Schenectady teachers urge open superintendent search, more transparent annual review

Calls come in board meeting public comments, including censored letter
Schenectady's Mont Pleasant Middle School
Schenectady's Mont Pleasant Middle School

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Schenectady city school teachers have urged the school board to move forward with an open search for its next superintendent that involves teachers, paraprofessionals, students, parents and others.

Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, in public comments submitted to the school board last week called on the board to conduct an open superintendent search. “To do anything else would be irresponsible and a significant letdown to our school community,” Benaquisto wrote.

The school board has started the process of searching for a new superintendent after former Superintendent Larry Spring resigned abruptly in March. The board in April heard a presentation on the difference between a “confidential” and open search; the open search enables more public input while a confidential search protects the secrecy desired by some prospective candidates.

The board is scheduled to resume discussions of the search process during a work session Wednesday night.

A group of six Schenectady educators in April submitted a letter to the school board similarly calling for teacher and community involvement in the search for a new superintendent and asking that the school board reconsider how it evaluates the annual performance of the district superintendent, suggesting teachers be included in the annual review process.

The teachers’ letter, which was partly redacted, also refers to a culture of “don’t go to the board” and recommends developing teacher liaisons to the school board who can ensure “concerns can be brought to the board in a constructive, non-threatening way.”

A copy of the letter was included in the meeting minutes for the school board’s April 22 meeting, but a significant portion of the letter was redacted, with a note added to the top of the letter indicating the redactions were made because blacked out information “was deemed confidential and/or protected.”

It’s not clear what district officials redacted from the letter, but when Spring resigned in March, he and the board signed a non-disclosure agreement which bars the board from making disparaging comments about Spring.

The letter calls for including a “cross section of stakeholders” to serve on an interview committee tasked with meeting candidates for the superintendent position; the letter also calls for including a committee charged with researching candidates for “possible warning signals from previous employment.”

In an interview Tuesday, Benaquisto said some union members did have concerns about Spring’s leadership that they felt were not sufficiently addressed during his tenure.

“Over the years there were concerns. I know individuals in our organization had concerns and there are many people today who feel those concerns went unheeded,” Benaquisto said. “That it culminated with Spring leaving with a NDA [non-disclosure agreement] speaks volumes to our members.” Teachers want to see that situation avoided in the future, she said.

She referred to the district’s previous superintendent, Eric Ely, who left the district in the wake of the trial of Steven Raucci, who was convicted on charges of terrorizing other district employees. She said it was important to find a new superintendent with strong integrity. She also said it was important for the board to develop a more transparent review process for the superintendent position, noting that it is hard to make sense of just how the board reviews the annual performance of the superintendent.

“Given Schenectady’s past records of our two [past] superintendents, Mr. Spring and Mr. Ely, I think it’s really important to try and find a candidate that will restore integrity to that position.” she said.

Benaquisto said different groups – both district employees and others – have a different perspective on what is important in the district’s next leader and that the board should hear those different views. She said the board should establish committees involving educators and the community to be involved in the search process and to listen to those groups.

“There is no way of doing that if it’s a confidential search,” she said. “I don’t understand how a board would not want the input of all the stakeholders.”

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