The only finalist for superintendent of schools in East Providence was introduced to the community Wednesday night at a special School Committee meeting in City Hall.
The search committee put together by the Budget Commission will now reconvene to make a decision on Kim Mercer, deputy superintendent of the Pawtucket schools.
A decision on Mercer’s candidacy could come before the end of next week, said Heather Martino, the Budget Commission staff member on the search committee who has been administering the process. But there is no specific deadline to hire anyone, Martino said.
Mercer answered more than a dozen questions over about 40 minutes delivered by School Committee Chairman Joel Monteiro and Vice Chairman Timothy Conley.
Members Anthony Ferreira and Richard Pimental said they had no more questions. School Committee member Elizabeth Clupny was absent.
Mercer also spent some time after the formal question-and-answer session meeting with parents and audience members.
Martino introduced Mercer as “the one candidate who distinguished herself from the rest” of the applicants.
She said Mercer has more than 26 years of experience in Pawtucket, including 11 as deputy superintendent. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rhode Island College, a special education degree from the University of Connecticut, and a master’s in educational administration from Providence College.
Why did she apply for the position in East Providence?
“A lot of people have asked me that,” Mercer said.
When making the decision to apply, Mercer said, she began researching the district and talking to people and teachers in Pawtucket who live in East Providence.
She said she found that there was “a lot of pride in their voices…so I don’t think you’re lacking any pride at all.”
She also said: “You have such talented people in the schools. But there was a lack of leadership. I felt bad about that. I kept thinking about, wouldn’t it be great work with such a talented group of people. That really was the gist of my decision, it was the teachers that helped me make the decision.”
Indeed, Mercer said, regarding the quality of teachers and administrators in the district, “I have found them to be extremely professional.” She put extra emphasis on those two words: “extremely professional.”
But, she said, “I think morale isn’t where it should be right now probably because the central office isn’t where it’s supposed to be."
Mercer said her decision-making philosophy is based on facts – especially when a large group of people might all be going off in a lot of different directions.
“If you have facts, you can’t argue the facts,” she said. “As long as you have the data, you can support your decision.”
As a former special education teacher, Mercer said, "I am very, very familiar with the needs” of those students and, as superintendent, “I have to make sure we are offering the appropriate programs to meet those students’ needs.”
She also said she would be very supportive of special education in East Providence and more than willing to work closely with the district’s advisory committee.
What about the role of the superintendent?
“You need to be visible,” she said. “You need to be out in the public so people can see you and they can talk to you. I know I like to visit schools and to attend after-school programs.”
Mercer said her top priorities would be to put together a central office team and focus on student achievement vis a vis the new PARCC assessments and the Common Core curriculum.
That will require "looking first at what resources the district has" and "maybe shifting resources to prioritize."
Mercer said she is also very high on professional development for teachers.
Should Mercer be approved as superintendent, Martino said, Pawtucket officials have already indicated they would be willing to work with East Providence to have her start right away if that is necessary.
Interim Superintendent John DeGoes also has indicated he would be willing to extend his contract another month if need be, she said. So there would not be a vacancy in the position.
Mercer also would be given the ability to hire her own administrative team, Martino said. The Budget Commission would still have to approve the hires.
"But I don't think the commission has ever turned down anyone recommended to them for a position," she said.
Monteiro said the special meeting was scheduled "to give stakeholders at least some opportunity to get involved in the process."
Anyone who wants to contribute a comment on Mercer is asked to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.