SAUGUS — It’s too soon to know how the School Committee will grade the superintendent’s performance. But based on Saturday’s workshop, it seemed clear he gets an A on transforming the schools’ culture.
The Saugus School Committee and Superintendent David DeRuosi Jr. met with a representative from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees early Saturday for a presentation on the updated annual superintendent evaluation format. While his evaluation is just starting, he and the five-member panel dissected the administrator’s performance in the last year. They discussed his successes and the issues that need to be worked on.
DeRuosi, with a salary of $175,000, has been the town’s superintendent since 2016.
“We’ve charged him (DeRuosi) with trying to change a culture that exists in this town and, for anyone that’s tried to change culture, it creates a lot of unrest, argument, sometimes distrust, and it definitely creates anger because no one likes change,” said School Committeewoman Linda Gaieski. “We still have a lot of work to do, but I think we’ve made a dent in changing the culture in this town. Hopefully we’re moving the district ahead.”
In regards to the Saugus administration’s goal of making sure DeRuosi visited the schools and engaged in professional development, all members agreed he’s been successful. He noted the workshops he completed with the town’s paraprofessionals where they were taught how to work with kids who have trauma.
“In negotiations they (paraprofessionals) spoke very highly of the professional development that you presented to them,” said School Committee Chairwoman Jeannie Meredith.
DeRuosi was also applauded on the work he and his team have completed for the new 6-12 grade complex, the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, mathematics) academy for the third through fifth graders, and the hopeful new building for the pre-kindergarten through second graders. The state is going to ask the town to be very flexible when it comes to making adjustments and moves for the new and updated buildings, he said, and the administration must be ready for it.
“As a committee member who sits in on all those school building committee meetings, they do take up quite a bit of time,” said Meredith. “To you and all your administrators that attend them, thank you for all your time and attention on this. We’re not just building a school, we’re reconfiguring the entire district.”
The administration’s financial systems have also been improved, said DeRuosi. He has plans to teach school principals to learn how to manage their own budgets. He wants each school to be in a financial position where teachers don’t have to “make GoFundMe pages” to get the supplies they need, he said.
School Committeeman Marc Magliozzi said there should be a better way to get that message out to teachers directly. DeRuosi agreed, and said he wants educators and leaders in the district to create opportunities for themselves to move up. You can’t hire outsiders who don’t know the town like the educators do, he said.
“Saugus has a hard time trusting, it’s just the community at large,” said DeRuosi. “Having teachers doing the work builds the trust and then when they, meaning the staff, see their raised concerns get to me and get back down to them, that’s how we can move forward as a district.”
Still, DeRuosi still has work to do. He said the attendance rates district wide are “driving him crazy,” and the issue is trickling down to the elementary schools.
“There is an attendance culture here that’s starting to show people just aren’t coming to school,” he said.
DeRuosi also noted that enrollment rates are dropping and it’s happening at the middle school. Strengthening the curriculum frameworks at that grade level is one way to get those enrollment numbers up, he said.
“To put it simply, I want to hear people out in Saugus saying I don’t need to go to a private school because Saugus Public Schools are great,” said Committee Vice-Chair Elizabeth Marchese. “I want kids to stay in district because it saddens me when I see so many families leaving it.”
The panel will meet again Aug. 6 to review their individual evaluations on DeRuosi and collaborate to summarize them into one assessment document. A public evaluation is scheduled for the next school committee meeting on Aug. 15.
“I’m on a fourth-year tour here and I’d say we’ve all had moments where we agree, we’ve had moments where we disagree, and we’ve had moments where we agree to disagree and that’s the role of a committee and a superintendent,” said DeRuosi. “I can only say whatever has been asked of me, I feel I have met to the best of my ability … “Professionally, we should respect and work together. If for whatever reason you don’t like me, that’s OK too, as long as I’m doing my job and following forward. Can I get better at it? Yes, I’m open to suggestions.”