Roughly 50 people turned out on Wed., Oct. 8 to listen to Frank Ferraro and Richard Hughes, Central Valley’s two finalists vying to become the district’s next superintendent.
The public forum was actually two one-hour sessions, with one candidate present for each session. A panel of eight community members asked a series of predetermined questions. Herkimer BOCES District Superintendent Mark Vivacqua then invited questions from the audience.
The candidates spoke candidly about their careers and their visions for Central Valley School. They answered all the questions directly and confidently. At the end of each session, the audience completed a brief questionnaire identifying the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and projecting how well that candidate would fit at Central Valley.
The evening began with Mr. Hughes. He explained that he had been born in western New York and had grown up in poverty. At an early age, he learned he wanted to serve. He pursued teaching, becoming a biology/chemistry teacher in Brocton and Dunkirk central school districts. His love of students and sports landed him in Delhi as the athletic director. He eventually became the a principal at all three levels—elementary, middle, and high school—at Delhi. In 2010, became the superintendent of schools in Otselic Valley.
The focus of his answers spoke to the need to improve education. He noted that our schools are getting better, but not quickly enough to keep up with changing world. He said the need was not to reform schools, but to transform them. He spoke about project-based learning, flipped classrooms, building on the things Central Valley does well, communicating via paper and via technology, building relationships within the community, partnering with private groups and colleges, developing multiple pathways to success, tackling poverty and improving academic outcomes. He said he, his wife and four children were anxious to move to Central Valley and a school that could offer his children a strong education.
In the second session, Mr. Ferraro began by explaining he was not the traditional candidate. He graduated from Canajoharie and spent many years in private industry and later became a business official. He last served as the superintendent of schools at Kearny School District in New Jersey. In Kearny, he instituted the district’s Annual Professional Performance Review plan and helped align the curriculum with Common Core Standards. He noted that his business and financial background helped him to be analytical and make decisions based on data. That experience also gave him the ability to manage effectively, a quality he said was important to continue the momentum created by the merger. Finally, he said as a business official, he oversaw about $155 million in construction project.
His responses to questions centered on his business and management experience. He spoke about the need for strategic planning, maintaining face-to-face communication, expanding AP courses and STEAM, focusing on literacy, using data including test results and APPR to track success, developing multiple career ladders, partnering with PTA and the business/higher education community, creating a professional atmosphere that treats people with respect, and supporting administrators and staff, but always being prepared to make a decision. He said he had elderly parents living close to his Canajoharie home that would prevent him from moving to the district, but assured attendees of his investment in the community, saying that this would be his last job, if selected.
Addressing bad press
One question from the panel directly addressed negative articles found online about each candidate. Mr. Hughes said an article describing him as “militaristic” referenced his handling of a drug issue at Delhi. He said disgruntled parents complained, but he was comfortable that he had handled the student issue correctly. Rather, it was the parents who had failed to help get the student help, allowing the problem to persist.
An article about Mr. Ferarro detailed his conflict with the Kearny Board of Education. Critics complained he was “wishy-washy” and unable to make employee decisions. A supporter said he merely challenged the board and its politics. Mr. Ferraro said coming from Upstate New York, he was not familiar with that level of politics. He was unwilling to say anything more other than the Central Valley board had vetted him.
Continuing the process
Attendees speaking after the forum said that both were suitable candidates, each bringing different strengths.
The forum ended a lengthy day of tours and interviews for the candidates. They each met with five stakeholder groups, each representing a separate school group—instructional staff, support staff, principals/assistant principals, administrators/directors and students.
The Central Valley Board of Education will meet over the next several weeks to review the input from all six stakeholder groups, then select the next candidate and negotiate a contract. The board is expected to announce its decision on or about Monday, Nov. 3.