SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. —Linda Savastano became South Kingstown’s next superintendent of schools on Monday, less than a month after the School Committee hired her as the district’s new assistant superintendent.
The committee’s unanimous appointment vote came during a short special meeting, and was the only item of business on the agenda aside from public comments.
But the committee’s vote to offer the job to Savastano, an educator with 30 years of experience in the Middletown public schools, came during an executive session at the Aug. 13 regular meeting.
The committee had two candidates to choose from after a third finalist, West Warwick Public Schools Superintendent Karen Tarasevich, pulled out of consideration. Tarasevich said she felt the need to remain in her current position.
That left Savastano and Mark Prince, a Massachusetts educator and leadership development coach with the Center for Leadership and Education Equity in Providence.
A motion to offer the position to Prince made in the executive session by Vice Chairwoman Sarah Markey failed on a 3-4 vote. Voting for Prince were Markey, Kate McMahon Macinanti and Michelle Brousseau. Chairwoman Stephanie Canter, Jacy Northup, Emily Cummiskey and Alycia Collins voted against the motion.
Then Northup made a motion to authorize a contract negotiation with Savastano. That passed 6-1, with Brousseau as the single ‘no’ vote.
“The School Committee found that based on the qualifications and feedback received, Linda was the strongest candidate out of an outstanding pool of candidates who applied,” Canter said.
Savastano’s appointment ensures that the district will have a permanent superintendent in place when schools open on Sept. 3.
Canter said, however, that Interim Superintendent Bob Hicks would likely remain for the immediate future to help with the transition.
“We are confident that Dr. Hicks, Mrs. Savastano and the South Kingstown School Committee will work closely with the administrators, staff, students, parents and community to ensure that everyone has the support that they need to be successful during the transition,” she said.
Savastano thanked the committee and said she was “truly humbled.”
“In my short time in the district, I have seen firsthand the caliber and dedication of our teachers and staff,” she said in prepared remarks. “I know that together we will lay a strong foundation of trust and transparency that the community and, most importantly, the children of South Kingstown deserve.”
Her priorities, she said, will include “building on the district’s long commitment of high quality academic and instructional excellence, a renewed focus on a collaborative culture while strengthening relationships within and outside of the community.”
She said she thought back to one of her first courses on education administration, when a professor told the class, “as an administrator, it’s no longer about you anymore.”
It made sense to her.
“As a leader, it’s about giving and it’s about the children and everybody else and the sacrifice you make,” she said. But the selection process, she said, felt like it was about her.
“I’m not comfortable with that,” she said. “I don’t enjoy talking about myself. It should be about the children every day.”
Savastano also thanked Hicks.
“Bob has shown me the true definition of servant leadership,” she said. “His kindness, challenging questions and thoughtful intelligence are second to none, and I know that I am a better person for having worked with him.”
Prior to coming to South Kingstown, Savastano was the assistant superintendent of Middletown Public Schools since 2008.
Hicks said he felt a great responsibility in helping the committee to find its next superintendent.
“I can breathe easy,” he said. “I feel very good that you’ve made a wise choice and have an excellent person working with you, and I’m confident it’s going to turn out very well.”
The selection process included multiple interviews with the school committee and groups throughout South Kingstown including parents, staff members, administrators, Town Manager Rob Zarnetske, the screening committee and a public interview facilitated by an outside moderator.
Rating sheets were collected over multiple days and selection criteria were based on community feedback about “candidacy fit for the community, evidence of strong educational leadership, the capability to represent our schools well, ability to work with all stakeholders and a steadfast drive to build a stronger community,” the committee said.
Broad Rock Middle School Principal Tammy McNeiece welcomed Savastano to the district during public comments.
“We are so excited to have Linda as a superintendent,” she said. “I didn’t know her before this process, but her first day on the job, she reached out to principals right away, wanted a tour of the school, what our needs were. Two themes came across right away: collaboration and putting the needs of the students first. I’m very excited to work with you.”
Local parent Robert Young collaborated for four years with Savastano when he was employed by another school district and worked at a career and technical center.
“I’m sad to see you leave there, but excited as a South Kingstown parent knowing my three children have as a leader someone like you,” he said.
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 started working for the district July 11 and was publicly interviewed for superintendent on Aug. 6. In Middletown she worked as a mathematics and technology teacher, director of technology and assistant superintendent.
South Kingstown has grappled recently with the departure of several top school staff members.
Hicks, a former superintendent in South Kingstown, came out of retirement to work on a per diem basis this summer after former superintendent 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 hired an attorney to perform that investigation. A report issued by the attorney, Charles Ruggerio, last week concluded that Stringfellow failed to adhere to established procedures for issuing teacher layoff notices.