Exhilarated. Energized. Enthused! A month has gone by since I assumed the superintendency of the Great Neck Public Schools. As I pause to reflect upon my first August in Great Neck, those words immediately come to mind. Add: welcomed, appreciated, impressed, helped, informed, challenged --- and thankful. Most particularly, I am thankful for the opportunity to serve this fine community in a career role that for me is the most exciting and rewarding one I can imagine. I have been told that the superintendency is the hardest job in public education today. Perhaps . . . but it's also the best one! (At least, for me). I'm thankful also for the multitude of genuinely warm, welcoming, and appreciative greetings extended by so many members of our school community.
Dr. Ronald L. Friedman
Many of our staff, as well as parents, students and other community members have reached out during the month to say hello, stopping by the office or telephoning, or just greeting me on the street or in shops. I am particularly thankful to my predecessor, Bill Shine, who shepherded the Great Neck Schools so ably on behalf of children for more than two decades, and appreciative of our fine board of education for their support, wisdom, and encouragement.
Yet my superintendency, and indeed the career of anyone in public service, is not about the person who holds a particular position of public trust. In the beginning, the community naturally focuses on the newcomer. But the new leader most assuredly turns his or her attention to the community and its needs. A community has a huge investment in its schools. An integral part of the community, the school system internalizes and also reflects the strengths, aspirations, values and dreams of the many people who define and are that community. Each school district has its own unique culture, a product of its rich history and experiences; its successes and its shortcomings; its heroes and its ordinary people. When a new superintendent is selected, the school district of necessity goes through a transition. When the person chosen is from outside the school community, the change is particularly noted and watched. It is curious to note that although school districts themselves persevere, enduring long beyond the careers and even the lives of those individuals who at any given time make up the fabric of the system, the spirit and harmony and balance of the school community is in fact fragile. Regardless of the level of stability, the symmetry and equilibrium of the district are delicate and all too easily disturbed.
What must I, or any outsider to a community who is chosen as school superintendent, do upon beginning in the role? He or she must spend the weeks and months immediately after being appointed to the superintendency in working hard to learn about and understand the people, the culture, and the programs and practices that make the district what it is, lending to and defining its uniqueness. The new superintendent must take care to learn and respect the strengths that have been nurtured and developed over the years, and to avoid impairing the positive values and structures in the school community. The new person needs to take the time to learn about the community, and needs to be seen as someone who is caring, concerned and interested in the myriad programs and people that together constitute the school district. At the same time, however, the new superintendent needs to be aware of those matters that may require immediate attention, of the changes that cannot or should not wait, and must be willing and able to move quickly and decisively in such instances.
In addition, a new superintendent has another, parallel role and one whose importance should not be minimized. He or she needs to focus on the future, to take in all that is past and present, reflect on it, and see how the pieces can be reformed and reshaped to even better serve the students and the larger school community. As the superintendent learns and absorbs the essence of the school district, he or she is also expected to work closely with the board of education to provide leadership and direction aimed at building upon the strongest of the district's features to create a new and better generation of programs and structures.
No school district, no matter how desirable and worthy it may be, nor any system of social organization for that matter, can remain motionless in excellence, bathed and basking in a static flare of ongoing brilliance. Not to move forward in dynamic human systems is the best way to assure moving backwards!
I mentioned early on of feeling challenged in my first month as your school superintendent. The challenge I see and feel and learn as I become part of our community is to work with our board of education, staff, children, parents and extended school community to develop a shared vision of the Great Neck Public Schools for these cornerstone years of the twenty-first century. This is the overarching mission we face together.
There are certainly ample issues with which to grapple. Some at the fore include ever-increasing academic demands and standards; providing all we can for our most able students while not forgetting the "child in the middle" and also meeting the requirements of our students with special learning, emotional and physical needs; the effects of changing demographics, both locally and in our broader realm; the machinations of the No Child Left Behind Act; real concerns about safety and security both locally and beyond; preserving and nurturing valuable credibility despite the shameful behavior of some people in public education on Long Island; and doing all this and more with resources that are precious, some of which are diminishing.
With all this on our plate, how do I feel as schools open for the 2004-05 school year? I said it before. Exhilarated. Energized. Enthused! Our school district is considered one of the best anywhere in fulfilling the mission of public education. In providing leadership to meet our students' needs, I particularly look forward to meeting our students! Of our community, I ask for your support, your ideas, your suggestions and criticisms, as we together evolve a vision for our school district and thus our children's future. In turn, I pledge my devotion to and full focus on seeking the ever-changing answer to the most simple and also most complex of education's questions: what's best for our kids?