With reluctance, the Sewanhaka Central High School District Board of Education voted to accept Superintendent Ralph Ferrie’s retirement during a board meeting on July 9. As Board President David Del Santo reminisced about when Ferrie first joined the district as superintendent in 2011, he said that when the board had to find a replacement for former Superintendent Warren Meierdierck, it was a challenge.
“But we found the right man those eight years ago,” Del Santo said.
On Oct. 16, local residents gathered at Sewanhaka High School to meet with Deborah Raizes — a search consultant from the Hazard, Young, Attea, and Associates education consulting firm — to discuss their ideas about what they would like to see in a new superintendent for the district to replace Ferrie.
Following Ferrie’s announcement over the summer that he would retire at the end of the school year, the Board of Education hired the consulting firm, which held several interviews with parents, residents, teachers, principals and staff last week to asses the district’s needs. About a dozen people attended the Oct. 16 public meeting. Claudine Hall, Elmont resident and Jamaica Square Civic Association president, characterized those in attendance as “the faces of the community,” regulars who usually come out to school board meetings.
“There’s a big disconnect between the schools and the communities,” Hall said.
Several people at the meeting expressed their hope that the superintendent search would result in an administrator who would preserve and promote diversity throughout the district.
One of Ferrie’s first actions after joining the Sewanhaka district in 2011 was to join the Long Island Consortium for Excellence and Equity to help the district, and its minority-majority student population, thrive. While some schools’ Cultural Proficiency Committee barely met anymore to discuss students’ cultural needs, some committee members said that other schools have seen improvements because of their committee.
Equity was another hot-button issue at the meeting. Residents said they did not want any of the high schools to receive special treatment from the district while the others were left with fewer resources. Annette Denehy, an Elmont resident who has been involved with the district for years, said she wanted a superintendent who would allow students to take advantage of not only what their own school has to offer, but also who would let them use assets available in one of the other schools.
“A superintendent needs to represent the needs of the district, not just of one [school] community,” Denehy said.
As the residents continued to discuss their concerns, Hall expressed doubt that the consulting firm would actually find someone who represented the district. After Ferrie announced his retirement, Hall had reached out to some acquaintances — educators and superintendents of color — and asked them to apply.
“My friends, who are qualified for the position, emailed me and said, ‘We don’t stand a chance in Sewanhaka,” Hall said, referring to the fact that Sewanhaka has never had a superintendent of color.
Raizes assured Hall that she and her fellow consultant, Bob Roelle, would not discriminate against any applicant and shared her contact information so that the educators whom Hall mentioned could reach out to her. Raizes added that she has completed more than 80 superintendent searches, and that about 90 percent of the superintendents she found stayed in their new districts for more than five years, quelling residents’ fears that a new superintendent might come to Sewanhaka to ride out a few years until retirement.
“We don’t want you if you’re going to stay for only a few years,” Onwuchekwa Tyra, of Elmont, said. “But if you’re looking to make your mark and become an influential part of our future, then you’re the one we want.”
The residents best summarized what they wanted in a new superintendent by asking for someone similar to Ferrie, who stuck with the district for more than seven years and tackled the transitions the school faced since 2011 in terms of its difficult budgets, renovations and technology upgrades.
“We are grateful for all Dr. Ferrie has done for our district during his time with us,” Del Santo added. “He is a consummate professional, and we are sad he will be leaving, but are confident that we can find an equally impressive successor within this generous timeframe.”
Raizes and Roelle will present their summary of the community’s input during the Board of Education meeting on Oct. 30. They hope to present a new superintendent for the district board to vote on in January or February.