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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Schenectady school board considers options for superintendent search


SCHENECTADY — As ⁢Schenectady City School District Superintendent Anibal Soler, Jr.’s departure in May looms,⁤ school​ board members hope to have his replacement in place before he leaves. Wednesday night, they met to weigh the pros ‍and cons of an internal versus external‌ search.

Board President Bernice Rivera indicated she is leaning towards an internal search⁤ process, noting that the ⁢board has seen its internal candidates on the ground​ in the district in the last​ several years.

“I have ‌seen firsthand what our folks are capable of doing,” Rivera said during the meeting. “I’m not saying that there’s no validity in a search, but at this point, because we have seen what our staff can do, that for me, I really feel ⁤that an internal ⁢ [search] would really be best suited for Schenectady.”

Rivera said at the board’s Jan. 10 meeting that the board was committed to​ developing⁤ a​ strong succession plan in collaboration with ‌Soler.

Rivera said on​ Thursday that the board is not ready to commit ⁣publicly to a solely internal search.

“We had a great conversation last night [Wednesday] and we’re​ still considering our options,” she said.

School board attorney Douglas Gerhardt laid ​out the options for both an internal succession plan and a full outside superintendent search during a presentation Wednesday evening.

“Hiring a superintendent is really the most important job for a board ⁣of⁢ education,” Gerhardt said. ​“You’re ⁤hiring your CEO, the key staff leader of the entire school district, educationally and from the business side ‍as well. Both options that are available to you allow you to do ⁤that very effectively.”

Gerhardt noted that smaller⁢ school districts are more prone to launching full-scale searches⁤ for superintendents, while larger districts‌ such as Schenectady may have a large internal roster of candidates.

“One way you would hire internally is if you have a fairly robust leadership team and executive team ‍with deputy superintendents and assistant superintendents,” Gerhardt told the board.

He noted that, if the district makes‍ an internal hire, education initiatives or projects launched under the outgoing superintendent ‍can continue uninterrupted.

“A new superintendent might have new ⁤ideas,⁢ but the way that I look at that is in relation to the uninterrupted continuation of work,” board ‍member ​Erica Brockmyer said during the meeting, “because we’ve had a lot of new ideas happen and we really haven’t gotten to see any of those come to fruition.”

The board approved a new districtwide ‍grading policy‍ last October, and district taxpayers approved a $300 ‍million capital project for infrastructure improvements last spring.

Soler​ accepted the superintendent’s ‌post at Yonkers Public Schools earlier this month and⁢ will start there on May 1.

The‍ school⁣ board discussed the possibility on Wednesday of having⁣ his successor in place in time for Soler to provide several months of training and mentoring⁣ before his exit.

“We’re hoping to continue an effective process, in terms‌ of how we’re going to move forward, so I don’t ⁤want to say definitely that we’re going to have it ⁣by next month, but we’re hoping that the new person would have the opportunity to be coached under Superintendent Soler,” Rivera said on ⁣Thursday.

Soler was not in attendance at the board’s work session ‍meeting on Wednesday, with Rivera noting that the board excused him because they would be discussing his successor.

Gerhardt told the board that the positive of an external search is ‌it might bring fresh ideas into the⁣ district, while the downside is that, due to Soler’s impending departure, ‌the district would face a time crunch to launch a request for proposal for an ⁤outside firm⁤ to conduct the search that may take a month or more. The district could also utilize Capital Region BOCES to supervise the search process if the board ⁣chooses to go the external route.

Schenectady hired Soler in July 2021 following a 14-month search to ⁣replace former Superintendent ⁤Laurence Spring, who left the district in ⁢March 2020. The district hired interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak to lead the school system temporarily. When ⁤Bochniak announced in April 2021 that he had accepted a position as the assistant superintendent with Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES, Schenectady initiated a confidential search to find another interim superintendent, a process ⁤that led the district to Soler.

Gerhardt noted that Soler’s departure after two and a half years and recent turnover in the position could lead to a negative⁤ connotation for the district from outside candidates.

“This will be the fourth superintendent in Schenectady in four years and you may see a diminished applicant pool as a result of that,” Gerhardt told the board.⁣ “That’s ⁣just my conjecture or prognostication, I could be dead wrong ​about that.”

Board member Vivian Parsons noted during the‍ meeting ⁣that the turnover in the superintendent’s chair had led to a feeling ​amongst some that the district was being​ utilized by officials as a launching pad to more prestigious posts.

“I think ⁣it’s fair to say that there are many within‍ our district, both in the community and our faculty, who ‍feel as though Schenectady has a history of being used as a stepping stone,” Parsons said.

Gerhardt replied that, ⁤within the state education industry, the ⁢Schenectady ⁤superintendent position was viewed as a capstone job that ranked only ⁢below the New York City school system and Yonkers in the state hierarchy.

Board member Jamaica Miles concurred with Parsons during the meeting.

“We’ve been​ hurt as ‌a community and that pain is visceral,” Miles said. “We’re never going to have full certainty, but our commitment as ⁣board members is that ‍we serve our students and families. And we hear from them, ‘Why are we​ treated like a stepping ‍stone? ⁤Why are we treated like we’re not good enough? How come people don’t ⁤want to stay here?’”

Board ⁣member Amanda Sponable-Pantalone asked Gerhardt if internal candidates ‌could still be considered as part of a full search, with the lawyer ‍replying that current⁢ district staffers could also apply. Sponable-Pantalone said during the meeting that she was torn on whether the district should⁢ engage a full external search as she did not want to miss out on compelling outside candidates.

“We’ve created⁣ a⁣ path under Superintendent Soler‍ the last two​ and half years that has been steady and where we’re starting to get some momentum,” board⁤ Vice President Nohelani Etienne said ‌during the meeting.

Rivera said on Thursday that a special board⁣ meeting could be scheduled to further⁣ discuss the superintendent vacancy before the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 7.

It’s clear that the Schenectady City School District is facing a crucial decision in finding a replacement for Superintendent Anibal Soler,​ Jr. ⁣The board⁣ is considering both internal and external options, weighing the pros and cons of each. The decision will have a significant impact on the district’s future, and the⁣ board is committed to ​making the best choice for​ the students and⁣ families of Schenectady.

Rafael Torres
Rafael Torres
Rafael Torres, a native of Schenectady, has returned to his hometown after several years of reporting in the Midwest. A graduate of Missouri School of Journalism, Alex is known for his empathetic approach to local news, covering everything from community events to local governance, always with an aim to bridge diverse perspectives.
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  1. Agree Great to see the Schenectady school board actively considering options for their superintendent search! A strong leader can make all the difference in shaping the future of our education system.

  2. Great news for Schenectady! A thorough superintendent search is crucial to ensure the best leadership for our education system. #MovingForward


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