A New Superintendent: What Do We Want?

On January 8th, at the first School Board meeting of the year, the City of Malden announced that they would not be renewing the contract of Superintendent Dr. Ligia Noriega-Murphy come its expiration on June 30th of this year. The School Committee came to this decision in a privately held meeting. All committee members declined to comment on this decision. 

In the announcement on the City of Malden news site, Mayor Gary Christenson praised Superintendent Noriega-Murphy for her “contributions to education in Malden and the professional approach she has brought to the role,” and acknowledged that being a superintendent for such a large district is “best described as demanding.”

Since Noriega-Murphy’s start in July of 2021, Noriega-Murphy oversaw the transition from online learning back to in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in student population of nearly 10% from 5,770 to 6,313 students. Unwavered by these potential pitfalls, Noriega-Murphy made significant strides toward improving the central administration and school system as a whole. 

However, with the prospect of a search for a new superintendent now looming, the question arises: what are we looking for?

Although hiring the right superintendent for the job is a long and arduous process that can not easily be “solved” with a quick checklist, there are a few main qualities the school committee and others involved in the hiring process should consider. For the student body, teachers, and families of Malden, the traits we hope to see in any new superintendent are involvement, communication, and open-mindedness.

Firstly, involvement: this means attending events, visiting schools, giving speeches, and otherwise just being visible to the community. Doing so provides opportunities for the superintendent to meet with and get to know the people affected by their decisions (and vice-versa). These interactions are what allow a superintendent to understand their community and make the best possible decisions for them. 

When talking about these interactions, it is also important to mention trust. A friendly conversation can do a lot to ease tensions and worries; it reminds everyone that we’re all human. This is a large reason why Mayor Gary Christenson has been so successful. His friendly and chipper attitude never fails to make you feel welcomed and understood. In addition, he frequently attends events, can be spotted walking around Malden, and is always available to chat. A new superintendent could learn a lot from our mayor. 

Secondly, the Malden Education Association cited a lack of communication between teachers and central administration as a major issue and significant reason for their vote of no confidence against the superintendent in 2022. In the future, teachers, families, and students should be well-informed of all major happenings in the school system. This could start with weekly emails, robocalls, or other more frequent announcements. 

The people affected by decisions made by a superintendent deserve to understand the school system’s decisions. Potential candidates should express detailed plans to keep the community updated with accurate and timely information. In addition, given the City of Malden’s diverse nature, the superintendent should translate their materials into several of the community’s most spoken languages. 

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the new superintendent should not only consider but frequently seek the views, opinions, and advice of students, teachers, and families. Including the community in these decisions will ensure that the needs and desires of all are best met. However, these opinions and ideas may be different from or even oppose the superintendent’s plans, but a good superintendent sees and learns from all perspectives to do what is best for the community. For this reason, open-mindedness and the ability to see problems from multiple perspectives should be a key quality the search committee looks for when making their decision. 

In an online announcement, the City of Malden said that the search process will include “the assistance of outside support.” However, it should be made more clear about what exactly this entails. A board of volunteers has already been established to help oversee the hiring process. 

During the last superintendent search, students participated in Zoom calls with candidates and provided feedback and opinions. Hopefully, this opportunity will be available again in this upcoming search.

Finally, here are some questions the committee should consider regarding the qualities mentioned above:

- How do you plan to involve students, teachers, and families in the decision-making process?

- How do you plan to communicate to students, teachers, and families?

- How do you react when faced with opposing opinions?

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