Richard Bergeron, Superintendent/Principal in Boxborough
by Cynthia Sorn
Richard Bergeron has served the town of Boxborough as superintendent/principal of the Blanchard Memorial School since 1990. Previously he served as principal and third, fourth and fifth grade teacher in Chelmsford. Bergeron received his doctorate in educational leadership from Boston College. During the time of his leadership in Boxborough, the school received recognition as a Commonwealth Blue Ribbon School. He also led a successful effort to renovate and enlarge the school within budget and on time.
“Meet and greet”
On February 11, Bergeron, the second of three candidates being considered, spent the day visiting the Carlisle School, observing classrooms, meeting the teachers and students, and enjoying a school lunch.
After being introduced to the group, Bergeron sat next to Michelle Sobin, Executive Vice-President of the Carlisle School Association. Sobin explained the role of the CSA, and mentioned she would be the president of the organization next year. Asked what he thought the role of a superintendent was, Bergeron replied, “Ultimately the school depends on great teachers.” Bergeron was previously a third, four, and fifth grade teacher in Chelmsford.
In response to a question about Carlisle’s challenges, Bergeron expressed concern about the infrastructure of the school and lack of growth space. He explained how a major building project was handled at his school. “We made our building project part of our curriculum,” he said, explaining that the expansion project, which finished on time and within budget, was tied into the students’ everyday learning. “School was going on during the project,” he said, so to be successful “you must have a committed staff, and parents.”
Asked what impressed him during his day-long visit to the Carlisle School, he said “I listened to the band. The children are fantastic, the staff is fantastic. The only issue I’ve seen is the infrastructure.”
“This question can really reveal things” about someone, began third grade teacher Gene Stamell. “What did you dress as last Halloween?” Bergeron said he dressed as the fife player who led the first battle at the Old North Bridge. “He was the first one shot.”
“How do you suggest parents can get information about what is going on at the high school,” asked Carlisle Recreation Commissioner Maureen Tarca. She said parents receive so much information about the grade school, but when their kids go to Concord-Carlisle High School they feel cut off. “The role of the superintendent has to be K through 12,” answered Bergeron. “The superintendent has to advocate for communication bridges.”
School Committee interview
1. Why you would like to be the Superintendent of Schools in our district? Specifically, why are you attracted to the position? What qualities and strengths do you bring to this position and to our community?
“First of all, thank you for the wonderful visit,” Bergeron replied. It was a “whirlwind,” he said. Referring to how he decided to apply for the position, he said “At stages I came to the decision to explore other ideas.” He has been superintendent of the Blanchard Memorial School for 14 years. “I have a set of unique skills and expertise that would be a good fit for a successful candidate for Carlisle.” He would bring a fresh view, he said, which would benefit both himself and the school. “I would bring you a fairly complete candidate.,” pointing out that he has gone through a successful building project. He said he is a person who makes long-term commitments. “I look forward to exercising my experience in a community that is a match.” He is familiar with Carlisle and knows a great deal of it’s history.
2. Today you had an opportunity to visit with our community. Could you tell us how our system either compares or differs from the school where you are now working?
In Carlisle, he said, “I found caring teachers, involved parents, and a high-performing district,” which is similar to Boxborough. The visit validated his choice to seek the position, he continued. “I felt very quickly not only welcomed, but a part of the school.” Though his school is K through 6, there are very few differences between the school systems, he concluded.
3a. What is your vision for a high performing school? What do the schools strive for in curriculum, instruction, technology, community involvement, and student performance?
“My vision of a high performing school is that all students succeed.” He would like to see a school that looks to provide learning - academic and social - for all students. “Every child feels adults know each personally” in a high-performing school, he said, “and can coach and support them, and recognize individual potential. We will take time to know each student.” He said instruction should be modified to meet individual needs. There are more technological opportunities in the Boxborough School, he explained. “Our computer ratio is four to one.” He would increase the technology available. “In a high performance school students are technologically aware.” The community needs to be involved, he added.
3b. What do you seek to accomplish in your career?
Bergeron, who has a doctorate in educational leadership from Boston College, explained that he would eventually like to “end up in a university setting to affect future teachers.”
4a. From the standpoint of your career, what would be three of the most important challenges that you confronted in order to bring about these achievements?
His three challenges were:
1. The formation of an integrated preschool, bringing out of district preschoolers back into the district. It was very successful, especially from a child’s perspective.
2. The Blanchard School website, “which has an invitation to take a virtual tour of the school. The more we publicize our successes, the more support we have from the community.”
3. Applying much of his research to adult learning and professional development.
4b. What do you see as one or two challenges you would like to focus on if you were appointed as our superintendent of schools?
We should look at limited resources, he said, of time, money, and energy in a small town. We want to be very creative with resources. We need to do facility planning and infrastructure improvement. As teachers retire, look at the change as an opportunity. Bring forward, and support new teacher candidates.
5. Please describe a time when you provided leadership to produce a significant change for a school or a program. Why did you feel it was necessary for this to be pursued? How did you address the community’s investment with the status quo? What did you do? At what points did you become more directive; more collaborative? Why? What did you learn from the experience?
“Boxborough was a rapidly growing district,” Bergeron explained, and the school population doubled each year. The growth was so rapid that they didn’t have time to plan and instead “just reacted.” They erected modular classrooms, had classrooms without homes, a “grade two on a cart,” and had to close the gym, using it for four classrooms. He and the school committee had to convince the town to support the building project. “I have a great deal of pride in that building. I learned it’s better to begin the discussion [on the building project] before the pressures drive the process.” He said his style is more collaborative. “I create committees of decision. But I’m directive when I have to decide snow days.”
6a. Describe how you would attempt to bring the community together in anticipation of a difficult budget process.
“The answer can be found in Reframing Organizations by Lee Bolman” he replied. You would look at relationships, using a “lens.” You would spend time looking at the financial situation, he said.
6b. Describe a specific budgeting situation you have faced, tell us how you addressed it. What were the tradeoffs and results? Why did you select these trade-offs and not others?
He said an override recently failed in Boxborough, which required major cuts in the school budget. “I was faced with cutting 10% of the budget. If I were faced with an override again, I wouldn’t allow it fail. Tearing down the organization wrenched my heart.” We need to bring information to seniors, he explained. “I learn from my experiences,” he added. He said the trade-offs were using a collaborative model by talking with the facility and school committee.
7a. In your current position, how have you communicated with other town departments, town boards, parent groups and the community?
“I’ve rarely gone out to dinner with my school committee,” Bergeron joked, “so I’ve enjoyed this immensely.” Bergeron said he meets with the school committee monthly. “They need to know what is happening and I provide reports.”
7b. Share an example of an unpopular idea that you brought to your staff and describe how you persuaded them to support this approach. Share an example of a challenging issue that you brought to the Superintendent and or school committee and how you enlisted their support.
The unpopular idea, he said, was having the teachers do presentations at the school committee meetings. The school committee enjoys the presentations, but the teachers didn’t want to do them. A challenging issue was the revision of the home school program.
8. You arrived anticipating a variety of questions. What questions did you expect that we did not ask?
Bergeron replied that he felt all areas were covered. “I enjoyed the day.”
School Committee Chair David Dockterman then turned to the pile of index cards that contained questions from the audience.
What do you see as the role of parents?
The involvement is appreciated, Bergeron responded. He said there are 180 scheduled parent volunteers who visit weekly at his school.
How would the goal of college be incorporated into a student’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) plan?
“For some students college may not be appropriate,” he replied. Bergeron said he leads every special education team meeting. The right answer, he explained, is what is appropriate for that child.
How do you balance the budget with the cost of students with significant special needs?
The educational program for that child may be expensive, but if the team feels it is appropriate, “I have an obligation to provide that program.” But, he continued, that doesn’t mean that some “creativity” can’t be used to keep costs down.
How often do you interact with students?
“If it were up to me, all day,” he replied.