The first of four superintendent candidates toured Everett on Monday for an on-the-job interview process that will be carried out for the remaining three candidates over the next week.
Todd Stewart, who has had a great deal of experience in rural schools, but now is in a superintendent’s training program in Worcester Public Schools, came to Everett on Monday for the full day. Touring at least five schools with School Committeeman Frank Parker, Stewart also met with students at Everett High, with staff/teachers throughout the district and with the general public in an open meeting at Everett High Monday night.
The second candidate, Thomas Flannagan, of Providence Public Schools, was expected to tour the district on Tuesday, Dec. 3, but that was canceled due to the inclement weather. The schedule moving forward will be:
•Priya Tahiliani, assistant superintendent, Boston Public Schools, will tour the district on Weds., Dec. 4.
•Paul Toner, senior director of policy and partnerships for TeachPlus, will tour the district on Thursday, Dec. 5.
•Thomas Flannagan, chief academic officer for Providence Public Schools, will take a tour of the district on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
Each of the candidates will be available for a public meeting, that includes a lengthy question and answer session, from 4:10 to 5:30 p.m. in the Everett High auditorium.
Stewart faced a small audience on Monday evening, but one with many questions – including those from Mayor Carlo DeMaria, Interim Supt. Janice Gauthier and members of the Everett Educational Coalition.
Stewart has spent nearly 20 years teaching and leading in smaller Massachusetts districts, including 17 years teaching or leading in middle schools. He is currently working full-time in Worcester Public Schools within a superintendent training program, and said he is in the final stages of his doctorate in education leadership program.
Starting off with a question from the mayor, Stewart said he wanted to be a superintendent because of his experiences in the classroom.
“My biggest frustration as a classroom teacher…was there was too much coming from above – the state, federal and district mandates that came from those furthest from the kids,” he said.
“My organizational chart for the district would start at the classroom and go to a Central Office,” he said, noting that he hopes to have a collaborative leadership style that starts with what is experienced at the classroom level.
However, later he clarified that by saying he wouldn’t be afraid to make unilateral decisions if need be, but that he would be up front about that process.
“If I’m going to make a unilateral decision, it would be disingenuous for me to ask for someone’s input,” he said. “My leadership style and strategies are not only asking people for input, but also being clear about what we’re doing. The decision about closing school for snow, that’s a decision of the mayor, DPW and myself. It’s not one for everyone on Twitter. It’s not a social media poll.”
Stewart said that in his experience, Everett is ahead of the curve on many things and would do very well no matter who is chosen. He praised the academy program at the high school, the in-house special education school.
“I think Everett is primed for success and could be the model for successful urban education in Massachusetts…I would really love to be a part of it.”
One of the major questions that came up for Stewart regarded the English Language Learners it the district – a population that has grown substantially and looks to continue increasing.
On the first question, from EEC’s Jessica Boots, he said it would be important not to stigmatize any students coming into the district. He said those students should, first, have their social-emotional needs met, particularly for any trauma they have experienced in the move from another part of the world to Everett.
“What we won’t do (after that) is stick them in remedial classes with kids below their age,” he said. “A 16-year-old is a 16-year-old…We need to find a way to support them so we’re not sticking 16-year-olds in places that feel like a 5th grade class and instead making sure they are included with the rest of their classmates.”
Interim Supt. Gauthier, later on, asked for more specifics on that topic – noting that he had not given any certain plans.
“It starts with all our classroom teachers being certified in sheltered English immersion standards, and also being very explicit with vocabulary and cognizant of what vocabulary they are using and how.”
However, he said that ELL is not his specialty, and his job would essentially be to make sure that the best people are in place to put together policy that works to best educate the kids.
Steward was also very optimistic about the academy, or vocational, program that started in earnest at the high school this year. It has been a big concern of some on the School Committee and within the existing School Department that a new school leader might dismantle the new programming. Steward seemed to be happy with how Everett has rolled out the in-house academies.
“People might remember we had shop and home economics and we pivoted away from that with standardized testing,” he said. “Students had to decide at an early age to go voke or go to the high school. I don’t think that at 13 students should be made to choose one or the other.”
When it came to parental engagement, he said it won’t be about coffee with the superintendent or simple open houses. He said those can be good, but it is upon the schools to find out what parents need as engagement. Describing himself as a “guest” in the community, he said he will rely on the community to let him know what they need for parental engagement and other things.
“I’ve got it loud and clear,” he said, “that you can live in Everett 20 years and you’re still new. That’s ok. You should be careful of people coming into your community. It’s about trust and me building that trust.”
One interesting thing that Stewart said was that he didn’t want to be treated with reverence. As compared to the former superintendent, who was charismatic and revered, Stewart’s leadership style seemed to be the polar opposite as to what Everett has become used to over the years.
“I do not believe in hierarchy and that if I have a lot of support people should be treating me with a level of reverence,” he said.