Public opinion sought in schools chief search

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Sept. 5, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — The Board of Education is looking for community input as it moves forward on hiring a new superintendent of schools.

A consultant conducting the superintendent search Thursday held the first two of three community forums, and is asking residents to fill out leadership profiles to indicate what they are looking for in the school district’s next chief.

At the same time, Town Council members said at their regular meeting Tuesday that they would like a greater say in the decision, and they asked Town Attorney Timothy Yolen to look into how much authority they have in the hiring process.

Superintendent Robert Wolfe, who has held the position for about seven years, announced his retirement in May. He is planning to leave at the end of December, and the Board of Education wants a new permanent leader to start Jan. 1.

The two forums Thursday drew a handful of attendees, but consultant Eliza Holcomb said she is hoping that more people will fill out the profiles, which are available online at www.northbranfordschools.org or in hard copy at any public school, Atwater Memorial Library and the Senior Center.

At Thursday’s forum, Holcomb asked participants what they think the good qualities of the school district are, what challenges the new superintendent will face and what qualifications or experience should be expected of the candidates.

Kristen Hart, who has children in the schools, called the town’s relatively small size a “double-edged sword.”

“It’s a small community, so everyone knows everyone, so I think that’s good in a way because when you get things going that people are on board with you get a lot of support,” Hart said. “You want somebody who has really good interpersonal relationship skills (and) that can communicate well.”

Laura Anastasio, another parent, praised the quality of teaching in the schools, but said she thinks the physical conditions in the buildings are substandard.

“I think that we are fortunate in that we have people who really care about education and doing what they’re there to do,” she said. “The teachers that my children have had have all been incredibly dedicated and really hard working.”

Several people at the forum said they do not think that candidates for the position need to have prior experience as a superintendent in another district, noting that someone coming out of an academic program might have a fresh perspective for the school system.

Holcomb said she is planning to present a leadership profile based on the forums and forms to the Board of Education in early October, and it could begin interviewing candidates that month.

The district has already advertised for the position, but has not set a specific salary range. Wolfe earns more than $130,000.

Holcomb has already met with the school board, Town Council, administrators and some parent-teacher organizations. At their meeting this week, Town Council members discussed their role in the hiring process.

“We’re hiring the highest-paid guy in town and we have to raise the money to pay, so I want to see if there’s a law that says we have no say in hiring him,” Al Rose said at the meeting.

Vincent Caprio said he thinks the council members should meet with candidates and the school board.

“Instead of having them say, ‘Here’s our final candidate, what do you think?’ for us to sit in on the interview process I think would be great,” Caprio said.

Yolen said he would research the question for the council and report back.

Council member Joanne Wentworth attended Thursday’s forum. The final forum is scheduled for Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. in the library at Totoket Valley Elementary School.

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