April 5, 2017
ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Debra Ruggiero answers questions during her finial interview.
By ADAM SWIFT
PEABODY — The school committee is down to its final candidate for superintendent, but Debra Ruggiero will have to wait until at least Tuesday to see if she is offered the position.
Ruggiero, principal of the Harrington Elementary School in Lynn, fielded questions from the School Committee for 90 minutes Wednesday night. At the conclusion of the interview, the committee voted to table any discussion on making a decision on the position until its next meeting April 11.
Ruggiero was one of three finalists to replace Interim Superintendent Herb Levine, but over the past week, the other two finalists accepted positions in other districts and withdrew their names from consideration.
School Committee member Joseph Amico said the process has shown how there is a critical shortage of qualified candidates for top administrative positions in the state.
“We had five or six competitive candidates,” he said. “But the two other finalists did go to strong districts.”
Gloucester assistant superintendent Arthur Unobskey took the top job in Wayland, while on Monday, Somerville High School Headmaster John Oteri was offered the superintendent position in Malden.
“I have accepted the (Malden superintendent’s post), pending successful contract negotiations which I am confident will take place,” Oteri said.
On Wednesday night at the Wiggin Auditorium at Peabody City Hall, Ruggiero had the spotlight to herself, answering questions about her leadership style, experience, and how she would handle contract negotiations.
Ruggiero characterized herself as a collaborative leader who puts the needs of the students first and uses data to help achieve the best outcomes for students and teachers.
School Committee member Brandi Carpenter noted that Ruggiero has handled budgets at the school building level but that the district budget for Peabody reaches $70 million and asked her how she would make the jump to handling such a large budget.
“I’ve always included the senior leadership team at the school level,” said Ruggiero, adding that any requests that come before her required data to back up the need. “I don’t want to make a decision just because we think we need something.”
Ruggiero, a Peabody resident, was asked her thoughts on potentially working and living in the same community by Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr.
“Connections make a difference,” said Ruggiero. “If you live in the town where you work, the parents feel like you are more approachable, and the parents and teachers feel like you are more invested in the school system. It is absolutely a positive to be a presence in the city and to be involved in the community.”
In her closing remarks to the school committee, Ruggiero acknowledged that it is a big jump from building principal to superintendent, but said she has the skills, experience, and passion to succeed in the job.
“It’s been a pleasure to go through the process,” she said. “It’s been quite a journey and I’ve learned a lot about myself and how people see me and who I am as a leader. I do have the experience I can draw on for this position and I do have the drive and passion. I’m reaching for the stars, and Peabody is my star.”
Steve Frecker contributed to this report.