On April 5, the School Department invited members of the community to an “Open Microphone” night to meet the finalists for Reading Memorial High School (RMHS) principal. Superintendent of Schools John Doherty shared that there were thirty applicants for the position and that the screening committee interviewed eleven of them. The event, held virtually, was an opportunity for community members to ask the three finalists for the position-specific questions. Incoming Superintendent of Schools Tom Milaschewski was included on the call.
Stephen Sierpina is currently the principal of Windham High School in Windham, NH. He stated that he views Reading as a “destination job” and that he wants to come to RMHS partially due to his “love of a district with high expectations.” He highlighted his work creating a STEM pathway and track in Windham and shared that the pandemic has taught him the importance of building a team of those who are vested in the success of the school.
Sierpina stated that his primary job is to put staff in a position to be successful and develop students and families trust. He would do this by creating advisory “committees”: one for students, one for staff, and one for parents. He stressed the importance of students and families having a personal connection with him, “You’re not an MCAS number, you’re not a graduation rate number to me,” Sierpina affirmed.
Kevin Tracey currently serves as the principal of the John Glenn Middle School in Bedford, MA. He previously served as the Assistant Principal of the high school in the same district. He stressed his loyalty to a district and his desire to bring “stability and consistency” to the role. He affirmed the need not to back away from tough conversations and that agreement on issues is not always necessary.
Tracey opined regarding restoration as the goal of discipline while affirming the need for parent relations to be a two-way relationship. “Parents deserve to know what is going on in the school,” Tracey shared. He also said that though he has never worked in a district where an open campus with 80-minute blocks worked, he is open to listening to ideas on the topic.
Sara Yuen was the final candidate. She is currently the principal of the Phoenix Charter School in Chelsea. She shared that she is dedicated to ensuring equitable experiences and outcomes for all students. She was asked several times how she would apply what she has learned in a smaller school to a larger RMHS. While recognizing some of the differences, Yuen believes that some systems can be scaled up to the larger school’s needs. She cited a program in which each student in her school had a “champion” during pandemic learning to make sure they stayed on track as an example of this concept.
Yuen also shared that she appreciated the amount of feedback from teachers and students used during the recent School Committee discussion regarding controversial topics in the classroom. “We have a responsibility to see that we are facilitating dialog in a way that does not perpetuate harm but honors student voices,” Yuen stated. haring her enthusiasm for the level of commitment the community has for the school, she concluded, “It’s something that energizes me.”
Though Doherty shared previously in his proposed timeline to the School Committee that the announcement of a finalist could be made by April 5, no new target date for a final decision was suggested.