To the Editor:
I was very disappointed to learn of the School Committee's recent decision to not engage in a search for the next superintendent of schools. While I am not questioning Dr. D'Agostino's qualifications, I am questioning the judgment of our elected officials in not conducting what is considered a standard procedure for school districts and businesses when a top leadership position is, or will be, vacated. In my view, the appointment of a superintendent is the single most important function of our elected school officials. At a time when the city's schools are facing many complicated issues, many with long-term consequences, conducting a search for the most qualified, experienced leader possible is crucial for the success of both the next superintendent and school system.
Is there anyone who wouldn't want our elected leaders to spend the time and energy required for such an important decision? Although vague, even district policy states, "When the office of the superintendent of schools becomes vacant, the School Committee shall seek candidates from available personnel within the school system, and candidates from the outside, and may require the posting of vacancies, and/or the public advertising of vacancies."
Has even this basic policy requirement been met? With many residents and staff still confused and disappointed in the result of our most recent superintendent's term, the School Committee should be taking extra precautions to reassure the public regarding their ability and dedication to the oversight of this position.
I am also extremely concerned about the process by which this decision was made. The Beacon and others had asked the School Committee repeatedly about the process for the selection of a superintendent and they have not provided any answers regarding process or timeline for a decision. Then, suddenly, with only a few days' notice, a special School Committee meeting was scheduled and held during the February school vacation when many families are away and therefore, unable to attend or even be made aware of this meeting. To make matters worse, there was no opportunity provided for public comment at the only meeting where this topic was on the agenda. The school district's policies state "Special meetings of the School Committee may be called with one week's notice by the clerk at the request of two members of the committee. Emergency meetings may be called at the request of the chairperson only after consent of all the members of the School Committee. Special and Emergency meetings will be published in the newspaper and on the school department website in compliance with the open meeting laws of Rhode Island."
This lack of process, violation of its own policies and no solicitation of public input are the types of behaviors that erode public trust and lead to a questioning of member motives, especially when their decision deviates from widely accepted practices. If the majority of the School Committee feels that Dr. D'Agostino is the best choice for superintendent, why not continue his current acting role while performing a search to confirm their beliefs? This would not only help to maintain the public's trust of our School Committee, but it would also enhance both enthusiasm and confidence regarding the school district's new leader. I believe the School Committee has done a disservice to themselves, Dr. D'Agostino and the city of Warwick. However, regardless of my disappointment in the School Committee process, I truly congratulate Dr. D'Agostino on his new position, wish him the best and hope we all will support him in his new role.
Jennifer L. Mann