The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 28, 2003


Focus group identifies challenges, opportunities for new superintendent: How will we attract good teachers, maintain small class size, deal with space issues?

Ten Carlisle residents came out on a windy Thursday night to discuss the challenges and opportunities that will face the new Carlisle School superintendent. Current Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson is retiring at the end of the school year, and the search is already underway. "We'll go through six or seven questions," explained forum leader Dick Warren, a consultant for the search firm Future Management System. The evening's goal was to create a community profile based on the answers, Warren said, which would be presented to the Superintendent Search Committee. The profile would also be provided to the new superintendent after he or she is hired, as a tool to better understand the Carlisle community.

Carlisle residents turn out to discuss finding a new superintendent for the Carlisle Schools. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

Warren first asked the group to describe the reasons why people live in Carlisle. The responses included the school, open space, lack of industry, proximity to Boston, small town, conservation, and safety. "And it's too far to Vermont," joked Mary Jane Knudson.

Warren then asked the group to describe how the community shows support for the school. Parent involvement was a big factor, agreed the group. "We support the school by paying taxes," added John DeBruzzi. The Spaghetti Supper was cited as a good example of community support. "Parents are very involved in volunteering," said Andi Gettys. Also noted was the school coverage by the Carlisle Mosquito. "The community definitely contributes to the feeling of safety," added Dale Ryder, pointing out the new walking paths by the school.

"What are the strengths of the school?" asked Warren. "The educational excellence," responded Ryder. "Part of its strength is the focus and emphasis on community, and civility," added Knudson. "And being a good citizen." Also listed was teachers and administration, small size of the school, Systems Thinking, meeting individual needs, lots of collaboration, CSA, accessible superintendent, dedicated school committee, and the efforts to work with the town on the budget. The Carlisle School library is a big asset, the group agreed.

The next task, Warren explained, was to list the important issues the new superintendent would face. Overwhelmingly the group agreed the top issue would be finances, including how to handle continued special education costs. "The new superintendent needs to educate the public" about the state requirements for special education, said Ryder, pointing out that while the state mandates special education, it does not give enough financial support to the towns. Concern about the loss of veteran teachers through early retirement was also discussed. Growing class size and the lack of expansion space was cited as another potential issue.

"What would be the three top issues the superintendent would face?" asked Warren. The group spent some time brainstorming, discussing such issues as building a new school, the wastewater treatment facility, class size, the quality of education during difficult financial times, teacher training, and special education. It was agreed that the three top issues were the recruitment, professional training, and longevity of teachers, the financial situation and how it affects class size, and addressing space issues as the school reaches its maximum population.

Continuing with the discussion on issues, Warren wanted the group to predict what the emerging issues would be five years or more from now. "Maintaining the school with a finite tax base, which is a challenge with no commercial base," responded DeBruzzi. Other issues were the polarization of the population as it ages, affecting the community support of the school, as well as safety, cultural differences and homeland security. Concerns were raised about retaining the level of academic achievement and current high level of MCAS performance, which could be affected by budget cuts.

Warren asked what qualities made the current superintendent effective, and which of those skills were desired in the new superintendent. The group quickly made a long list, including such traits as: likes kids, likes people, a sense of humor, approachable, has a strong point of view with principles and convictions, an effective negotiator, skilled recruiter, sets clear priorities, well-respected, fosters excellence and civility, and builds an effective team.

Finally Warren wanted to know if anyone could think of additional skills which would be needed by the new superintendent. "The superintendent needs the ability to make all kids part of the community," responded Joan Hoffman, suggesting more attention be given to educating kids on accepting differences. The group thought it would be good to continue and deepen the relationship with the high school, and it would be helpful to have the superintendent pursue alternative funding.

Warren thanked the group for participating, noting there was a lot of "commonality" between the focus groups. He said the target date for making an offer to a candidate is the end of February.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito