may have its new permanent superintendent of schools named next week.
The all-Island school committee began a series of interviews with three finalists on Wednesday, and will meet with the last superintendent candidate on Monday.
If board members feel ready to make a decision following that interview, they will take a vote and begin to negotiate a contract. If they need more time, they will likely take up the issue again on Thursday.
Committee members thus far have been impressed by the caliber of the three finalists - all of whom have substantial leadership experience in New England schools. Some board members last week conducted site visits to the finalists' school systems, where they said they heard nothing but rave reviews.
Wayne R. Ogden, assistant superintendent of Wayland schools, received praise for his people skills, his expertise in personnel matters, his courage and honesty. School officials in Brookline referred to former superintendent Richard H. Silverman's integrity, compassion, talent for recruitment and grace under pressure. James H. Weiss, superintendent in Sanborn, N.H., was described as a visionary and collaborative leader who is generous and always visible in the community.
If all goes as planned, one of the three candidates will take over for interim superintendent G. Paul Dulac on July 1. Former Vineyard schools superintendent Kriner Cash unexpectedly left his post on short notice last fall.
Mr. Ogden and Mr. Silverman both visited the Vineyard this week. They each spent a day touring the Island and schools, meeting with students, faculty, administrators and parents, before their two-hour interview with the school committee. Mr. Weiss, who had also been scheduled to come to the Island this week, postponed his interview until Monday so he could represent his school system at a town meeting on Tuesday.
The candidates were asked to speak about a wide range of subjects in their interviews: from technology in the classroom to gender discrepancies in academic performance to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
In his interview on Wednesday night, Mr. Ogden said he withdrew his candidacy for the recently filled Falmouth superintendency when he learned that the Vineyard schools were hiring.
"If this is going to be the crowning achievement of my career in education, I figured ‘Why not make it an adventure?' " Mr. Ogden said, inciting some laughter on the school board. "Though I'm sure that you might remind me I said that some time in the future."
Mr. Ogden does not yet have any experience as a superintendent, though he was a teacher for 12 years and a high school principal for another 15 before taking over as an assistant superintendent three years ago. As an administrator, he said his strongest area is in supervision and evaluation. He co-authored a book four years ago titled The Skillful Leader: Confronting Mediocre Teaching.
"The way that I've had the most significant impact is by helping to support teachers in the work that they do," Mr. Ogden said. "The key to any system is that very special one-on-one interaction between teacher and student that ultimately makes the difference in a kid's performance."
In his interview last night, Mr. Silverman spoke about his work on diversity in the schools as a superintendent in both Brookline and Windsor, Conn., where they were so successful in closing the achievement gap between white and minority students that they became a model not only for the state, but the entire region.
"You have to expect high achievement and you need to provide an equity of access for all students, without regard to address, language or race," said Mr. Silverman, who wears a light beard and glasses. "It's really important that no matter when a student enters the school, we offer an opportunity for them to excel beyond where they already are."
Of the three candidates, Mr. Silverman has the closest ties to the Island. He said last night he and his family have been coming to Vineyard for the equivalent of about two months a year for the last 15 years.
"We feel very much a part of the Island, and would like to be a much closer part," he said.
Mr. Silverman also said the Vineyard needs to begin to look at its schools and community as a single entity.
"Schools don't exist within a community; they are the community. They're part and parcel of what happens," he explained. "We need to make people understand that successful communities rely on successful schools, and vice versa. It's a mutual interdependence that we need to foster."
In a telephone interview from his New Hampshire office, Mr. Weiss said yesterday that he is looking for one more stint as a superintendent to close out his career. He has served as superintendent of two different school systems in New Hampshire over the last 15 years and, prior to that, was a teacher and principal in Connecticut for more than 20 years.
A self-proclaimed beach person with seascapes and lighthouses all around his office, Mr. Weiss said he looked forward to the challenges posed by the Vineyard's multi-district school system.
His first superintendency on the New Hampshire coast was much like the Vineyard, with six school districts and five towns, each with distinct winter and summer populations. He said a key to success there was interacting with people in the towns, which helped build community involvement and understanding of school budgets.
"When I first came to New Hampshire I spent my first couple months taking people out to lunch - all the fire chiefs, the police chiefs, the town administrators. I wanted them to see me as a person and I wanted to connect with them," he said. "That to me is what you need to do. It's a matter of getting the information out and listening to what is important."
Mr. Weiss said he strives to work as a collaborator and partnership builder.
"I need skills in finance, in facilities, in personnel and in curriculum, but I also need to have good people I can work with who have strengths in all of these areas," Mr. Weiss said. "I compare a superintendent to a conductor in an orchestra. He may not know how to play every instrument well, but he has key people in woodwind, in brass and in percussion. My job is to pull them all together."
Meanwhile, the man one of these candidates will replace - Mr. Dulac, the interim superintendent - recently learned that he did not get the permanent superintendency position he had applied for in Somerville.
He and his wife will now decide whether to pursue another superintendency in Massachusetts, or to take a leadership opportunity overseas.
Mr. Dulac said he thought the Somerville school committee made the right call.
"They made a decision on somebody they thought was a better fit, and I think that was probably true," he said. "It's the same thing that's happening here on the Vineyard. You have three excellent candidates, but now it's about the best fit."