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Superintendent Candidate Needs To Be Ambitious

Jamestown Public Schools Board President Paul Abbott hit the nail on the head Tuesday when he said the retirement of Dr. Bret Apthorpe is an opportunity.

Apthorpe leaves the district at the end of June having made two big changes — launching the JPS Success Academy, which hosts Jamestown middle and high school students who may need extra help whether academically, socially or emotionally; and creating the LEAP program to develop literacy skills, prevent “summer slide” and provide enrichment opportunities for over 600 Jamestown students. What happens now to other initiatives Apthorpe championed? Apthorpe had talked often about realigning curriculum with college and local labor needs and identifying long-term building needs in the district, particularly at Jamestown High School. Each of those initiatives, developed in tandem with the school board, should move forward after Apthorpe’s departure.

In addition to carrying on Apthorpe’s work, the next superintendent will team with the school board setting policies to help reverse the workforce training problems that are the bane of many local business owners. As city residents learned in December, a key job of the district superintendent is to ensure the district has building principals who support teachers and make sure district safety policies are followed, particularly at Jamestown High School and in the district’s middle schools.

The hire is especially crucial given the relatively short tenures of Jamestown’s last two superintendents. A typical superintendent tenure seems to be roughly five years. Since Deke Kathman retired in 2013 after seven years in the job, the district has had Tim Mains for roughly 3¢ years and now Apthorpe for roughly three years. That’s a lot of starting, stopping, goal-setting and getting to know the community in a short period of time.

We note that this type of turnover is a virtual certainty given the requirements state law places on anyone who wants to be a school superintendent. State law says the district has to follow that path by hiring someone with a valid superintendent’s certificate, which includes 60 hours of graduate courses, three years teaching experience as well as other required certifications. Any superintendent, then, is going to be at the end of their career. If a longer-term commitment is desired, perhaps the state could revisit its superintendent training requirements. If a superintendent is the chief executive officer of a school district, shouldn’t some weight be given to backgrounds outside of education that relate to managing and motivating staff? There are so many members of a school’s leadership team these days that a superintendent may be able to lead a school district without having spent an entire career in education. It would be interesting to see a search that focuses on looking for the next chief operating officer of the school district, someone not burdened by the structures of a lifetime spent in education, instead of the classic superintendent. We know it probably won’t happen, in part because that non-traditional hire would spend the first year in a new job getting all of the credentials required by New York state while working under a provisional appointment. Hiring someone from outside the education establishment would be an interesting experiment worth thinking about. We know it likely won’t happen, but the fresh approaches such a hire could bring is tantalizing.

Hiring from outside the education hierarchy isn’t likely to happen in the hiring process the Jamestown Public Schools District is about to undertake. The next district superintendent will be hiring a spate of building principals while trying to build a school district to educate children in the 21st century. Those who need a primer on the importance of getting these hiring decisions right need look no further into the past than this school year and Dr. Rosemary Bradley’s tumultuous time as Jamestown High School principal.

Apthorpe set an ambitious course in his time as superintendent. The board needs to find a similarly ambitious superintendent to succeed him, whether it goes with a traditional or nontraditional candidate.

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