SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The School Committee plans to appoint a new superintendent for South Kingstown’s public schools at its Aug. 19 meeting, making its choice from one of the two remaining candidates for the position.
The committee made the announcement at its meeting Tuesday.
Last week, public interviews took place for the three finalists for the position. They were newly appointed Assistant Superintendent Linda Savastano, West Warwick Superintendent Karen Tarasevich and Mark Prince, a leadership development coach with the Center for Leadership and Education Equity in Providence.
However, Interim Superintendent Bob Hicks announced late last week that Tarasevich withdrew her candidacy.
“I feel a sense of need and responsibility to remain in my current position to help the WWPS carry the current work through to further stability for the district,” Tarasevich wrote in her letter, according to Hicks.
“South Kingstown is a wonderful place to live, raise a family and work. I am hopeful in the future the timing will be better in that I will be able to help serve the community and the school department.”
A 14-member search committee appointed in June and composed of retired administrators and teachers from the district, local parents and representatives from higher education narrowed the pool of candidates to three finalists.
Savastano, who had a 30-year career in the Middletown schools, started working for the district July 11 and was first to be interviewed, on Aug. 6. In Middletown she worked as a mathematics and technology teacher, director of technology and assistant superintendent.
Prince, who interviewed Aug. 8, provided professional development and leadership coaching to school administrators for four years in Okinawa with the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity.
He also served as assistant superintendent of schools in Framingham, Massachusetts, and as interim superintendent for a year in the Gill-Montague Regional Schools in Turner Falls, Massachusetts. He’s also held other administrative positions, including principal in the Amherst Public Schools more than a decade ago.
“You need a clear vision,” Prince said. “A North Star. That’s something the superintendent can help facilitate and provide direction to.”
A superintendent also must serve as an instructional leader, he said.
“You’ve got to know what good instruction is, you’ve got to know how to coach that into people and bring it out of them. One of the things I like to say that I do in my current work and that I did in past roles is unleash the unlimited potential in people.”
The most important skill of a good administrator, he said, is a combination of “asking really good questions and listening,” he said.
Among the challenges he’s faced was trying to determine why the dropout rate was high in the Gill-Montague system, where he was superintendent.
He gathered a group of administrators, guidance counselors and social workers to comb through state data
“We went through that data asking the basic question of why kids were dropping out,” he said. “We discovered a number of things.”
Among them was that all the students who dropped out in the previous four years all had failed English.
“We were a small district, only two English teachers,” he said. “They were all failed by the same English teacher.”
The team also discovered there were no support systems for the dropped-out kids, he said.
“We got kids to come back in some cases just by picking up the phone and calling,” he said.
Administration then put an intervention plan in place to help the students and worked with the teacher to improve instruction, he said.
“We hired a graduation coach, a social worker to go out, knock on doors, ask (students) to come back to school,” he said.
South Kingstown has grappled recently with the departure of several top staff members, including high school principal Rob Mezzanotte.
Hicks, a former superintendent in South Kingstown, came out of retirement to work on a per diem basis this summer after Kristen Stringfellow announced in April she was leaving the district at the end of June after 10 years to become superintendent of the Norwich, Connecticut public schools.
The committee hired Hicks after it placed Stringfellow on paid administrative leave in April in order to look into how she conducted notices of potential teacher layoffs. The committee also hired an attorney to perform that investigation. The committee planned to make the report of the investigation available this week.
Hicks said it’s likely that even after the Aug. 19 appointment, he’d stay on for a time to help with the transition.