Amherst schools pick says he's ready for pressure
AMHERST - Alberto Rodriguez, the Amherst Regional School Committee's pick for superintendent, was amused by some of the questions people asked when he visited district last week.
One was why he would consider leaving Florida for New England.
Rodriguez, who is still in negotiations with the district about financial terms, said he is attracted to Massachusetts because it has historically been a state in the forefront of educational reform.
"It can't all be about weather."
Florida, he said, has gotten bogged down with FCAT, the equivalent of the MCAS educational assessment system in this state. "There's been an overdependence, an overreliance, too much focus on it," Rodriguez said.
Another question is whether he is tough enough for Amherst.
"You guys really have no idea how tough it is down here," he said by telephone from Florida, in response to concerns some parents have raised about whether a principal in the country's fourth-largest school district would be able to navigate the small-town politics of Amherst.
"We play hard, hard, hardball down here," he said of Miami.
Assuming he takes the job, Rodriguez, 48, said people would find he does not shy away from pressure. "I'm going to be tested, and you guys will see that it's not about that," he said. "I have the mettle to take that fire."
In his experience, the best way to assure a community that decisions are being made fairly is to arrive at them transparently in an open process, Rodriguez said.
"The whole concept of unanimity is not a real concept," he said. "You're not going to have, in any community everybody agree with you about everything. You try to do things based on data, reason. You reach out and you listen. Ultimately, you formulate a plan and you move on. If there is a group that does not agree with it, it's their American, God-given right to disagree."
Rodriguez likely would have to address one of the thorniest school issues in recent years, the closing of Mark's Meadow School, a cost-savings option that could be on the table next year, assuming the school is not closed this year. He said he confronted the possibility of closing Edison Senior High School, the oldest high school in Miami, during his tenure as an assistant superintendent. "We held firm against closing the school," and it is still open today, he said.
Another issue Rodriguez sees Amherst facing is aligning curricula across schools and grades more closely than is done now. "It's not that people aren't working extra hard," he said, "but there needs to be some alignment and some vision in that realm."
The School Committee almost didn't arrive on a decision about a new superintendent at all, Monday.
Three of nine members, initially, said they did not feel confident enough in any three finalists to cast a vote, with two members saying they favored West Hartford Superintendent David Sklarz, leaving the four members who favored Rodriguez one vote short of a majority. But after a five-minute break, a consensus was reached.
Rodriguez will now be the subject of a background check and school officials will visit his district. Barring any unforeseen hitches, he would succeed Jere Hochman, who left last summer for the same position in Westchester County.
Alton Sprague and Helen Vivian had been serving as interim co-superintendents but resigned last week, citing personal reasons. Maria Geryk, who has been the director of student services for the six years, has been appointed by the School Committee to complete their term ending June 30.