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Greenwich Schools Head Wants to Listen Then Act

GREENWICH, Conn. – When a new superintendent arrives in town, they typically bring several plans and ideas to implement at the schools. But Greenwich’s new superintendent William “Bill” McKersie says this doesn't work. Instead, he wants to take the “active listening” approach.

“I‘ve got some very strong core principles about what matters in education, formed from 30 years of experience and those are the pieces I’m going to go in on in talking to parents, talking to the administrative team, leadership team, talking to the teachers, asking, 'Where are we and how are we doing? And is there a way to streamline so teachers and principals can focus … on what has the most leverage.' Leverage is a word folks in Greenwich understand,” McKersie said.

After his unanimous appointment Wednesday morning as superintendent by the Greenwich Board of Education, McKersie outlined the five areas he plans to address:

• making sure there is high quality school leadership, from principals to teachers;

• forming a good working relationship between the superintendent and the school board;

• keeping the environments conducive to learning, particularly when it comes to technology;

• ensuring parents feel they are active and being heard;

• and, most of all, setting out ambitious instruction.

Greenwich has many of the highest performing students in the state, McKersie said. But the district is growing and so is the achievement gap. Testing is the big push across the nation, and he says it’s important to create multiple measures and indicators of success. “There’s no hedge fund leader or investor that looks only at one number,” he said. A single test measure cannot show lifelong success, McKersie said.

McKersie, 52, is associate superintendent for academic excellence with the Archdiocese of Boston Catholic Schools in Braintree, Mass., which serves 42,000 students in 122 diverse schools.

In the first three years of his contract, beginning July 9, McKersie will be paid $220,000. He will receive a $2,500 monthly housing allowance, $250 car allowance, and $15,000 in annuity and deferred compensation. The district will also reimburse up to $12,000 of the cost to move McKersie, his wife Katherine, and 4-year-old daughter to Greenwich in the coming months.

Greenwich is no stranger to a change in leadership. Board of Education Chairman Leslie Moriarty said that during the superintendent search, it looked for someone who would stay long-term for consistency and for sustained improvement from students. McKersie said he took his time in choosing Greenwich.

One of his references, Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean Kathy McCarthy, wrote an email McKersie, which he related Wednesday. She wrote, “Bill, you’re not just going to be a superintendent, you’re going to be a superintendent in one of the best districts we have.”

He plans to tour each of Greenwich’s 15 schools by the end of the week, which McKersie says makes a statement that he wants to be a presence in the schools.

“I care about having my boots on the ground. I care about what I hear from principals. I care about what I hear about from teachers. Today I’ll be meeting with the Greenwich High School student government – I care about what I hear from students. I’ll be with the PTA later - I care about what parents say. Ultimately, though, the group here with all that input, has to make some tough decisions.”

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