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We connect students

The Wire

District Hires Private Firm to Aid Superintendent Search

Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez is set to retire in August of 2024, leaving the Monroe-Woodbury Board of Education to find candidates to fill the position.
Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez is set to retire in August of 2024, leaving the Monroe-Woodbury Board of Education to find candidates to fill the position.

On January 12, Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez announced that she would be retiring on August 31, 2024, through an email sent to Monroe-Woodbury students and families.

In her statement she thanked students, families, and volunteers for their support and enthusiasm throughout her 23 years in the district: “A heartfelt thank you to the amazing students who have made this work most rewarding. Your enthusiasm, curiosity and achievements have been a constant source of inspiration and pride. Thank you to our parents for entrusting your children to us and for supporting our district. Thank you to our PTA/SEPTA volunteers for advocating for all children.”

The decision of the next superintendent is ultimately in the hands of the Board of Education; however, this year the district has outsourced a private consulting company, District Wise Search Consultants (DWSC), to handle the recruitment process and manage the open applications. This means that DWSC will create an “ideal superintendent profile” based on community input, then find possible candidates as well as review applications sent to the public online form and create a slate of a few candidates that best matched the profile. This slate is then presented to the school board for them to vote on which candidate will be hired.

Many teachers and community members have voiced significant concerns with this process. In previous superintendent hirings, candidates have had interviews with a faculty panel as part of their application process, but this will not be a part of the process this time. Representatives from DWSC stated that the Community Forum meeting and private email option are meant to ensure that these voices are heard. Even still, longtime staff members are distrustful of this process and feel that their voices have not been heard by their respective building administrators nor the Board of Education.

“It’s incredibly important to us that a superintendent and the board is transparent and communicative with us,” said a Monroe-Woodbury High School teacher at a public forum meeting held on February 12 in the Monroe-Woodbury High School cafeteria.

Upon hearing the explanation of the process, a Sapphire Elementary teacher asked the present DWSC representatives, “You’re effectively taking the place of what has historically been all the other groups [faculty and community members]?”

Attendees of the Community Forum were asked to write lists of important characteristics for a superintendent. (Diya Sethi)

To which Bob Freier, DWSC representative, answered, “I can’t speak to that.”

The Monroe-Woodbury Teacher’s Association provided the following statement on the matter:

“Selecting a new Superintendent is one of the most important tasks that a school board undertakes and it is the prerogative of the board to decide the process. The MWTA believes that all stakeholder groups should be able to participate in the hiring process in a meaningful way so that the next Superintendent has broad support as they assume this leadership role. We will continue to engage in the process in whatever way we are able to because we want Monroe-Woodbury to attract the best possible candidate. The MWTA is hopeful that the process chosen by the board of education will result in the hiring of a Superintendent whom we can work with in a professional and collaborative way on behalf of our students, our members and the community of Monroe-Woodbury.”

In a statement to “The Wire” the school board explained they decided to hire an outside company to assist the board because DWSC offers a wide network of applicants and their expertise.

“They are able to recruit top tier educational leaders from across the country,” wrote the Board of Education in a statement. “District Wise is able to offer the BoE efficiency and expediency that past practices do not allow. They have a dedicated team to handle all aspects of the search.”

The Board’s statement explained that District Wise can meet with stakeholders to gather wants and needs, screen applicants, handle preliminary interviews and check references. All of these tasks saved the board members valuable time.

“While we value the input and expertise of internal panels we believe that by partnering with District Wise it enhances our ability to conduct a comprehensive and efficient search for the best possible candidate. We are committed to transparency and have offered several opportunities for stakeholders to be involved. The board has been given all feedback that has been provided by stakeholders and will utilize this information when making the final decision.”

However it is important to note that the Board of Education and DWSC representatives have emphasized the role of the board in this process.

“Any decision made is the sole responsibility of the nine BoE members.” wrote the Board of Education in their April 18 Search Update.

“You [attendees of the Community forum] need to understand that this position is solely the board’s hire.” said Freier

“While we value the input and expertise of internal panels we believe that by partnering with District Wise it enhances our ability to conduct a comprehensive and efficient search for the best possible candidate. We are committed to transparency…”

— Statement from The Board of Education

During the Community Forum on February 12, attendees were asked to work in groups to compile lists of the skills, characteristics, and plans their ideal superintendent would have. There were roughly 30 attendees, including those on the Zoom meeting, and they seemed to agree on similar priorities for the next superintendent.

One of the major concerns that was discussed was the classroom experience of potential candidates. Although the DWSC representatives assured the attendees that any candidate would have some level of classroom experience, the present M-W teachers and parents declared that they wanted someone with long standing, recent classroom experience.

Central district administrators typically follow a similar career path: they start as teachers; then move to a building administrative position such as principal or vice principal; then they move to a lower level position in the central district administration such as a director or an assistant superintendent; then after all these roles they can take on being superintendent.

“One of the observations we’ve seen is that there’s a big difference between running a building versus running a district and so we have found that people with prior central office experience tend to be more successful than people who go into superintendency without having that,” said Freier.

The problem that the community is having with the possibility of a candidate who follows this track is that it takes years or even decades to “climb the ladder,” meaning that by the time someone becomes a superintendent they have been removed from the classroom for many years. Some community members said that they’d rather have a superintendent that is personally familiar with present challenges rather than having seen it from an outside administrative perspective.

“I would have more respect for a building principal who chose to stay in the trenches and be hands-on with the kids, the faculty, and the staff until they had that opportunity to really get into the role where they could have a bigger impact,” said one Sapphire Elementary teacher.

Another request that seemed to surprise the DWSC representatives was the location of the candidate. All of the groups agreed that they wanted a candidate who was local to the area and was knowledgeable about the area’s needs, not necessarily from the Monroe-Woodbury school district area, but nearby.

“We would like someone who lives within 30 miles of the district, definitely no bridge crossing,” said a Pine Tree Elementary teacher.

DWSC representatives stated that as of February 12 they have not yet heard from any internal candidates, meaning that no current M-W staff have applied for the position.

Cost is also on the minds of the community as some wonder how much these services will impact district spending.

“It’s fairly odd to me that we’re paying a private company to do something that was always an internal process,” said a Pine Tree Elementary teacher, “especially when there’s always budget concerns.”

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Management Services, Patrick Cahill, stated that the district will be paying $26,000 over the course of three payment installments.

This is relatively low when considering M-W superintendents are paid between $200,000 and $300,000 according to the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 budget statements and state financial audits going back to 2017, making the charge of the service about 9 to 13 percent of the future salary of a candidate chosen by DWSC.

As of the close of applications on March 22, sixteen individuals applied for the position. The Board Education has stated that after DWSC review these applicants, they hope to have selected the next superintendent by the end of May. The new superintendent will have a start date of July 1 and will work alongside Superintendent Rodriguez until August 31.

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About the Contributors
Hailey Lanari
Hailey Lanari, Editor-in-Chief
Hailey Lanari is a senior at Monroe-Woodbury. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Wire, and it is her third year writing for the publication. Hailey is passionate about journalism, having written for the Mid-Hudson Times and Wallkill Valley Times. She enjoys all things English and literature related. She is largely involved in local politics as a long-term intern for Senator Skoufis, Outreach Chair of the Young Democrats of Orange County, and co-founder of the Monroe and Woodbury High School Democrats. She enjoys teaching and working with the other writers on The Wire
Diya Sethi
Diya Sethi, Social Media Manager
Diya Sethi is a senior at Monroe-Woodbury High School. She joined the publication after returning from her semester in Washington, D.C., because she believes in writing about the issues she cares about. Diya enjoys working in local politics, reading, and, most importantly, listening to Taylor Swift.