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45 Applicants Seeking Job as Next Ocean City Superintendent

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Schools Superintendent Matthew Friedman is leaving the district in late June to take another job.

By MADDY VITALE

Ocean City’s Board of Education asked community members what qualities they are looking for in the next schools superintendent during a well-attended forum that brought parents, teachers, students and other stakeholders together.

Ample educational experience, a proven track record of success in the Ocean City School District or another school district and a strong focus on academics with the goal of improving test scores were some of the main points brought up Thursday.

Another important point was that the next superintendent should live within a reasonable commuting distance, if not in the community itself.

In March, Schools Superintendent Matthew Friedman accepted a position to become the superintendent at the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Pa. The school board accepted his resignation in April. One of his main reasons for making the decision was to work closer to home.

Friedman was hired in June 2022 at a salary of $190,000. He is expected to remain on until the end of this June.

During Thursday’s forum at the high school, Board of Education President Chris Halliday outlined for the audience where the school board is in the superintendent search.

But before that, he complimented the community members for their dedication to the students.

“I always say we have tremendous teachers,” Halliday said. “We have tremendous students and that starts with parents of our district, teaching the value of education.”

In April, the district took the first step in the search process by posting the superintendent’s position through the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), https://www.njasa.net and on the school district’s website, https://oceancityschools.org/superintendentsearchinformation.

The deadline for the applicants was May 5. And in that time, the district received 45 applications from candidates.

“We have 45 applicants. We’re hoping to come up with names for initial interviews in the upcoming weeks. We are here to gain community input. I am grateful that we have this many people who came out,” Halliday emphasized. “The hope is we could schedule interviews in June and then select candidates for follow-up interviews and find a new leader for our district.”

Ocean City resident Al Weber was among many parents and other representatives of the community who were passionate about what they want to see in the next superintendent.

Weber said there needs to be a “laser focus on academics.”

An administrator needs to identify gaps in learning that have come through the time where remote learning was introduced at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

“We need a data-driven plan. You need someone with the analytical skills,” Weber said of a key point to get the district back on track.

Dave and Marie Hayes, of Ocean City, are retired college professors. They speak at many school board meetings about the need for improvement in the district’s test scores. That was their concern at the forum as well.

They each said that the next superintendent would need to identify and determine how the quality of the educational program in the district can improve.

Some people, such as Julie Bickings, of Ocean City, said the right choice for superintendent would be to look closely at candidates that are already working in the district.

“I really think we need to look within our district,” said Bickings, a mother of four. “It has to be about the kids, the students and the future. I would just ask you not to overlook someone who is local, just because they are local.”

Ocean City resident Lisa Mansfield also touched upon the importance of selecting a candidate who lives closer than Friedman, who lives in Downingtown, Pa., about two hours from Ocean City.

Mansfield is a former school board member in another district, she said. She emphasized that she understands the difficulty of choosing who best should lead a district, because she was part of the selection process at another district for the hiring of a superintendent.

“You want a leader who is visible, approachable, has a proven track record, but someone with a reasonable commute,” she told the board. “I think the board was remiss. With that national search, he (Matthew Friedman) had a commute. Two hours is far.”

Parent and community advocate Jen Bowman, who has a daughter in the high school and two other daughters who went through the Ocean City school system, spoke after the meeting about the superintendent search.

“There were so many samplings of our community who took time to come out and speak passionately,” Bowman said. “I looked at all the board members. They intently listened and made notes. Leaving the meeting, I left with total confidence that there are 45 candidates that the board will painstakingly go through with community input in mind.”

This is the second meeting this month that the district has held to discuss the superintendent search. However, a meeting on May 10 was mostly the school board members discussing qualified candidates while in closed session. Thursday’s meeting was the first forum to hear from the community about who should next lead the district.

Some members of the public have asked for the board to give serious consideration to the hiring of Lauren Guenther, the district’s curriculum coordinator who is in charge of student services. They say she is among the 45 candidates for the position.

Halliday told the audience that an interim superintendent will be approved at the next regular school board meeting, on Thursday, June 22.

He said that the interim hire would not be a longtime hire.

“We will go through the interview process in parallel. With the candidates that we have, I feel that we are very fortunate to have a lot of really good options, internally and externally,” he noted. “We have good people who want to lead our district.”

Curriculum Coordinator Lauren Guenther, shown here addressing the board in September 2022, is a choice among some residents who have spoken on her behalf.

Over the last few years, the district has had some turnover.

Friedman took over from then-acting Schools Superintendent Thomas Baruffi. Baruffi had filled the position since the retirement of Kathleen Taylor in 2021. Taylor served as superintendent of the district for 15 years until her retirement on Aug. 1, 2021.

School board members addressed the fact that they will do their best to select the best candidate for the job.

“There is no more important job for a board member to do than to listen to the stakeholder comments we have had tonight and to make the best decision possible to bring a captain to this ship,” board member Robin Shaffer said.

Board of Education member Cecilia Gallelli-Keyes said she would like to “see someone who comes in and digs down and sees what is wrong, pinpoints it and rolls up their sleeves and fixes this district.”

“We have problems. I’m not going to sugar coat it,” Gallelli-Keyes said.

Board member Disston Vanderslice reassured the public that the board is working very hard to make the right decision about who will be the next to lead the district.

“Whoever we have will impact our lives as school board and parents,” Vanderslice pointed out. “We take this very seriously. We will do what is best for our kids and what we feel is best for the community.”

For more information about Ocean City schools, visit www.oceancityschools.org.