Public discusses qualities of a new superintendent

A small but passionate group came together in the Middlebrook School auditorium on Tuesday night to take part in a public forum for the selection of a new superintendent.

The new Wilton Public Schools boss will replace the outgoing Gary Richards, who is retiring after nine years at the helm.

The forum was conducted by the search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, and was moderated by John Chambers and Deborah Raizes of HYA.

The firm said the online survey will remain up through Friday, Nov. 1. Mr. Chambers indicated the comments presented in the public forum would be combined with those gathered in the survey, as well as individual conversations they had with members of Wilton Public Schools.

Those findings will be presented to the Board of Education at the Nov. 14 meeting. The report will be available to the public.

Mr. Chambers said HYA will find candidates that they will present to the board, with the intention of having a new superintendent in place by July 1.

The overall mood of the session was positive, with a few criticisms as well as praise for Dr. Richards.

“Having a school that is so diverse gives more students a chance to shine and find a niche,” said Kimber Felton. “That’s a big strength.”

Alex Ruskewich had children who attended the system, and he had the harshest criticism, although he meant his words to serve as an opportunity for improvement.

“There are many excellent teachers in this school system, and there are also some losers,” he said. “One teacher turned my daughter off on math completely. Another teacher was teaching French and didn’t really understand French. My wife is fluent in French.”

He held a copy of a book called The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley, which, he said, measures student performance worldwide.

“The United States isn’t doing very well,” he said. “They’re 25th in science, they’re 18th in math, they’re 12th in reading, and this on an international test, based across all countries.

“What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t be bound by continuing what we did in the past. We have to look at different ways of doing things.”

He stressed that Wilton schools are very good, but he is concerned about how they perform worldwide.

Jennifer Ringelheim, a teacher at Cider Mill and a Wilton resident, heaped praise upon the outgoing superintendent.

“The support that he provides for the teachers is phenomenal,” she said. “I have friends in other districts, and there is something that Dr. Richards does that other districts are not receiving. I would like to see that continue.”

Suzanne Heckt is new to Wilton and said she came here because of the school district.

“I hope for someone to keep the success of the schools going,” she said. “I believe in the public school system.”

Among the other thoughts presented was that the new superintendent should be a vital presence in the community — not just among the schools but overall, appearing at non-school events also.

Additionally, the new person needs to get the staff on board, “coming out of his ivory tower,” as one participant said.

The audience agreed that the new superintendent should be well-rounded, with a balance of CEO and business acumen, combined with that of school leadership. A new voice, someone from outside of the general area, would be welcomed, as that would provide a new perspective, and someone who can draw from different resources.