Two concerned moms took to the podium at Wednesday night’s Southold school board meeting to question plans by the Southold and Greenport school districts to share a superintendent starting next year.
Amy Doering, the parent of a third grader in Southold, asked what the benefit to Southold would be in sharing the current, Southold-only superintendent David Gamberg — particularly when making difficult decisions.
“When there comes an issue that could affect this district over the other, which hat do you wear at that point?” Ms. Doering asked.
Erin Kaelin, parent of a second-grade student approached the microphone to say she has “a ton of questions about” the move.
Among them: “Is this the first step on consolidating the two schools?”
No other residents spoke on the matter.
Both Mr. Gamberg and school board president Paulette Ofrias assured the arrangement would not lead to merging the two North Fork districts.
“This is actually an opportunity to allow each school to maintain its identity,” Ms. Ofrias said. “I think it will prevent that.”
Ms. Ofrias said discussions of the shared superintendent position started in August – when Greenport school board members approached Mr. Gamberg about the position.
Between August and November, Southold and Greenport school boards met four times to discuss the position, Ms. Ofrias said, adding there were “reservations among both boards,” but that the decision ultimately “rested on Mr. Gamberg and his family’s shoulders.”
Mr. Gamberg took time to reflect on the decision.
“l continue every single night to think about the potential, all of the good that can come of this, but I am not unaware of all of the challenges that come with that,” Mr. Gamberg said.
“In my mind I do envision down the road there will be greater savings both financially and programmatically,” he continued. “And I think it will work to our advantage for both Southold students and Greenport students.
“I think that it’s something that the times we live in may have given rise to this… we wouldn’t be the very first.”
Board member Scott Latham said “this was an education-first idea.”
“Yes, there is going to be great saving; but the whole thought process from the get-go was to enhance the student experience here and in Greenport,” Mr. Latham said.
That chance to enhance education opportunities is worth trying something new, said board vice president Judi Fouchet.
“Without risk you don’t know what will happen,” Ms. Fouchet said. “If it doesn’t work, I also know that we are a board of people that have no problem saying, ‘This is not working; this is not something that should be moved forward.’ If that’s the case.”
Scott DeSimone was the only Southold board member to say outright he was not in favor of the decision, but that “if it was the will of the board, I am going to give it my full support. We’ve got to make it work and I’ll do what I need to make it a success.”
Ms. Doering said after the meeting that she was still opposed to the idea of sharing a superintendent.
“My biggest reservation as a parent is that it’s going to be to the detriment of the students here,” Ms. Doering said. “A person can’t possibly have enough time to devote to a group of students that large. I don’t see why the residents, we the district, would want this.”
Ms. Ofrias said there will be many challenges and questions that come up, but added, “I don’t see a downside for doing it for two years. If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure. That just means it didn’t work right for us here.”
Mr. Gamberg said he would need the help of both districts to make the move a success.
“I have a lot of confidence in what I know of both boards of education and I have a lot of confidence in the staff members of both districts and that’s really where much of this is going to be successful,” he said, “in the trust I have in people and building their capacity because I think that’s how any organization advances.”
Greenport school board members and Greenport Superintendent Michael Comanda, attended Wednesday night’s meeting as well.
Ms. Ofrias said a few Southold board members will be also attending tonight’s meeting in Greenport.