From the Superintendent: Building a Culture of Caring

by | Mar 1, 2024

Photo by Hannah Busing / Unsplash

By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.

I walked into the Office of Finance, Administration, and Operations, saw the empty desk, and immediately wanted to ask, “Where’s name-of-employee?” But I didn’t. When the superintendent asks where an individual is, some might think that it’s being done out of more than just nice to know. 

I’ve never been that kind of leader because I’ve never had that kind of leader. I don’t stand at the door with a clipboard and a stopwatch because no one has ever stood at the door with a clipboard and a stopwatch for me. I was able to do my best work with leaders who cared about my personal life, not just my professional life. So, I strive to be the kind of leader who cares about what happens to people when they are not at work. This is why when I see someone not at their desk, I wonder if they are OK, not where they are, and why they’re not doing their job. 

We are trying to build a culture of caring in East Greenwich Public Schools for the students and for the adults. In educational leadership, we know that if you don’t take good care of the adults, it’s hard to expect them to improve educational outcomes for our students. I feel very fortunate that I’ve had experiences with educational leaders who have demonstrated with their words and with their actions that my personal life is just as important as my professional role. This doesn’t mean that they have said yes to every request I’ve asked regarding my personal time. It does mean there have been enough instances in which I’ve made a request for consideration of my personal time that have been honored. 

Because that is the truth. We are humans before anything else that we do for work. We are then husbands and wives, daughters and sons, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, godmothers and godfathers. That comes before we earn any titles at work. I don’t know anyone who has approached the end of their life and thought, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” 

And, this doesn’t mean we can’t have high expectations. You can care about people’s lives outside of work and expect great things. When things get overwhelming, we can make adjustments. People have phenomenal capacity if they feel like who they are as a person matters just as much as what they do for work. 

It was just three short months ago when the East Greenwich community lost four people in the span of only a few weeks. When one of my dearest friends lost his father a couple of years ago, he taught me something that has stayed with me. We were sitting together a couple of months after his dad had passed away, and he said, “Ya know, Ricca, everyone was great right around the time of my dad’s death and the funeral, and even a week or so after. But then they go back to their lives, and my dad is still dead.” 

I’m confident the Zimmers, the Caseys, the Arnoffs, and the Houghtalings still feel the reverberations of those losses. I’m also sure that those close to those families are still struggling as well. While we do have to keep going, we can be mindful of those who are still feeling the weight of missing those members of our community. 

As we return from our Winter Recess, with spring on the horizon, I hope we can recommit to seeing the humanity of those around us. Before they are students, our more than 2,500 kiddos are someone’s sons and daughters. Before they are employees, our adults are someone’s husband and wife, daughter and son, aunt and uncle, grandmother and grandfather, godmother and godfather.

In my experience, when you care about people’s personal lives, they return that back to you with even more of a commitment in their professional world. 

Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.

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Joanne (Moscatelli) Horlbogen
Joanne (Moscatelli) Horlbogen
March 2, 2024 9:05 am

Thank you, Dr. Ricca, for using this forum to express something so very important! We are people first and we need each other…


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