SARATOGA SPRINGS — Thiha Naing was the only student at a community forum convened Tuesday to jump-start the search for the next superintendent of schools.
School board member Jim Wendell asked the high school junior what the district's next leader would need to improve upon.
Naing didn’t have to look far for ideas — the forum took place inside the high school cafeteria.
“They can improve lunch,” the soft-spoken 17-year-old said, his frank reply making the adults at the table laugh.
Wendell asked, “All right; how?”
“They can improve the quality of the food — make it healthier,” Naing said. “It can’t just taste good.”
Naing joined about 50 people — a combination of board members, administrators, teachers, school staff and regional BOCES employees — at the forum, which was designed to give school board members a clearer picture of what the community wants to see in Superintendent Michael Piccirillo’s replacement. Piccirillo announced in January he is retiring on Dec. 31, 2017.
Piccirillo became superintendent on July 1, 2012, after serving as the district’s assistant superintendent of secondary education for five years. Before that, he was the Guilderland High School principal, an administrator in the Shenendehowa and Niskayuna districts and also taught in the Lake George and North Warren districts.
“Tonight is the first step of this significant process, and we’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say,” said James Dexter, district superintendent for Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES, who is leading the search.
The job opening will be publicized nationally on June 5. Dexter said the goal is to have the school board appoint a new superintendent by mid-October so he or she can give proper notice at his or her current district and start on Jan. 1.
“This search will go all the way across the entire country,” said Michael DeCaprio, a BOCES facilitator sitting at Naing’s table. “It will be local. It will be across New York. It will be all the way out in California and Hawaii. Do you prefer somebody who has worked nearby? Do you prefer somebody who has worked on the East Coast? Does it matter?”
Naing said he’d like to see a superintendent who has worked “all over — different places — so he can bring new ideas.”
“If that person already worked here, those ideas would be the same,” he said.
Attendees were divided into groups of five and were asked to list personal and professional characteristics they feel are important in the next school leader, as well as indicators of those traits. BOCES moderators also asked what challenges need to be addressed in the district, what skills and attributes the next superintendent should have, and to share what they value about the district and school community.
After the lists had been compiled, David Ashdown, the regional BOCES coordinator for instructional technology, used a website called Word Clouds to organize the ideas. The program makes words bigger or smaller based on their frequency.
“In the first one, they really want to see someone who’s approachable,” he said. “In the second one, they want someone with experience in the classroom.”
Other words that jumped off the screen were integrity, open-minded, communicator, knowledgeable and responsive.
During the discussion on district challenges, Naing had more ideas than just elevating the lunch menu. He also said the next superintendent should address gender issues, pointing to the need for gender-neutral bathrooms, as well as emergency procedures.
“Do you feel that we need to practice them more — have more drills, like lockdowns?” asked Diane King, the district’s director of pupil services.
“We need to practice them more seriously,” Naing said.
At a table across the room, Craig Hall, a parent, said the next superintendent’s personal characteristics should include being intelligent.
“That’s my daughter’s — she said this person should be smart.”
School board president JoAnne Kiernan asked if that meant the new hire should have a Ph.D. Not necessarily, Hall said, adding that he or she should be well-versed in educational trends.
“I think there’s a lot of smart people that don’t have Ph.Ds. I don’t think it should be a requirement,” he said. “It doesn’t fit in this category, but I would even argue that there might even be a scenario where they have some level of experience outside of education at some point in their career.”
He added, “I feel like I’m filling out a LinkedIn profile.”
Hall also wanted to see a superintendent who is kind. Sarah Battiste, the table’s BOCES moderator, asked, “What kinds of things would you see in a kind, pleasant candidate?”
“I can tell you the things you don’t see,” Hall said. “You don’t see them yelling at people with dissenting ideas.”
Anyone who was unable to attend the forum and wants to add suggestions can take an online survey now through June 9.