A Talk with School Superintendent, Dr. John Doherty
With the Reading Public Schools soon to open their doors to a new year for students and staff alike, there is some exciting news before the summer break is officially over. In an interview with Dr. John Doherty, superintendent of the Reading Public School system, we discuss the process of starting the new school year, what happens to the schools over the summer, and when to call a snow day.
First, how would you describe the primary role of the superintendent?
“I’m essentially the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of the school district. I oversee all of the operations of the schools, which includes facilities, finances, teaching, and safety. I meet with police chiefs, fire chiefs, and other safety personnel to make sure our emergency plans are ready for the students and staff. I directly supervise all of the central office administrators and building principals. The building principals themselves are in charge of their schools. They do all of the hiring and supervising of the staff in their respective buildings.”
What is the process and procedures in preparing for the new school year?
“During the summer there is a lot going on. This is an opportunity for the school to be properly cleaned and to change any necessary facilities. In the spring, before there is a lot of planning, I meet with the director of facilities and his staff to figure out what gets done during the summer break. There is a specific cleaning schedule that happens in each of the buildings to make sure that the schools are completely clean and ready to go for the start of the school year.
Also, we make sure our technology infrastructure is updated and maintained. If we have any new equipment we need to make it ready before the start of school. I work with our network manager and his staff to make sure that by the start of the school year, computers, emails, and SMART boards are working.”
How has the staff for the Reading public schools been prepared for next year?
“There’s a lot of hiring going on over the summer for staff that have left, either retired or resigned. Our building principals are mainly the ones doing the hiring, so they may have committees interviewing different staff for the positions. We have a new teacher induction program that is a weeklong program to get them acclimated into the culture and expectations of the Reading Public Schools. We have a lot of professional development for curriculum work, so there is work going on with the new science and writing curriculums that we are starting in elementary schools this year. The administrators have assessed a review of last year, both what went well and what we need to work on and do differently for the upcoming year.”
What are some changes coming to the Reading Public Schools?
There is a new website for the Reading Public Schools. After moving away from Edline, we’ve transitioned to a brand new system, Rediker, by training teachers for the school year. We have taken feedback from parents to understand what were Edline’s strengths and deficiencies. When looking for a new system, we wanted to make sure that we would put in place an improvement from Edline in terms of communication. There is a whole new portal system where parents, teachers, and staff can login and enter their portal. Parents will be able to see demographic information, their child’s schedules, and progress reports. It will be a much smoother process than it was in the past.
As I mentioned there are new science and writing curriculums in the elementary school’s (fourth and fifth grade) and in the sixth grade. A year from now, we plan to expand those programs to kindergarten through second grade and seventh grade, and in the following year eighth grade and the high school. It’s a three-year phase-in.”
Do you have any expectations for the new school year?
“I’m excited for the new teaching and learning activities, such as those I have just mentioned. Any time we do something like this, it’s to help kids. That’s our primary focus. Additionally, I know that the high school has made some schedule changes as well, which will help students. We have a late start committee that has plans for next year to talk about starting school later for high school and middle school. There is also the topic of the override question on October 18 and the impact that could have on the following year concerning the budget.”
What are your thoughts on the override question?
“For several years, we have been trying to come up with creative ways to fiscally manage the school district and the town as best we can. Because Reading is a community that is primarily residential, we do need to have a readjustment every so many years. The last time we’ve had an override was in 2003, so we are at a point where we need a new revenue stream in order to maintain and improve what we currently have.”
What things do you look forward to each new school year?
“I always look forward to seeing the kids engaged and involved in the different activities at the Reading Public Schools. I’ve had the opportunity twice in the last four years to see my daughters graduate and to see all of the activities they were involved with. It’s great to see the culmination of where our students start in preschool or kindergarten and finally become seniors. Seeing them grow, develop, and become independent is exciting. I go to all of the Reading Public Schools and see all of the events, watching it all throughout the year.”
And perhaps the most important question, when do you call a snow day?
“It depends on the storm and the timing of the storm. Sometimes it’s easy, and one can call it the night before. We rely on local weather reports, and I subscribe to a service that gives me accurate information for Reading. I talk to the DPW (Department of Public Works) and other superintendents in communities surrounding Reading. It’s best when we call it the night before so no one has to get up early the next day. Unfortunately, there are times where it doesn’t happen that way so I’m up at 3:30 in the morning, taking a look at the track of the storm and listening to the weather reports, talking to other superintendents, and making a decision.”