Warwick’s new superintendent of schools, Richard D’Agostino, wasn’t prepared to have his picture taken yesterday. He was at work but was somewhat informally wearing a sweater.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t prepared to talk about formalizing the role he has played since Peter Horoschak was placed on paid leave in September.
“You could say I was auditioning for this position for the last five months,” he said, near the conclusion of a 45-minute impromptu interview yesterday.
D’Agostino did not say a disparaging word about his predecessor, who has since resigned before his 3-year contract expired this July. He called their styles of administrating “different,” and emphasized that, unlike Horoschak, who had served as superintendent for several out-of-state districts before coming to Warwick, he has come up through the ranks of the Warwick system.
“I’m honored and humbled by it,” D’Agostino said of the School Committee’s action. He said it came as a surprise. The committee posted “superintendent” on its meeting agenda but gave no indication that any action would be taken. D’Agostino didn’t attend the executive session where his appointment was evidently discussed, but the action came in the open meeting.
D’Agostino said he sees a difference in the district since he has been at the helm and he attributes it to his “open” style of leadership.
Referring to 23 years as a Warwick school administrator, D’Agostino said people have come to know what to expect of him through his actions and communications.
“I try to make it a team, not a sole decision maker,” he said of his style. Expanding on that, he added, “I try to cover all the possibilities before making a decision.”
D’Agostino stressed the importance of maintaining lines of communication, “an open door policy” and addressing issues promptly.
“If a little problem is allowed to fester, it can be hard to handle. I would rather know a problem now than to let it become a big problem later,” he said.
He believes his style is responsible for the fact that not a single grievance has been filed against him in 23 years as a school administrator.
D’Agostino, 62, and a Smithfield resident, credits former director of pupil personnel services, Henry Lemiere; former Robertson School Principal Ray O’Connell; and the late Superintendent of Schools, Robert Shapiro, with mentoring and inspiring him. He also named them as a reason why he wants the job.
“Because of them,” he said, “I felt I owed Warwick a debt, because they helped me along the line.”
He adds, “This is my opportunity to thank them and the other administrators and parents who have supported me.”
His only regret is that Eleanor “Pat” Waterman, who was his secretary for 17 years as principal of Oakland Beach School, has passed away and is not here to see his appointment.
“She would be very proud today,” he said.
Asked how relations with the city side of the government and, in particular, Mayor Scott Avedisian, might change, D’Agostino said as acting superintendent he maintained communication with Col. Steven McCartney, Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong as well as Sue Baker in the mayor’s office.
“I have been communicating with the mayor and trying to keep open. We all work for the same place. We are a team and we need to foster that,” he said.
Mayor Avedisian said he was informed of D’Agostino’s appointment Tuesday night and sent him a congratulatory email.
The city administration has been critical of schools and how they revise their budget [usually upward] during the fiscal year and can’t seem to complete the fiscal year with a balanced budget. Schools completed the 2012 fiscal year with a $2.8 million surplus, which has been rolled forward into the current school budget.
D’Agostino defends the transitional nature of the school budget and is rankled by the perception that the school budget is perceived as “a black hole.”
He said school resources can be dramatically affected by the number of special education students in the system. As an example, he said, the addition of only five students that require out-of-district instruction could cost an unanticipated $350,000. Likewise, he said revisions in state and federal aid during the fiscal year can leave the department either scrambling for funds or seeing a surplus during the year.
D’Agostino pointed out that the Early Childhood Center at the former Drum Rock School, which he created, has enabled the department to reduce annual out-of-district tuition costs for special needs students from $10 million to $4.1 million.
D’Agostino continues to wear two hats. He said the terms of his contract have yet to be finalized and, for the moment, he is still the director of special education. His salary was adjusted when he became acting superintendent and he is being paid $164,000.
As a display of his management style, D’Agostino points to the blinds to the superintendent’s office. They have traditionally been closed and didn’t allow people in the building to know if anyone was in there. Until he drew the blinds, D’Agostino said, some regular visitors were unaware there was an office behind them.
“I have opened the windows and let the sunlight in Warwick schools,” he said.