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FAQ: Does Greenwich have a revolving door of superintendents?

March 28, 2019

GREENWICH — Greenwich Public Schools will welcome Toni Jones of Fairfield Public Schools to lead the district as its 14th superintendent in 20 years this June. As this new transition unfolds, here is the list of four decades worth of superintendents in Greenwich, as well as what we know about average tenure length and what experts have to say about the turnover rate of superintendents in Greenwich.

What is the timeline of Greenwich superintendents?

Since 1976, Greenwich has had 10 permanent superintendents and eight interim superintendents. Ernest Fleishman’s 13-year tenure was the longest stint during that period.

1976-1989: Ernest Fleishman

1989-1990: Douglas Fainelli (interim)

1990-1997: John Whritner

1997-1998: Karen Lang (interim)

1998-2002: Roger Lulow

2002-2003: Herb Pandiscio and Maria Melendez (interims)

2003-2006: Larry Leverett

Summer 2006: Mary Capwell

2006-2009: Betty Sternberg (Kathy Grieder was acting superintendent in the summer of 2008)

2009-2011: Sidney Freund

2011-2012: Roger Lulow (interim)

2012-2016: William McKersie

2016-2017: Sal Corda (interim)

2017-2018: Jill Gildea

2018-2019: Ralph Mayo (interim)

July 2019- : Toni Jones

Who chooses the superintendent? What is the process?

The Board of Education chooses the superintendent, who is the school board’s only employee. In Greenwich, the process has involved forming a superintendent search committee and hiring a search firm - Greenwich has used Ray and Associates. The firm vets the candidates and narrows down the choices, and the search committee interviews each candidate.

What are the roles and responsibilities of the superintendent?

The superintendent’s largest responsibility is the creation of the annual school budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a process that starts in June. Superintendents also take one to two years to cultivate relationships with teachers, principals, Central Office staff, the Board of Education members, as well as the chair of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the education committee of the Representative Town Meeting. They oversee the direction of the district they lead, and recent Greenwich superintendents have overseen the implementation of changes such as: the strategic plan, the vision of the graduate, one-to-one technology and the later high school start time.

Why do they leave?

From school board relations to family obligations, previous superintendents have cited a variety of professional and personal reasons for leaving Greenwich, either after they honored their contract or before.

Soon after Jill Gildea accepted her position in Greenwich, her husband was promoted and relocated to Utah for his job. After managing a long-distance relationship for one year, Gildea moved to reunite her family.

William McKersie accepted a new position as the superintendent of Weston Public Schools.

Sidney Freund cited relationships with two school board members that had soured as part of the reason he left.

Betty Sternberg had a controversial three-year tenure, and left after the school board started voting along partisan lines, which made accomplishing her goals more difficult, she said.

Larry Leverett, who split his time between New Jersey and Connecticut while superintendent, decided to return to his home state after his tenure ended.

What is the average tenure of a superintendent?

Superintendents, outside experts and surveys disagree on exact tenure lengths. The length can vary based on whether the superintendents are incumbent or have finished their contracts, and whether they lead urban or suburban districts.

Kathleen Stowe, a school board member and the head of the Greenwich superintendent search committee, said the average tenure is three years. That number is also cited by Ray and Associates, the search firm that Greenwich has hired to find new superintendents in the past, and Jones herself.

The AASA, School Superintendents Association, sponsored two 10-year surveys in 2000: The average tenure of more than 2,200 superintendents was between five and six years, while a second survey found an average tenure of 7.25 years among 1,688 respondents.

The same study found the superintendents of the 88 largest districts at that time had served an average of 4.7 years, which is closer in range to a report by the Council of the Great City Schools, released in 2014.

The council surveyed the current superintendents of its member school districts, and found the average tenure was 3.18 years, while the average tenure of the immediate past superintendents was 4.5 years.

More recently, the Broad Center analyzed superintendent tenures between 2003 and 2017, finding that urban superintendents stay for five-and-a-half years, with those administering the largest 100 school districts stay for six years, on average.

Is Greenwich’s turnover rate normal?

It depends on who you ask and what data they use. Excluding interim superintendents, the average tenure over the last 40 years is 4.6 years. Over the last 20 years, permanent superintendents had an average tenure of 2.8 years.

Greenwich’s numbers match the tenure averages of superintendents leading the nation’s 88 most populous urban districts.

Meredith Mountford, an expert on school boards and superintendents, said Greenwich’s turnover rate is high, given that it is a suburban district rather than urban one. Superintendents lead urban districts for an average of five to eight years, she said.

In its own investigations, the AASA has found that the average tenure does not vary too widely among rural, suburban and urban districts.

Do experts agree on a minimum tenure length for an effective superintendent?

No, but education reform authorities Michael G. Fullan and Suzanne Stiegelbauer, who wrote the textbook on how district leaders can change their districts, estimated that successful reforms in school districts require five years or more of a superintendent’s attention.

Where can I read more?

“Some Greenwich residents unhappy with choice of new superintendent,” Jo Kroeker, 2019

“Greenwich schools name new superintendent amid historic dissension,” Jo Kroeker, 2019

“Greenwich residents rally around Ralph with online petition,” Jo Kroeker, 2019

“Ralph Mayo tells Greenwich ‘move on’ after superintendent decision,” Jo Kroeker, 2019

“Search firm asks for input on Greenwich’s next superintendent,” Emilie Munson, 2016

“Wanted: A new superintendent of schools — again,” Paul Schott, 2016

“The Myth of the Revolving-Door Superintendency,” AASA.

The Council of Great City Schools report, 2014.

“Hire Expectations: big city superintendents stay in their job longer than we think,” The Broad Center, 2018.

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com