Sag Harbor focuses on superintendent search

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Taking suggestions from a slew of community groups into account, the Sag Harbor School Board has refined the list of qualities it would like in a new district superintendent and released those specifications late last month.

School Leadership LLC, a hiring consultant based in Manhattan and Exeter, New Hampshire, met with school and community groups on April 1 and 2 in order to better understand the needs of district “stakeholders” and attempt to identify challenges and expectations related to and affecting the superintendent search process. The focus groups were attended by 100 people and representatives from School Leadership said the meetings helped them get a sense of the community and the culture, traditions and qualities that make it unique.

That information could help entice qualified candidates to make the move to Sag Harbor, according to the consultants.

The board announced current Superintendent Kathryn Holden’s ouster in January, and she is expected to leave the district on July 31—11 months before her contract expires. Citing the need to move in a different direction, clearly one of more stringent financial accountability and transparency, the board settled with Ms. Holden for $100,000 and lifetime health benefits. Board members also were allowed to embark on the search for her replacement.

District expenditures grew during Ms. Holden’s eight years as superintendent, sometimes in the double digits, and the board has met increasing pressure from taxpayers to become more fiscally responsible.

The six suggested specifications for recruiting and screening candidates focus on personal qualities, rather than specific and measurable skills. The qualities were compiled from groups’ answers to a series of three questions that asked participants to define “selling points” for the district and Sag Harbor as a whole, leadership challenges facing a new administrator, and the most critically needed personal characteristics and background experiences of a new superintendent.

School Leadership said 164 questionnaires were returned, the highest number they have gotten back from a district.

With the specifications, the district is advertising and asking for an instructional leader who can improve student achievement in an already high-achieving school district. The district is also looking for a good listener and creative thinker who can provide direction and vision for improved programs and services, as well as someone experienced in balancing budgets.

The candidate should be someone skilled in issues of operational management with organizational skills needed to implement the district’s vision and ensure overall accountability, while also being ethical and honest, according to the study. The results also call for a visible district and community leader and advocate as well as someone who will invest time in all aspects of the greater Sag Harbor community and in reaching out to partner with other East End schools when needed.

School Leadership will mail a letter listing those specifications to more than 1,100 professionals throughout the country in an attempt to recruit a new superintendent.

The groups and individuals included in the focus groups included the Lion’s Club, Ladies Village Improvement Society, Police Benevolent Association, Chamber of Commerce, Noyac Civic Council, AARP, American Legion and the Whaling Museum. Also providing input were school security staff, student government and class officers, building administrators, elementary, middle and high school teachers, PTA and PTSA, student council members and district office staff. Representatives of the Sag Harbor Fire Department and Police Department, including Police Chief Tom Fabiano, and Village Mayor Gregory Ferraris also offered their input as did members of the public during the final community meeting.

The board discussed the specifications at its April 14 meeting and President Theresa Samot said that 24 students were among the 100 focus group attendees.

Ms. Samot said the students made excellent recommendations and the board members are “all very proud of them and their input.”

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