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District Wise Search Consultants

Photo by Kevin Redding Shoreham-Wading River’s new superintendent, Gerard Poole, speaks during an April 18 board of education meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

After a grueling months-long search, Shoreham-Wading River school district has finally found a new superintendent.

Gerard Poole, who has served as Freeport School District’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction since 2013, was officially appointed at the top of Shoreham-Wading River’s April 18 board of education meeting.

He will be the district’s full-time superintendent, taking over for interim Neil Lederer, effective July 1.

An educator for more than 20 years, Poole, 50, started out as an elementary school teacher and instructional coach in the Riverhead Central School District and eventually landed an administrative position in Valley Stream school district before transferring to Freeport.

“It’s truly a privilege and an honor to have the chance to collaborate and build upon the successes of the school district.”

—Gerard Poole

Although Poole has been a lifelong resident of Mattituck, where he lives with his wife and two sons, he said it was an easy decision to apply for the Shoreham-Wading River position. He said he believes it’s one of the best districts on Long Island.

“It’s truly a privilege and an honor to have the chance to collaborate and build upon the successes of the school district,” Poole said during the meeting. “I’ve met many parents, teachers and administrators and [got] a warm welcome and sense of community from everyone.”

When he was interviewed back in February, he said it was clear he and the district saw eye to eye.

“I thought it was a great fit,” Poole said.

There are some key things for every superintendent to be successful, he explained.

“[The most important thing] is to be really open, accessible, forthright, collaborate with the community — to really find out exactly where we want to head, figure out the programs and what the student needs to really reach their full potential,” he said. “It’s not just really important for me to look at documents or student outcomes, but to really listen and hear from parents, staff and students, and work with the board to continue to come up with the great work that’s already in place here in Shoreham.”

Poole’s outlook falls directly in line with what parents in the district asked for.

Bob Freier and Joann Kaplan of District Wise Search Consultants were hired by the district in November not just to find a new superintendent, but to gauge the community on what kind of characteristics they should seek in finding a permanent replacement for previous full-time superintendent Steven Cohen, who retired last summer after holding the position for five years.

Kaplan said the group interviewed more than 30 prospective candidates and narrowed it down to Poole.

“One of the things that stood out for me was how do we become one of those special districts on Long Island? One way is to pick a leader that has a vision. For me, he had that vision.”

—John Zukowski

“It was very important for the superintendent to be a face in the community and be a part of the fiber of the school — not just somebody in the office but somebody who would become a part of the culture of Shoreham-Wading River,” Kaplan said. “We actively recruited [Poole] because he’s brought so many incredible things to Freeport. He met our goals and excelled.”

During his four years in Freeport, Poole focused on providing world-class opportunities for his students, believing that all of them should receive core foundational skills before graduating.

He partnered with local universities to implement a challenging curriculum to prepare students for college, which included elementary-level introduction to technology, advanced science research and expanding college credit opportunities.

Board president John Zukowski said Poole stood out above the rest of the candidates.

“He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the district — he knows the culture here,” Zukowski said. “He has a lot of enthusiasm and incredible ideas. One of the things that stood out for me was how do we become one of those special districts on Long Island? One way is to pick a leader that has a vision. For me, he had that vision.”

Zukowski ended the meeting by referring to Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance artist, who for three straight years slaved away at a massive piece of marble deemed too defective by other sculptors to create something out of. Michelangelo eventually sculpted his renowned David statue out of that rock. When asked how he did it, the artist said, “I see the angels in the marble, and I carve until I set them free.”

“On those days in this job when you feel you are just pounding rocks,” Zukowski said to Poole, “I’m going to ask you to keep carving because we definitely have angels here that you can set free. On behalf of the board, welcome aboard … we look forward to working with you so we can develop the potential of every kid in this district.”

District hires outside company to gather community input

Community residents speak up about what characteristics they're looking for in a new superintendent for the Shoreham-Wading River school district. Photo by Kevin Redding

Shoreham-Wading River turns to the community for guidance in its nationwide search for a permanent replacement for outgoing Superintendent Steven Cohen, who retired over the summer after holding the position for five years.

On Monday night, Bob Freier and Joann Kaplan of District Wise Search Consultants led a community forum at Shoreham-Wading River High School to gauge the public’s opinion on what kind of characteristics and credentials they seek in the district’s next full-time superintendent, a position the district aims to fill by July 1 of next year.

Currently, the district has an interim superintendent in Neil Lederer, who took on the job in August and signed a 10-month contract that ends June 30. The school’s district clerk said Lederer has made no comments in regards to applying for the full-time superintendent position himself, but that it’s a “moot point” as the board of education has hired the superintendent search committee and is now actively looking for someone new.

Joann Kaplan and Bob Freier of District Wise Search Consultants led a community forum at Shoreham-Wading River High School to gauge the public’s opinion on what kind of characteristics and credentials they seek in the district’s next superintendent. Photo by Kevin Redding
Joann Kaplan and Bob Freier of District Wise Search Consultants led a community forum at Shoreham-Wading River High School to gauge the public’s opinion on what kind of characteristics and credentials they seek in the district’s next superintendent. Photo by Kevin Redding

When the question was raised by a member of the community forum as to why Cohen — who is currently serving as interim assistant superintendent at Sachem Central School District — left Shoreham-Wading River, Freier and Kaplan said the reason was unknown.

The search consultants explained that the two major factors that play a role in superintendents leaving are money and the changing of school boards. But taking on interim positions is quite common when somebody retires, said Kaplan. Usually if they’re not quite ready to stay home full-time, they serve as interim until a district gets back on its feet.

At that, the room full of parents was in complete agreement that the district should try to find somebody who’s “not retiring.”

“The purpose of this conversation is to get your feedback,” Freier said. “As parents, what do you think are some of the important characteristics that you’re looking for in the next superintendent of the school district?”

Those in attendance were vocal that whoever serves as educational leader in the district should be well-versed in New York State’s political climate, the Annual Professional Performance Review, Common Core, and state testing. The parents also said they’re looking for someone who is organized on a business level, considering they’ll be in charge of a school budget of roughly $60,000,000; has classroom experience; and has climbed the ladder from teacher to administrator. The parents also stressed thinking out of the box and being creative, and most importantly, they want someone who has students’ best interests — and not the superintendent’s own — in mind.

“I guess we’re saying we want everything,” said Chris Blake, from Shoreham.

He said it’s important that the next superintendent has an overall appreciation of the environment he or she is in, and has a good relationship with the community.

“I think it’s very important that we’re not looking at curriculum, standards and tests … that we’re really looking at what kids need and what’s best for kids.”

— Jeannine Smith

“It’s very important to make the community feel comfortable with you … to be able to approach you,” Blake said. “Not come in and just have one message and then the curtain closes and we’re just waiting for the next appearance.”

Blake said the district has had that happen in the past.

“They should be vested in the district,” he said. “It’s not just a stop-over and come in with all these preconceived notions on how they’re going to do things.”

Jeannine Smith, from Shoreham, said she wants someone who puts the kids first.

“I think it’s very important that we’re not looking at curriculum, standards and tests … that we’re really looking at what kids need and what’s best for kids,” Smith said. “I want my children to go to school every day and have teachers know that they can do what they need to do to get them from one point to another. I want that flexibility.”

Freier and Kaplan told the forum that as a company, they don’t intend on rushing to find just anybody who will take the position. The two said that they take the community’s feedback very seriously. They will even use it to shape the questions that will ultimately be asked to candidates in preliminary interviews for the position.

“We’re not just filling a position … we’re finding the right person for Shoreham-Wading River,” said Kaplan. “Meeting with all of you is crucial.”

If you have any input on characteristics or qualities for the next Shoreham-Wading River superintendent, contact District Wise Search Consultants at shorehamwrsup@districtwisesearch.com.

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