AP NEWS

Mayo looks to move on after superintendent disappointment

January 24, 2019

GREENWICH — Only one obstacle stands between Interim Superintendent Ralph Mayo and his daughter’s wedding this weekend: the presentation of the budget for the Greenwich Public Schools on Thursday night.

Between these professional and personal milestones — and the daily responsibility of taking care of 9,000 children and 1,300 employees in the district — Mayo says he doesn’t have time to get involved in the decision the school board made Friday to hire Toni Jones as its 14th superintendent and the a public display of disappointment that the board did not pick him.

“This is the only selection the board gets to make,” Mayo said in an interview Wednesday with Greenwich Time. “While I don’t agree with it, I respect it, and it’s time to move on.”

The selection, announced at 4:30 p.m. last Friday before a long weekend, was not unanimous for the first time, with board member Peter Sherr dissenting. Many residents expressed shock and dismay in multiples posts on social media that Mayo, a hometown favorite son, was passed over.

Mayo, who has just started reading the many emails and text messages, did not expect the outpouring of support for him and disagreement with the school board would be this intense.

“I’ve known for a week, but they learned on Friday,” he said of his many supporters in the community. “They get their time to vent, and like all professionals, we’re going to move on. They need to have their chance.”

Mayo was a candidate for the job, and going through the process confirmed for him what he knew all along: The district is always looking to improve, he said.

But before Jones and Mayo start working together later this year, they both have budgets to present. After that, she will come to Greenwich, learn the ropes, and discuss what his role will be going forward. He took over as interim superintendent last summer after his predecessor, Jill Gildea, resigned after less than a year on the job to take a similar post in Utah.

If there is an opening, Mayo said he would like to stay in the Central Office. Returning to his previous job at Eastern Middle School is a possibility, but he would hate to bump the interim principal, Jason Goldstein, who replaced Mayo, and the sitting Cantor Housemaster, Christina Shaw, who took over for Goldstein in the Greenwich High post.

“I’m hesitant to do that; I want to see what other options we can come up with,” Mayo said. “We’ve created a lot of nice new leadership roles, and I think they’re doing well.”

People keep asking him what is next, so he wants to have an answer sooner rather than later, he said.

Nationwide, the average tenure for a superintendent is three years, with urban districts seeing new superintendents as often as every two years, board member and superintendent search committee head Kathleen Stowe said on Friday and again Monday.

Having occupied the role for seven months, Mayo can say that average is not good.

“Two to three years is not enough time to get things done correctly,” Mayo said. “Even building a team takes longer than a couple years.”

Some say superintendents leave because of school board overreach, but Mayo said it has more to do with the nature of the job: Ultimately, superintendents bear the responsibility of making the final decisions, he said.

“They don’t want that responsibility,” he said. “I think they get scared and want to go backwards. I love the challenge: We’re a big district, and things happen, and unless you understand that and are ready to deal with that, you’re in the wrong job.”

The problems superintendents deal with did not go away because he is a local, but his Greenwich roots were an advantage. Mayo grew up in town, graduated from Greenwich High and became a teacher in town. He’s been an administrator for 26 years in the district.

“It might be a little bit easier because I know who to call, and I know they’ll call me back because they know me,” he said.

These connections — and the additional year of experience under the belts of Chief Operations Officer Lorianne O’Donnell and Director of Facilities Dan Watson — came in handy during the year of mechanical failures.

“We’ve had more of that kind of stuff than ever,” he said.

The three floods in October, November and December taught him how the district works in a crisis, and taught him to see the interconnectedness of every building and service in the public school district, and the ripple effects emergencies cause.

The floods also brought him before the school board, finance board and Representative Town Meeting often.

While Mayo does get frustrated when people do not understand or believe what he says during public meetings, he enjoys the process of Greenwich governance — particularly the the Representative Town Meeting.

“I’ve said this to whoever listens: the purest form of democracy is that RTM meeting,” he said. “I love watching it; it’s what this country was founded on.”

But Mayo takes the most pride in being the superintendent in one of the highest-performing districts in a high-performing state.

“I’ve reached a high point in my career that I never thought I’d reach,” he said. “I’m happy to be the superintendent. We have a lot of work to do between now and July 1 when Toni comes aboard.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com