Summit Board of Education Discusses Leadership Guidelines for New Superintendent

Brayton school student Lily Spinner introduces Geocaching at Thursday's board of education meeting. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Teacher Chris Miller praises the Summit school technology program and his students who used it in their geocaching program, which taught them to use deductive reasoning to find hidden "trinkets." Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Consultant Judith Ferguson outlines the leadership profile to be used in selection of a new Summit superintendent of schools. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Franklin School principal Sheila Cole praises the renovations being done at her school. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ—Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates consultant Judith Ferguson outlined, for the Summit Board of Education on Thursday night, a leadership profile for the city’s new superintendent of schools, prepared after interviews with a number of stakeholders, three community forums, and an online survey.

The board is seeking a new superintendent because current superintendent Nathan Parker will stop down when his current contract expires next year.

Ferguson said consistent themes that surfaced from the various areas of input included the following:

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Strengths of the city and school district—

  • Breadth of opportunities for children in school and in the community
  • An actively involved community that values its diversity and public education
  • Excellent teachers who go beyond the norm and generous parents and community members
  • Reputation as an outstanding school district and schools and parents with high expectations for students

Challenges, concerns and issues—

  • Engaging parents and the community appropriately in decisions that impact them
  • Ensuring Summit’s reputation as a premier district and the success of all students
  • Increasing trust between the district and its constituents and meeting the expectations of competing interests

Characteristics desired in a future superintendent—

  • One who acts openly and honestly and builds a team while caring about the success of each student
  • A person who communicates effectively in various settings and domains, demonstrates transparency and engages constituents in meaningful ways
  • Someone who has a breadth of experience in education and administration, has a vision for the future of the city’s public school, holds strong principles and makes sound and timely decisions
  • Also sought is one who organizes and manages effectively, secures and manages resources wisely and strives to improve the Summit public schools
  • One who values the community, its richness and diversity, visits schools and attends school and community events 
  • A person who withstands undue pressure.

The consultant noted the following trends from the online survey:

  • Teachers were significantly more likely than parents and community members to value communication and collaboration based on “fostering a positive professional climate of mutual trust and respect among faculty, staff and administrators.”
  • Community members were significantly more likely than support staff and teacher to emphasize promotion of high expectations for all students and personnel
  • Parents were significantly more likely than administrators and teacher to be interested in increasing academic performance and accountability “at all levels and for all students, including special needs populations
  • Teachers were significantly more likely than parents to believe the next superintendent should “lead in an encouraging, participatory, and team-focused manner.”

Ferguson added that around 121 people participated face-to-face, and there were 346 responses to the online survey.

After seeking input from the various stakeholders, the board members discussed that input and decided it would be seeking a strong leader who:

  • Commits to delivering an excellent education to all students, while leading with confidence and promoting a climate of mutual respect and trust;
  • Demonstrates fiscal astuteness and responsibility, while communicating effectively and leading and managing people effectively;
  • Inspires a culture of high expectations and peak performance, leverages technology to advance district objectives, and thinks and plans strategically.

The board also said the successful candidate must have eligibility for certification in the state of New Jersey, and teaching and education administrative experience, preferably in a district like Summit.

Deb McCann, who will replace board member Ed Mokuvos in May, said she was concerned that such “strong wording” in the document, such as the reference to “withstanding undue pressure,” might defeat board efforts to market for a new superintendent.

Board president Gloria Ron-Fornes replied that the wording resulted from stakeholder input, and the board did not want to change wording obtained by stakeholder input.

Meanwhile, members of RISE (Residents in Support of Summit Education) continued at Thursday’s meeting to question why teachers, residents, and stakeholders other than school board members, were not included by the board in a search committee for the new superintendent.

Juliet Eck of 26 Prospect Street, a founding member of RISE, pressed the board at Thursday’s meeting, as she had at last week’s workshop session, about reasons for not forming a more inclusive search committee, a move that was supported by 127 RISE members who responded to an online survey from the group.

At Thursday’s meeting, she asked if the board have come to a conclusion about the RISE recommendation.

Ron-Fornes replied that Thursday was the first time the school body had met since the workshop session, and had not had a chance to discuss the RISE request.  She did say the board would discuss the matter.

She also said the board had not yet been given a formal copy of the RISE survey and the resulting petition.

Assistant superintendent for business and board secretary Louis Pepe added that the RISE material should be submitted through his office for distribution to board members.

RISE member Donna Gangi repeated Thursday that teachers, who dealt with city students every day, should be included in a search committee.

Asked the precise reason for not including the community in a search committee for the new superintendent, Ron-Fornes said she did not want to comment beyond the statement on the matter, which had been posted on the school district website.

That statement cites the board’s statutory responsibility “to identify and appoint the superintendent of schools.”  The statement adds, “In following this responsibility, which is detailed in Policy 1220 (detailed on the website), our objective is to find and recruit the best possible person.”

The board, according to the web posting, believes this is accomplished by seeking input from a broad range of community stakeholders on the “desired profile and selection criteria for the superintendent; using the profile and criteria to identify and interview a pool of well-qualified candidates; and then selecting the person who best meets Summit’s needs.”

The statement also points out that the interview and selection of candidates has been the purview of board members only during the last two superintendent searches in Summit.

The statement continues that, by including some members of the community on a search committee, those members may feel they have a “voice” in the selection, but “the constraints inherent in selecting only a limited number of community members inevitably have their own drawbacks.”

It also says this was weighed against the education body’s statutory and ethical responsibility to identify and select the superintendent, the broad representation of the community reflected by board members, the importance that many candidates place in having a fully confidential process, and “the significant competition that exists in New Jersey for a limited number of strong candidates.”

Board communications chairwoman Katherine Kalin also said there had been no board precedent in the past to form a superintendent search committee composed of those outside the board.

On another matter, the board president announced that, due to the fact that negotiations with the Summit Education Association and the Summit Supervisors Association have not concluded, it had been decided that Summit High School would not proceed with its plan to institute block scheduling this fall.

This decision was made, she said, because the new scheduling system would affect staff member working conditions and hours of work that are the subject of the negotiations.

High school principal Paul Sears said, due to the large incoming high school class, not instituting the new system this fall presented some challenges, such as not having a single lunch period.  He also said, without block scheduling, the school would have less flexibility in science laboratories than it would have had under the revised scheduling plan.

Sears added, however, that the high school still would try to offer students the expanded resources during lunch periods they would have had under block scheduling.  He also said additional eating areas and lockers would be installed, and removal of the older, larger boilers at the school would create additional storage space and free up space previously used for storage for classroom use.

Pepe said delaying block scheduling would mean planned additional food service staff for the new system would not be hired, and adjustments to special education classes due to block scheduling could not be accomplished.

However, he added, none of these items would have a significant impact of the budget.

Ron-Fornes would not comment on whether block scheduling would be instituted the following year because, she indicated, such comments could not be made while contracts were being negotiated.

Also at Thursday’s meeting,  three principals, Matthew Block of the Lawton C. Johnson Middle School, Sheila Cole of Franklin School, and Ronald Poles of Jefferson School, outlined the improvements being made to each of their schools through the district wide construction program, and the advantages in safety, security and increased programming the renovations would bring to each of their schools.

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