Charles Fowler of School Leadership, LLC, provided the Board of Education with a report detailing the qualities Darienites would like to see in a new superintendent of schools during the Board's regular meeting last Wednesday night.

The BOE chose Fowler's firm to guide the search for a new superintendent in early March, about two months after current Superintendent Donald Fiftal announced his upcoming retirement. The firm has since held several focus groups, and conducted an online survey in an effort to pinpoint the characteristics residents desire in a new superintendent.

Fowler and his colleagues met with about 125 people over the course of two days, according to Fowler.

"They included students, teachers, members of the non-certified staff, parents, school administrators, members of the town government," he said. The firm also posted an online survey, to which 294 responded.

The first question in the online survey asked residents what kind of background and experience they thought would be important for the new superintendent to have. The number one response, reported by 199 people, was "experience in a community similar to Darien." Additionally, 185 people answered good experience in the area of budget and finance; 138 answered curriculum skills; 122 answered experience working with an elected Board of Education; and 116 answered good background experience in short- and long-range planning, according to Fowler.

The need of experience in a "high-expectation district" is very important, according to Fowler.

"They feel that a high expectation district may put a great deal of pressure on the superintendent because there are many people in a high-expectation community who want to see the best for their children, or see the best for their high school, for their elementary school and so the person is not used to dealing in that kind of environment, they feel the person may not succeed here," he said.

A variety of open-ended questions yielded long lists of desirable traits in a new superintendent, which Fowler summed up in a PowerPoint presentation. The five key traits identified by School Leadership, LLC are:

"¢ A thoughtful listener and communicator with outstanding interpersonal skills, who has demonstrated the ability to build confidence, trust and support for the schools of a community.

"¢ An education leader, with experience in a high-expectation school community and with strong financial management skills, who has been able to balance the need for cost containment while continuing to move a successful school district to even higher levels of achievement.

"¢ An educator, experienced at multiple levels of school district responsibility, who is visible and available to stakeholders in the schools of the district and in the community at large.

"¢ A school administrator who has demonstrated the ability to oversee successful and equitable programs and services which meet the needs of ALL students within the district.

"¢ An instructional leader who capitalizes on and helps expand the strengths of staff in order to better meet the needs of students, while holding all staff accountable for the results of their work.

"We've identified these five as probably being representative of many of the items identified in either the online survey or in the meetings with the 125 people who came and talked with us about what they felt was important. It's a very positive report about the district, about the community. The aspirations are very high," Fowler said. "Hopefully this will be of use to the Board as it now moves into its next steps."

Following his presentation, members of the BOE posed several questions to Fowler.

"In one of the slides with regard to the five qualifications, you use the word `equitable,' and I wasn't quite sure what you're getting at with that," said Board Chairwoman Kim Westcott.

"Equitable in the sense of balanced and even handed," Fowler explained. "That the system does not disproportionately provide for the needs of one kind of student as opposed to another. I think some of that related to growing costs of special education. But some of it related to the issue of people who were concerned about that child who might be caught in the middle. So what they really mean is that they want to see a leader whose work reflected a real balance in terms of the constituency, and trying to fairly meet the needs of all students."

The next step in the superintendent search "would be to look to candidates who would match up pretty well with the specifications that we learned about from the research from the community," according to Board member Clara Sartori.