From the Superintendent: Fear & Regret, Never a Good Combo

by | Mar 10, 2023

By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.

As I’ve said many, many times, I am a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin. It first started with The West Wing, a show I loved. That love morphed from “appointment viewing” (for the first six seasons, it was on NBC on Wednesday nights at 9 PM, but in the seventh season, it was on Sunday nights at 8 PM) and continues as the show lives on in the streaming universe. It grew stronger when I started watching The Newsroom on a flight to Hawaii. There is a humanity that Sorkin writes about that is compelling, and I feel this when I am watching actors deliver the lines he writes. 

I was listening to an interview he gave recently when I heard him say: 

“It was the single largest mistake I made in my stewardship of The West Wing.” 

That got my attention, although I was not paying attention, so I needed to rewind the interview a little to hear the context. The conversation was about Emily Procter, an actor who played Ainsley Hayes. Hayes appeared in only 12 episodes, mostly in seasons two and three, with her final episode coming in season seven as the show ended. Sorkin, along with NBC and Warner Brothers, had a chance to make a long-term commitment to Procter by making her a regular, which they did not. With this understanding, I re-listened to the interview again and was piqued when I heard Sorkin say this to Procter: 

“I was frightened that I wasn’t going to have enough story and that you [Procter] were going to regret being locked into this show without enough to do.” 

A moment of vulnerability from someone like Sorkin is rare. But he made clear that fear drove this decision. And that, to this day, he has regret. Fear and regret driving decisions. Rarely a good combination. 

These are human emotions, and we have all had these moments that Sorkin shares. I distinctly remember being afraid to apply for my first superintendency in 2011. My wife saw that Montpelier Public Schools were seeking a new educational leader. When she first showed me the opening, I outright refused to apply. “Who is going to pick me? I’ve only been a principal for four years.” I was unsure I would make it through the first round and was happily surprised to be offered a spot in the second round. Following the second round, I felt more confident and was proud to be named a finalist. 

Following the public presentations in the final round, I waited patiently for the follow-up phone call from then-School Board Chair Sue Aldrich. I can still remember the moment when Ms. Aldrich offered me the job, and my surprise showed through when my instinctive response was, “Are you sure?” to which I quickly stated that I was honored and would work with her to shape a contract we would both be proud of. 

I was afraid to apply for a job I had never held before. Thankfully, my wife saw (and still sees) the possibilities and potential in me regularly. I would absolutely have regretted not applying, as I have loved the superintendency and the systems thinking I get to do with the School Committee and other thought leaders. In addition, while doing hiring myself, I remind myself that sometimes qualified candidates have never held the position they are applying for. 

Fear and regret driving decisions. Rarely a good combination. 

This upcoming spring will be a busy time for the East Greenwich Public Schools and the entire community. We are hiring three school administrators, working to pass our FY24 budget, and considering a Master Plan to breathe new life into the buildings where we educate our students. With all of these and while collaborating with our Town Council, I sincerely hope that we look to the possibilities for growth, not the ways we could fall. I hope we see the potential, not the pitfalls. Finally, I hope we find ways to reach toward each other in understanding and growth rather than remaining rooted in our own thinking. 

Fear and regret driving decisions. Rarely a good combination. 

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

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