Parents voice goals for next school superintendent

JULIE LANE PHOTO School Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik will be leaving the disrict in August. A March 29 forum at the school brought together parents and consultants to voice ideas about his replacement.

JULIE LANE PHOTO School Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik will be leaving the district in August. A March 29 forum at the school brought together parents and consultants to voice ideas about his replacement.

Vision. Consistency. Creativity. Presence in the community.

Those are some characteristics Shelter Island parents and other community residents want in their next school superintendent, which they voiced at a March 29 forum at the school.

Consultants were on hand to field points of view, including Charles Fowler, president of School Leadership LLC, and his associate, Frank Chiachiere, contracted to assist in filling the position. They previously represented the district in the 2010 search that brought Michael Hynes to Shelter Island.

The district has allotted $13,000 in its budget for School Leadership’s consulting, although business official Tim Laube and Board of Education President Thomas Graffagnino both estimated it would cost less. Mr. Fowler will be able, they said, to cut out some of the steps involved in a search for a district that was new to the company the last time around.

The consultants met with students during the day and the public at night. Not invited were members of the Board of Education in order to give attendees more freedom in making their comments.

Mr. Fowler noted that the prime season for recruiting superintendents is December through February when the pool of candidates is larger, but expressed optimism his company would find suitable candidates for the board to interview. The goal is to have someone in place by the start of the 2017-18 school year in September.

“You did really good finding” Mr. Hynes, one parent said with others echoing the sentiment. Mr. Hynes was “very progressive in his approach,” a parent said.

The district didn’t use a search firm in choosing Leonard Skuggevik as Mr. Hynes’ successor. Mr. Skuggevik came to the Island from nearby Greenport where he had been the secondary school principal.

What was special about Mr. Hynes? the consultants asked.

“He lifted us up,” a parent said. “He set the bar high,” another agreed. He laid out his vision for the district’s growth and was a “big personality,” another said, which is needed here now.

One resident said he wants a superintendent with “some skin in the game,” someone who would be able to live on the Island or nearby and whose involvement in the community would run deep.

Especially critical is a leader who can work to expand the school population, bringing back some of the students who are pursuing their education off-Island, a parent said.

Some students go to schools off-Island because they can’t get innovative elementary school programs here, the parent added.

Two themes voiced by several parents, were that when they have a problem or complaint, it’s heard, and they want to feel welcomed at the school.

Most of all, they want a superintendent who will stay, a parent said, and not someone finishing a long career and looking to finish up for two or three years in a small district,

That person may not have a “vested interest in seeing the school thrive,” she said.

What should candidates know that’s special about leading the district? the consultants asked

The answers were many:
• The number of advanced placement courses and the ability to take some courses for college credit through a program launched by Mr. Skuggevik
• Small class sizes
• An internship program that has led to jobs for some students
• The existence of an active Shelter Island Educational Foundation that provides money for activities the budget can’t afford
• The community supporting one another and the school

The reasons superintendents leave districts is usually not because of the community, the consultants said. Younger superintendents may be motivated to go to a larger district or incompatibility with a board of education. Salary is also not generally the single most motivating factor, although Islanders have the fifth lowest tax rate in New York State, Mr. Fowler said.

His firm doesn’t suggest a compensation figure for a superintendent, since that’s up to the district to negotiate. But superintendents’ salaries are public and just as the district checks on the backgrounds of candidates, so too will candidates be doing their homework about the district.