Newtown Superintendent Janet Robinson is on her way out, taking over in Stratford on July 1, leaving the Board of Education faced with a search for a new superintendent -- and likely an interim superintendent. Aided by Connecticut Association of Boards of Education director Robert Rader, the board took the first steps toward the future at a Monday night meeting at Reed Intermediate School.
Rader praised Robinson and the board alike before laying out the district's options given its unique situation.
"You have come through a situation no district in country, the state or the world has gone through," he said. "You did it with amazing grace. You did it with unity. And you did it in a way that is a model for all of us."
Similarly, how the district chooses its new superintendent could serve as a model for districts dealing with change during crisis. Rader told the board they have two major options -- assemble a search committee from parents and staff, or hire consultants to find qualified candidates. He recommended the latter.
"A consultant will know where to go to find people," he said. "A consultant will do clerical work for you."
And Rader strongly recommended an interim superintendent.
"It's very hard -- not impossible, but hard -- to get a permanent superintendent within six months," he said. "Usually it takes seven, eight or nine months."
He said on average, it could take three months for an outgoing superintendent to wrap up all projects and issues before leaving office.
"An interim superintendent comes in to help out when there's a hard situation and you don't want the next superintendent to have to deal with it," he said. "It enables your superintendent to come in with a clean slate. I've seen superintendents go in with fiscal issues and board/superintendent issues. They get things back to normal, work with everybody and make sure the board knows what they have to do -- their roles and responsibilities."
Interim superintendents are paid a per-diem rate on par with what a superintendent would normally make, Rader said, with very few benefits associated with the position.
In a closed session following the presentation, the board discussed what was listed on the agenda as "possible action regarding the Superintendent's employment." No public vote was taken following the closed session. Robinson was vetted for the position before the Dec. 14 shootings catapulted the district to national attention. The Stratford Board of Education officially approved Robinson for the job last week at a special meeting.
"Only the Strong Will Apply"
"We've got a good start," said board member William Hart after the presentation. "We've got the experts in to tell us what other boards have found to be the best practices, and hopefully we can learn from them."
Rader told the board hiring a consultant could cost up to $20,000, with an additional $5,000 to advertise the position. (The district is also currently seeking three principals at Reed Intermediate School, Newtown Middle School and Sandy Hook Elementary School, where Principal Dawn Hochsprung passed away in the Dec. 14 shooting.) School magazine Education Week has given the district a year of free advertising to fill the vacancies.
"The costs they're quoting seems inexpensive to me compared to what I've seen for executive searches in the business sector," said Hart. "It's a small fraction."
But Hart said he anticipates a challenging search.
"We're a town that's gone through some unique experiences. Although some people may be jumping to try to help us, they may not be the people we want."
Board member John Vouros told Rader he expected a highly qualified pool of applicants.
"I feel when the search begins, only the strong will apply here," he said. "I feel there will be no one that has any kind of weakness -- or shows any kind of weakness -- that would want to come to Newtown. I feel we are going to attract the very best, and it will be our pleasure to be able to interview these people."
Whatever the district decided to do, Rader said he and the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education would be there for them.
"We're here to help," said Rader. "Now that you need us, I hope you'll make good use of us. It's not a job. It's what we feel in our hearts for you folks."