HCSD holds search in challenging times

The Hudson City School District campus. File photo

HUDSON — At a time when it can be difficult to fill school administrative positions, Hudson community members have weighed in on the school district’s search for its next superintendent.

Hudson City Schools launched a survey in August asking community members to express what qualities they wanted to see in the person who will replace Superintendent Maria Lagana Suttmeier, who is retiring at the end of the calendar year after a decade at the helm.

But school administration organizations said that since the Great Recession in 2008, districts have had greater difficulty finding candidates to fill open positions.

The new Hudson superintendent is expected to take office in January 2022. The district announced Oct. 6 that it plans to conduct interviews in November. The deadline for applications is Nov. 3, according to the district.

“The Board of Education will offer a competitive salary ranging from $165,000 to $185,000 with an attractive benefits package based on professional qualifications and a record of accomplishment,” Carrie Otty, president of the HCSD Board of Education, wrote in a letter to potential candidates.

Survey questions include what previous experience would be most valuable in a new superintendent — such as teacher or an outside leadership position — and previous experiences and skills candidates could possess, including a track record of improving student achievement or familiarity with small school districts.

Residents were asked to fill out the survey by Sept. 10, according to the results published by the district. The district consists of 600 employees and about 1,700 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the district website.

According to the results, 416 community members responded and 63% completed the survey in its entirety. The most respondents — 38.7% — were parents with students in the district.

The highest percentage of respondents said that having previous teaching experience was important, and the top five skill areas for a candidate to possess include the ability to lead and direct an effective management team; commitment to continuous improvement; love of students and public education; maintains visibility and accessibility to students, parents and staff; and the ability to think outside the box and be creative, according to the survey results.

Respondents also indicated they wanted to see someone who is honest and ethical, has a high level of personal integrity and knows how to work with others, according to the survey.

Over the next year, the community said the district’s urgent needs related to budget, leadership and vision, and COVID/health and safety, the survey found.

Respondents were also able to submit questions for the school board to ask candidates during the interview process. Many submissions included the candidates’ vision for the future of the district, what role the school district plays in the growing Hudson community, and teaching experience.

“We thank all the parents, staff, students and district residents who completed the survey,” the district said in a statement.

Bob Lowry, deputy director of advocacy, research and communications at the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said as of late, there appears to be a greater number of superintendents leaving districts due to COVID-related pressures, but the issue has been ongoing.

“There’s been for several years a sense that school districts and school boards were having greater difficulty in finding a supply of candidates,” Lowry said.

Before the pandemic, districts also struggled with the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, Lowry said, and those pressures led to greater superintendent turnover. Although the financial situation has improved, there was added pressure from the pandemic, which also threatened budgetary fallout from the potential loss of state revenue, Lowry said.

“It’s become a more challenging job,” Lowry said.

Lowry said Hudson’s timeline to fill the post is reasonable, and the district could benefit from searching mid-year as opposed to the end of the school year when much turnover happens.

Dan Sherman, director of communications at Questar III BOCES, which is assisting with the search, said applications launched Oct. 4.

“We’re very early on in the process,” he said.

Al Marlin, deputy director of communications at the New York State School Boards Association, said boards of education spend so much time searching for a candidate to take the job because the superintendent is heavily involved with the board, and the search takes time to find the right person.

“It’s probably one of the most important positions within a school district,” Marlin said.

Suttmeier has been in the Hudson City School District for 23 years, 10 as superintendent, the district said.

“Dr. Suttmeier will be greatly missed, but we wish her nothing but the best as she begins this new chapter in her life. She will be a tough act to follow and the board hopes to find a new school leader with the same drive and determination to help the HCSD continue in its current direction,” the district said in response to the retirement announcement.

Suttmeier said at the June board of education meeting that serving the district had been her “extreme honor.”

“I am very proud of the achievements we made as a team,” Suttmeier said. “Everyone in the school system, from the students and families to the faculty and staff to the board of education and community partners, contributed to our turnaround. While there will always be more to accomplish, it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate how far we have come.”

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