Focus groups give parents a chance to weigh in on superintendent search

By Gregory A. Scibelli - Staff Writer
Windsor - posted Fri., Sep. 30, 2011
Cindy Gapko and Debra Duke give their thoughts on the next superintendent of schools. Photos by Gregory A. Scibelli.
Cindy Gapko and Debra Duke give their thoughts on the next superintendent of schools. Photos by Gregory A. Scibelli.

Windsor parent Debra Duke thinks the new superintendent of schools should have a good approach to leadership that will not seek to make changes for the sake of the new administration. “We need a person who will come in and look at everything,” said Duke. “We want this person to evaluate and only make changes where they are necessary.”

Duke was a participant in the focus group held Sept. 27 at the Town Council Chambers by the New England School Development Council consulting group. NESDEC was hired by the Windsor Board of Education to facilitate the search for a new superintendent, which the BOE hopes to have named sometime before the end of the calendar year.

Coming off the success of the focus groups used to gauge parent and community opinion for the reorganization of the Windsor elementary schools, BOE member Doreen Richardson said the focus groups were a great idea for the superintendent search, as well.

“We want to know what the public thinks and their opinion of how we should proceed with the selection of a new superintendent,” said Richardson.

Two focus group sessions were held on Sept. 26 and 27. More than a dozen parents attended the first group, all giving feedback to consultants Carolyn Burke and Joe Connelly.

“These sessions are very important to help us figure out how to best serve our clients here in the town of Windsor,” said Burke. “We are here under contract by the BOE, but our job is to help the people get the superintendent that is the fit for the community they will be serving.”

Dr. Ernest Perlini has been serving as the interim superintendent since the spring, when Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Feser left the district to become superintendent for the Milford public schools. Perlini will not be seeking the full-time position. Richardson said Perlini is a retired superintendent who made an agreement with the district to serve the town during the search process. His contract expires when a new superintendent is named.

Richardson said she believes December is a very ambitious goal for the BOE, which will be serving as the search committee.
“There is still a lot of work to be done, and we have lot of potential interviews to conduct,” said Richardson. “But with the help of the consultant, we should be able to complete the process by the end of the year.”

NESDEC will be charged with analyzing the data and presenting it to the BOE for use in the paper searching to narrow down applicants for the job.

“We will use the data compiled from the focus groups to go through the applications and figure out which candidates will have the chance to be the best fit for the district,” said Richardson.

Suggestions garnered from the focus group included one from parent Cindy Gapko, who said she wants to see the school hire a superintendent who is a “visionary.”

“I want to see the BOE hire a superintendent that will bring a positive vision to the district and will create benchmarks and hold people accountable for reaching those benchmarks,” said Gapko. Gapko said that candidate will be able to work with other administrators, parents, and students in order to make that vision a reality.

Another parent suggestion was that the new superintendent have a good track record in previous school districts and be able to prove prior success in implementing policies.

Richardson said the focus groups held on Sept. 16 focused on communication between the superintendent and the community. She said her impression from parents is they want to see more of a two-way dialogue between school administration and parents.

“Parents are very concerned about the ‘feedback’ loop in the district,” said Richardson. “They want to feel like they are being heard by the superintendent and that they are getting regular responses and information, so they know what is going on in their children’s schools.”

Information gathered from the focus groups is being compiled and will be taken up for discussion at the next BOE meeting, scheduled for Oct. 18.  Richardson did not say when the BOE would begin the interview process for superintendent candidates.

Prior to the BOE meeting, more focus groups are scheduled to take input from school teachers and administration. Town officials will also be invited to take part in the input sessions.

Residents seeking more information on the ongoing search for a new superintendent can contact the superintendent's office at 860-687-2000, ext. 236, or e-mail

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