December 9, 2020

Search for New PPS Superintendent Moves Into Interview Stage

By Donald Gilpin

With a large number of candidates interested in the opportunity to lead the Princeton Public Schools (PPS), the Board of Education (BOE) has started this week on its first round of interviews, by Zoom, for a new superintendent.

BOE President Beth Behrend noted that Board members were concerned that the pandemic would reduce the pool of candidates who would be able to leave their current districts at this time, but the BOE received more than 60 applications, about three times the national average for a search of this kind, according to their search consultant Kevin O’Mara, president of School Exec Connect.

“The search is going very, very well,” O’Mara said, and added that the semi-finalists constitute “a very strong slate” of candidates. He emphasized that the consultants had brought forth a diverse field of candidates, as requested by the Princeton BOE. He noted the diversity of the group in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and geography.

On November 17, O’Mara presented the BOE with a slate of semi-final candidates for consideration, based on extensive screening over the previous weeks. In

September and October, School Exec Connect conducted focus groups, open forums, and a survey of staff and community members in developing a PPS profile of the new superintendent. That profile was presented to the BOE and the community on October 27 before being used for the screening process.

Specific details on the slate of candidates and the interviewing process are “totally confidential to protect the applicants who may be sitting superintendents,” Behrend noted.

The new superintendent is scheduled to be named in January 2021 and to officially take over the position on July 1, 2021, according to the search consultants. Barry Galasso, who has been serving as interim superintendent since Steve Cochrane stepped down in July 2020, is not a candidate for the permanent position.

“We are incredibly grateful to him for his skilled leadership as an interim superintendent during this most challenging year,” Behrend said. “We are fortunate to have Dr. Galasso’s experienced hand at the helm while we take our time to find the right match for our students and for the Princeton community.”

She continued, “Selecting the permanent superintendent to lead PPS forward is one of the most important decisions our Board will ever make. The Princeton community has elected us to represent their vision for the education of our children. Our mission is to prepare our students for lives of joy and purpose, as knowledgeable, creative, and compassionate citizens of a global society.”

Emphasizing the qualifications that the BOE is looking for, Behrend added, “To make this vision a reality, we need a strong partner in our superintendent, the educational professional charged with administering every aspect of the district — from student achievement and curriculum to finances and facilities.”

In the “profile of the desired new superintendent” — developed through this fall’s surveys, forums, and focus groups — are the following attributes: “is highly visible, personable, transparent, approachable, accessible, and open-minded; is an outstanding visionary leader who can inspire and empower others and leads in the development of long-range planning; has understanding of the equity issues facing the Princeton community; and has experience dealing with equity issues in school/community settings.” 

Additional qualifications the BOE will be seeking in the upcoming candidate interviews include: “is understanding of the effects demographic shifts have on schools and academic environments; is able to empower staff members with targeted professional development to deal with the issue of changing demographics and enrollments; is understanding of school finance and is able to plan appropriately; is a team-builder with high expectations who holds people accountable, yet is supportive, collaborative, and trust-building; is aware of the need for community involvement and makes the Princeton area their home and part of their fabric; and is an outstanding communicator who understands the importance of letting families and community members know about the great things happening in the district, but also listens to concerns that need to be addressed.”