The new pick for superintendent begins July 1
Brian Ricca, 47, is an experienced superintendent. He got his first superintendent post at just 36 years old, for Montpelier public schools in Vermont. After seeing that district through a merger with Roxbury, in 2018 Ricca moved to St. Johnsbury, also in Vermont. In July he will become the new superintendent for East Greenwich public schools.
To hear Ricca tell it, he’s just getting started.
“I still have a huge appetite for this gig…. I know I have a lot more to give to this profession,” he said. “I feel like I have a lot to offer to East Greenwich.”
The EG School Committee voted 7-0 last week to approve Ricca’s hire (read that story HERE). He will replace Alexis Meyer, who is retiring in June.
Ricca said he decided to apply for the East Greenwich job because he wants to keep growing professionally. “I’m not running from something in St. Johnsbury. I love the families, the staff, and the leadership team.”
But he was ready for a new challenge. He said he started looking at job openings around New England and the East Greenwich job felt right. It’s certainly bigger. St. Johnsbury is a K-8 district of 700 students (the town pays the tuition for high school students to attend one of several area schools). EGSD has 2,400 students and a high school. One of the things Ricca liked when he looked at the district was its new strategic plan. That’s important, since it will be his job to continue its implementation.
“I love the power and the simplicity of the East Greenwich Strategic Plan, ‘All Means All,’” he said. “I don’t want a plan that’s overly prescriptive. I like the conversation.”
Ricca’s first interview for the job was via Zoom, after which he was invited to spend a day in the district. He really liked what he saw, and heard.
“I was blown away during my day in the district,” he said. He toured all six schools and the central office and talked with teachers, students, administrators and staff.
“There was not one principal that walked by a kiddo in a building that didn’t call that kiddo by name. That means something to me. That’s a system I want to be a part of,” he said.
Ricca understands the strains on schools, students and families because of the pandemic and the tensions in communities. He said as superintendent in St. Johnsbury, he relied on public health guidance but he also tailored decisions to what he felt was appropriate for his district, including making masks optional a week before the state of Vermont took that action.
He said he’s not afraid of disagreement but wants people to be able to talk about things, regardless of their stand on an issue. “I think it’s really important to have thoughtful, meaningful, growth-oriented conversations with people who disagree with me.”
Ricca said he did not believe in absolute right or absolute wrong. “As long as everyone’s truly open to learning, then let’s have that conversation,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, what we do at the end of the day is to help students grow. That’s our job. Surround me with people who want to do that and maybe can see things in a different way than I do – I want to be there.”
Ricca is not afraid to speak his mind if it is in service to keeping kids safe. Ricca’s opinion piece (HERE) in Vermont Digger last December took politicians to task for not doing enough to stop school shootings.
He remembers the day of the Sandy Hook shooting (when 20 young children and 6 staff members were killed in a Connecticut elementary school). He and his wife and young boys were in heading out of town. He was so relieved his children weren’t at school. Ricca was in Montpelier when there was a violent incident outside the high school. A man (a former student, as it turned out) held up a credit union across the street from Montpelier High School then appeared to be heading toward the school entrance when a quick-thinking student resource officer managed to divert him away. An hour-long standoff at the athletic field bleachers ended when the man was shot and killed by police.
“When it comes to school safety, school leaders need to speak and they need to speak clearly,” Ricca said. “Students are legally compelled to come to school. I see it as my job to ensure they are safe and welcome and included so they can learn to the best of their ability.”
Ricca hails from Mount Vernon, New York, just north of the Bronx. He says he got interested in education after reading Savage Inequalities, a book by Jonathan Kozol, while in college at Holy Cross. One chapter of the book talks about the educational differences experienced by children in Mount Vernon, a poorer city, compared to its wealthier northern neighbor, Bronxville. Ricca had attended a private Catholic high school (Iona Prep) but learning about the issue through his own hometown was eye-opening, he said.
Also while at Holy Cross, Ricca and a few other students went on an immersion trip to a small town in Mexico.
“We were overwhelmed by the poverty we saw,” he said. This was not a service trip. The idea, he said, was to “come back with the yearning in your heart to do something.”
That’s why, after college, Ricca joined a volunteer teaching program and landed in Chicago, where he taught for several years. Three years in, he met Michal, who would become his wife. Michal came from Vermont, and they decided to move there after Chicago.
Of his wife, Ricca says she is “the best teacher I know.” After many years as a classroom teacher, she is a literacy specialist now, working independently.
They have two sons, Patrick, 15, and Brendan, 13. The family is moving to Rhode Island but Ricca said it was too early to talk about where exactly they would live – they still have a house to sell – although he did note he has never lived in the town where he has served as superintendent. The Riccas have no direct ties to Rhode Island, although Michal did graduate from Providence College and Ricca has already heard from a parent in the district he knew at Holy Cross who reached out after reading about his appointment.
Ricca knows he’s stepping into the superintendent job at a critical moment, with the district contemplating a significant building project – as much as $100 million worth of construction to update buildings and increase capacity – which will require voter support. He recounted his experience with a building project in St. Johnsbury. It was considerably smaller – safety changes to the school’s entrance – but still required voters to approve a bond.
“We walked people through that [entrance] hallway.… to convince them to support the bond,” he said. He expects to do the same thing in East Greenwich – showing people what the issues are so they can see for themselves.
“Here’s the reality,” said Ricca. “I get it. We’re going to be talking to people whose kids have been through the schools, people who live on a fixed income, people who do not want this.… I just want to be heard.”
He added, “My job is to say, ‘This is why I think this is important.’ I’m an educator – I want an educated electorate.”
Ricca said he understands he won’t always make everyone happy. “If I wanted to make everybody happy, I’d be selling ice cream,” he quipped.
One thing he’s gleaned from his EG interviews is that Alexis Meyer during her tenure as superintendent has cultivated what he called a “healthy and flat culture” – the idea that a good idea can come from anywhere.
“I’m a fan of the best idea. It doesn’t have to come from me,” he said. Even with his many years of superintendent experience, Ricca said he’s coming ready to learn. “I would never presume to come in with [a know-it-all] attitude because it would be very disrespectful to the people who’ve been doing the work.”
He said he’s eager to get started. “This work is really exciting to me. And I can’t tell you how much I felt at home with [everyone] in EG.”