There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I’ve been thinking about this quote, especially as I continue to learn and grow into the superintendency in East Greenwich. There’s a lot of wisdom in that quote.
There is a lot of positional authority and power in the role of superintendent. Yet, as I often tell people, the only thing I can do without consulting the School Committee, or our policies, is to decide on a snow day. After very thoughtful conversations with our Teachers’ Association, traditional snow days are back this year in East Greenwich. So besides snow days, there are very few, if any, decisions that I can make unilaterally. Let me rephrase that: there are very few, if any, decisions that I want to make unilaterally. That’s not why I became a superintendent.
In fact, twenty years ago, I was certain I did not want to be a superintendent. One of the seminal moments of my relationship with My Wife occurred outside Bagel Rising on Commonwealth Avenue in Allston, Mass. The shop itself was too full to sit inside, so while sitting on the curb eating our bagel sandwiches, my then-girlfriend looked right at me and said, “Ricca, you’re going to be a great superintendent one day!”
I did not know where to start my rebuttal to that statement. I was a self-contained first-grade teacher at the time. Twenty-four first graders were my professional world, and I loved it. To this day, if I ever leave leadership, I want to go right back to first grade. Still, at the time, I had no desire for the superintendency. From my perspective, superintendents were paper pushers who worked with school committees, far away from the classroom.
Fast forward to 2011, and with some (OK, a lot) encouragement from My Wife, I applied for my first superintendency. I did not expect to be called back after the first round of interviews or the second round. As I left the Montpelier High School Library after my presentation in the third round, I did not expect to have landed the position. In fact, when my first School Board Chair, Ms. Sue Aldrich, called me to offer me the job, my initial response was, “Are you sure?” When she said, “That’s not what you want to hear from your next superintendent.” I quickly accepted the position.
Still, I was struggling with the distance from the classroom. Let me clarify my perceived distance from the school. Someone reminded me that I was entirely in control of my schedule, so I made time for classroom visits. As I grew in my leadership, I added office hours, virtually, in-person, and for the community. I did not know my superintendent as a student. I want our students to know me and that my job is to ensure that they feel safe, welcomed, and included when they come to school so they can learn to their fullest potential.
I know I cannot do this alone. I could not do it alone in Montpelier. I did not do it alone in St. Johnsbury. I want to do it with the students, faculty, staff, families, and community members in East Greenwich.
At the [School Committee] Inauguration on Thursday, December 1, everyone who spoke talked about the value of collaboration. The value of twelve elected officials working in service to this town. The value of disagreeing without being disagreeable. The value of continuing to build bridges, connections, and relationships. As one of the newest members to join this work, this is music to my ears. Relationships are the basis of our work in education, with no exceptions. In our classrooms, in leadership, and in working with the community, it’s about relationships. This is how we make a difference. If I was to ask you to name your favorite teacher(s), I’m confident that immediately you would be able to name an educator, not because of the content s/he taught, but because of how that person made you feel.
We have an opportunity in East Greenwich, a rare opportunity to go far on behalf of our Town. And to do so together.