The Secaucus Board of Education has retained the services of a statewide organization to help identify candidates to replace School Superintendent Constantino Scerbo, who will retire on June 30 after 24 years in the position.
The Trenton-based New Jersey School Boards Association will facilitate the superintendent search, which officially began on Feb. 8. Applications are due by Feb. 22.
The Association has placed announcements in the Newark Star-Ledger and on their own website for the position. Once they receive candidates, they will help the Secaucus Board of Education narrow them down to eight or nine people who will be interviewed.
The association facilitates superintendent searches for more than 80 percent of school boards in the state of New Jersey. According to the association’s spokesman, Frank Belluscio, this is the first time the town of Secaucus has used their services.
The Secaucus School District has more than 2,000 students and an annual budget of $32 million.
Parents give input
Two weeks ago, field service representatives from the New Jersey School Boards Association held several community input meetings in town – two with parents and one at each school with teachers – to get a sense of what residents want in the next superintendent.
The meetings were not advertised in local newspapers. Scerbo’s office said that parents were notified through a phone tree, and teachers were notified through fliers.
Some residents expressed disappointment in the sparsely attended parent input meetings, which were held on Ash Wednesday and on the following night, Feb. 7, at the Secaucus High School and Huber Elementary School.
Approximately 35 people attended the Ash Wednesday meeting at the high school, according to Cathie Sousa, field service representative with the New Jersey School Boards Association. Eleven parents attended the meeting at Huber.
However, Sousa, who lead the two parent input meetings, said sparse attendance may be a signal that residents are content with the school system and its leadership.
“Low attendance can mean people are happy with the status quo and don’t have any complaints,” Sousa said before the parent input meeting at Huber. “Usually when you have a packed auditorium, people are there because they have a lot of problems and complaints.”
That seemed to be the case at the meeting at Huber, where parents gave high marks to Superintendent Scerbo and indicated they want his replacement to run the school system, more or less, the way he has.
“We’re very spoiled because Mr. Scerbo was wonderful,” said Kelli D’Addetta, who has children in Clarendon. “What are the chances of someone coming and making drastic changes? I don’t think I’d want that.”
“We’ve heard that message loud and clear,” Sousa said. “Based on these meetings, based upon what you’ve told us, what we’ve heard from everyone in your community, we develop a criteria rating form. We’ll share that rating form with your board of education. The form will basically say, ‘This is what we feel should be using when reviewing applications.'”
PTA likes Scerbo
Sonia Adriani echoed D’Addetta’s point, stating that Superintendent Scerbo has been very supportive of PTA’s and initiatives, such as school uniforms, that are important to parents in Secaucus.
“One thing I would want to know about a new superintendent is whether he or she had a PTA in the district where they currently work, and whether they were supportive of that PTA,” Adriani said.
Other parents noted that a large part of Scerbo’s appeal is the fact that he is considered to be a community person.
“He comes to everything. Any event we have in the community, he’s there, even if he can only come for five minutes,” said Lucille Wright.
What the new super will face
Wright and several of the parents at the meeting explicitly stated they’d like the next super to be selected from within the town.
Among the issues parents said the new super must be prepared to face include Secaucus’ growing school district and the possibility of overcrowding in the future as the town and district grow; the possible need for redistributing the grades to accommodate overcrowding; and the need for a new technology department in the high school.
“What we need, I think, is someone who can think outside the box and really take this school district to the next level,” said Joe Tringali. “I’d really like to see the new superintendent be someone who has an innovative thinking and who can bring new ways of doing things here.”
New school board will hire superintendent
Given that Scerbo announced his retirement several months ago, “Some people have questioned why the position wasn’t advertised sooner, why hasn’t the school board moved faster to find his replacement,” Sousa noted. “The board, as it sits today, doesn’t have the authority to hire your next superintendent.”
Sousa explained that by law, only the people who are board members when the position becomes vacant can hire the new superintendent. The next Board of Education election is in April, with three of the nine seats possibly changing. Scerbo will vacate his position in June.
Therefore, the new board will officially select the next super. Sousa said she expects the current board members will likely do the first round of interviews with applicants, but nothing further will be done on the superintendent search until after April.
Requirements for the job
Applicants for the job are expected to have a New Jersey School Administrator Certificate or a Certificate of Eligibility for School Administrator and must have a minimum of five years experience as a principal and/or working in a central office. It is also preferred that candidates have an earned doctorate; classroom teaching experience; previous employment as a superintendent or assistant superintendent, and administrative experience in a K-12 school system.
Educators interested in the position also will have to fill out and submit a detailed six-page application that includes topical essay questions.
They must also submit their most recent evaluation and two evaluations that they have given to subordinates.
“It’s a rather extensive application. The information we want them to provide is very specific. We don’t just want philosophy,” Sousa said.
Sousa said the association typically gets about 30 to 35 applications when its does superintendent searches.
Sousa said she will present qualified applications to the Board of Education some time in early March.
The district is paying the School Boards Association $6,000 for their help.