“Surprise” is the word Richard D’Agostino used to describe his appointment as superintendent of Warwick Schools. It’s understandable. He wasn’t actively seeking the position when he was chosen to fill the role of acting superintendent in September; he wasn’t interviewed for the post by the School Committee; the committee hadn’t posted it would make a selection on its agenda. Yet, by a 4-1 vote last Tuesday, he was picked for the job.
“Surprise” is not how the committee running the system should operate. Remember, they are elected and they are reporting to us. But that isn’t happening.
Start with the action to place former Superintendent Peter Horoschak on paid administrative leave last September. That, too, was a surprise.
Horoschak, whose three-year contract expired this coming July, had not been given a formal job evaluation as his contract required. He was not cited for committing an act that would have merited his dismissal and, in fact, in a press release issued in December when he announced his retirement, the committee applauded his management of the system.
So, why was he pushed out?
Clearly, the committee is not following its own policy or procedures, nor does the public have an explanation of what’s happening, or a means of evaluating whether these actions are in the best interest of our children and our schools.
In voting for D’Agostino, committee chair Bethany Furtado said this would not be the time to conduct a search for a superintendent, as it would be a diversion from pressing issues facing the district. Further, she reasoned that D’Agostino has demonstrated he is capable of running the system and that the process of selecting a superintendent can be undertaken prior to the expiration of D’Agostino’s contract in July 2014.
Unfortunately, the concern for a smooth transition is misplaced.
Furtado feels this is best for Warwick schools. We don’t.
There is never a better time than now to engage in a discussion of how our schools are performing and how they can be improved. D’Agostino may be the man to do that, but with a 15-month contract, he is hamstrung. Instead of pushing the process, the committee has put Warwick schools in a holding pattern.
What’s more distressing is that there isn’t an agenda. The committee has not defined what it expects of the system or its leader. It has not even finalized a contract with D’Agostino, although he now holds the top job.
To its credit, the school administration is taking a hard look at the system’s declining enrollment and how best to allocate its resources – the taxpayers’ money. This is not the time for surprises. This is the time for a thoughtful engaged community discussion of where our schools should be next year, five years from now and in generations to come.