New Paltz School Board members are already deep into the process to replace Maria Rice as superintendent, with an eye on having a new person at the helm this summer. A considerable amount of time at the January 8 board meeting was devoted to striking the best balance between efficiency and transparency during this closely-watched process. A dedicated page on the district web site is being used to compile publicly available information about the search, and applications to participate in one of the focus groups were due the same day as this meeting.
Trustee Sophia Skiles expressed interest in naming a smaller group of board members to handle logistical issues such as coordinating refreshments and child care around these groups and other events, which her colleagues readily agreed to after discussion, but it’s also clear that all seven board members want to be as engaged in the hiring process as can be. Vigorous discussion around ways to incorporate as many stakeholder voices into this process took place.
The focus groups themselves will be conducted at arm’s length; no trustees will be present in the interest of not impacting how members express themselves. From those conversations it’s hoped to get a better understanding of what qualities are most desirable in a new superintendent and what kind of person would “reflect our shared values,” according to board president Kathy Preston. They will be provided findings from those groups as well as from the online survey, which is available in two languages as of press time with plans to have it translated into “all the languages spoken in the district,” Preston said. Testing of the online survey suggests that, while the first question is about the participant’s role in the school community, the four questions that follow are not impacted by the response to the first.
Efforts to identify different ways to find community members is something of a “diagnostic about our connection to the community,” said Sophia Skiles. She suggested that outreach might be an appropriate task to devote to a smaller group. Board members discussed how best to reach community members who speak languages in addition to English and spoke about their commitment to make the effort necessary to connect especially with members of underrepresented groups. Including all community members in the early conversation, Preston explained, is key to getting a diversity of voices involved when it comes time to interview candidates.
Interim superintendent Bernard Josefsbeg shared only brief, prepared comments about the many “intense conversations” he’d been having with people in the school’s community in the two weeks since he became district caretaker. “People are wondering what’s next,” he said, and “I embody the theme of transition as an interim.” However, one person who spoke with him inadvertently reminded Josefsberg that he can also “focus away from adult dramas” such as the challenges of finding a new superintendent to replace him. That person shared appreciation for what New Paltz teachers do for children, reminding the interim superintendent that “the core mission of teaching and learning is not in transition.”