Q&A with Superintendent Candidate Tom Flanagan

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, the Superintendent Search Committee presented a Q&A with candidate Thomas Flanagan in the Everett High School auditorium. Flanagan is one of four finalists for the position formerly occupied by long-time Supt. Fred Forestiere.

A quick glance at Flanagan’s résumé makes it apparent why he ended up on the Search Committee’s short list. His experience includes more than 20 years of working as a teacher, special educator and administrator. Since 2016, he has worked as the Chief Academic Officer of the Providence Public Schools in Providence, RI, which is currently under a five-year state intervention. He possesses master’s degrees in special education and educational administration and has completed the necessary requirements to work as a public school administrator in the state of Massachusetts.

“I really appreciate spending time with you today and getting to see all the schools,” said Flannagan to the modest crowd.

In his introduction, Flanagan talked about growing up in a black neighborhood in Washington, D.C., at a time when the city was also experiencing a rise in immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries. He said that having diverse friends taught him a lot about the racial disparity in access to quality education. Flanagan also mentioned coming from a family of educators, adding that he hopes to follow in the footsteps of a grandfather who was a superintendent of schools.

Flanagan said he was drawn to Everett because he was impressed by recent developments in the district. He was particularly inspired by Sen. Sal DiDomenico’s efforts to get increased funding for the district and said he looked forward to seeing how school officials would make the best use of it. Flanagan said he was also encouraged by studies showing that young people growing up in Everett have a greater success rate than the national average.

“There’s such opportunity here in Everett and I personally want to be a part of that,” he said.

Flanagan said that if he were to become the new superintendent, he would adopt a three-pronged focus: shared responsibility; equity and excellence; and family and community partnership.

“It’s important to build systems so that multiple people in an organization have an opportunity for leadership,” he said, expanding on his idea of shared responsibility. “Leadership starts with teachers in classrooms. They are an important group to empower, to be able to be a part of decision-making at the school and district levels.”

Flanagan said that in his experience as an administrator, all of his strategic and cultural planning was done in lockstep with teachers.

When it comes to problem-solving at the school or district levels, Flanagan urges an “urgency without hurry” approach, recognizing the seriousness of the situation without taking action simply for action’s sake.

An audience member asked the candidate how he would handle coming into a district that is wary of outsiders.

“I get the anxiety. There are issues of trust. Trust-building is about doing what you say you’re going to do,” said Flanagan. “I would build relationships right away. I would talk to people about my goals and then develop shared goals for the district. I would start with a 100-day plan of measurable targets, like a certain number of classroom observations and town hall meetings.”

The candidate was also asked how he would tackle the many political liaisons required of the position. One of the roles of the superintendent is to answer to various stakeholders, including City Hall, City Council and the School Committee.

“We would not be able to do what we could without Mayor DeMaria and Council. We would have to work together,” said Flanagan. “The role of superintendent is to communicate the message. We would need to use distributive leadership to develop the message together. I can be the lead in communication and collaboration.”

Flanagan explained that he has experience liaising with community interests in Providence, which previously had a mayoral-appointed school board. His collaborations with the mayor’s office resulted in the expansion of Pre-kindergarten and summer learning opportunities in the public schools.

One educator asked Flanagan how he planned to support the Everett Public Schools’ historical investment in cost-free extracurricular opportunities for students including athletics, arts and advanced placement testing.

“I believe in a well-rounded education,” he said. “It’s important for students to have things that get them excited about coming to school and will help them get into college. It creates a well-rounded community and it’s an incredibly important thing to maintain for Everett.”

Flanagan’s public Q&A and his full résumé can be viewed on the Everett Public Schools website.

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