Since former Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen announced in June she would leave for a similar position in Texas, five members of the district’s upper-administration team have also left or announced impending departures.
Chief Academic Officer Dana Johnson-Strother left in June. Chief Operating Officer Thomas Tsai and Chief Student Advocacy Officer Jason Germain left in July. The district’s attorney, Rob Ross, departed in August. And in September, Director of Human Resources Brian Cesare announced his last day will be Nov. 2.
“It’s not surprising to have some turnover any time there is a major shift in leadership,” interim Superintendent Erin Kane said. “We are absolutely working to fill those positions and mapping what I am hearing from schools to be sure we are serving the needs our kids. That’s something I’m thinking about as we are looking at those positions.”
None of the positions has been filled. Kane, in charge of the hiring process, said she didn’t want to give a timeline for filling those roles.
“They’re all positions that are a challenge to fill, but I don’t want to rush and make bad decisions,” Kane said. “We have to make good decisions going forward. We’re taking our time and making sure we get it right.”
The turnover concerns Board of Education Vice President Judith Reynolds because of the challenges of hiring out of the typical hiring season, which is generally spring and summer, and hiring into an interim situation. However, she said she is confident Kane can handle the situation.
“Superintendent Kane and her team have a plan in place for covering the gaps, and are committed to hiring quality people into positions,” Reynolds said. “ I am confident in her and the staff’s ability to cover the positions that need to be covered, whether that is through a hire or restructuring of duties.”
School board member David Ray said that while turnover can cause unrest, it can also lead to positive change.
“This allows hiring and retaining upper-level administration who are motivated to restore our district to a place of excellence,” Ray said.
School board President Meghann Silverthorn said the turnover at the administrative level also makes her nervous because it means people with institutional knowledge are leaving the district. The goal should be to maintain as much continuity as possible, she said.
“It happens all the time, but I want to make sure that we can find a way to keep doing business so that it doesn’t impact students,” Silverthorn said. “They should never know that there is turnover and things going on at the top level. We should be able to provide all of the same opportunities to them that we always have regardless of what’s going on in central administration.”
The departures are not unexpected, school board member Wendy Vogel said.
“We are clearly in a period of change,” she said, “and I am confident there will be excellent people willing to step into to those positions.”