Ramos ‘Head and Shoulders’ Above Other Qualified Superintendent Candidates

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Ramos 3 19 2015

Dr. John Ramos, who was announced Monday as the next Superintendent of the South Orange-Maplewood School District, was “head and shoulders” above other well qualified candidates, said Board of Education President Wayne Eastman in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Eastman said that the board members had met with Ramos twice in person during the selection process as his travels brought him to the United States (Ramos is currently leading a school in Doha, Qatar) and that individual board members had spent time interviewing board of education leaders in other school districts where Ramos had served.

Eastman also said that Ramos came from a second pool of candidates that was solicited when the Board of Education decided to recast the net in its search in January.

Eastman also further clarified comments he made on Monday night praising Dr. Ramos’ record as superintendent of schools in Bridgeport, CT from 2006 through 2011 (Ramos oversaw the dissolution the board of education there and helped engineer a state takeover, but was then let go by the state-appointed board; Eastman stressed that the parting was a mutual decision and that Ramos had a record of great accomplishment).

“Bridgeport, looked at in context, is an excellent sign of someone who stepped into a very, very tough environment and brought about big change in a positive way,” said Eastman. “To amplify on the story, Bridgeport is a low-income city without the strong support of the state that our lower income districts in New Jersey have had under Abbott.” Eastman said that the process of shepherding the district through essentially a transfer of financial accountability to the state was “not an easy thing.”

“If you look next door at what is happening in a state-controlled district in Newark where Superintendent Cami Anderson has a contentious relationship with board members, with the Mayor of Newark, we can see close to home how tough all this is.”

Eastman added, “I would strongly stand behind the idea that a superintendent who is able to make change through an admittedly tough politicized hard process … there is someone who is part of a really important and necessary change process.”

Still, Eastman stressed, “Bridgeport is only one data point in a very long career.”

He pointed out that Ramos has “extensive service in communities quite comparable” to South Orange-Maplewood. For example, Ramos served as superintendent in Norwalk — which has “more similar demographics” — for 11 years. While in Norwalk, Dr. Ramos was also a building principal of one of their high schools — a school with 1,500 students. Ramos also led the school district in Watertown, CT — “a fairly affluent community.”

Eastman noted that Ramos is involved in accreditation in Qatar. “In general, [he has] an impressive record in being involved in accreditation not only in Qatar but previously in Connecticut.” Eastman noted that Ramos’ thesis was related to “high school accreditation, redesign and that process — all of that is very relevant since Columbia High School is going through Middle States Accreditation and vision planning.”

“Obviously we have strong support for our leadership at Columbia, our whole team at Columbia. Having a superintendent with a world of experience as a high school principal and accreditation, we think is great,” said Eastman.

Eastman said that the selection of Ramos internally was not a fractious process.

“Naturally the board had a high degree of interest of hearing Dr. Ramos’ account of his superintendency in Bridgeport,” said Eastman. “When we met him and heard his account, we were unanimously impressed at his description of his role in Bridgeport and his account of what went on there.”

Since Ramos is just a couple of years away from the standard retirement age of 65, why did the board decide on a 4-year, 11-month contract and not an interim position for Ramos?

“That’s a great question,” said Eastman. “We were inspired by him when he met us all who were participating in the search, as somebody who was not simply a short-term healer — though he certainly could be strong in that role for us as he was in Groton … but as someone who felt and who described to us, ‘I really want to do one more big thing in my career. I’ve think I’ve got one more big push in me.’ We were really inspired by that.”

When asked if Ramos could see a salary bump should the state-mandated salary cap of $177,500 expire, Eastman said, “If the cap is lifted there would be an opportunity for an increase. But that’s not something we can address right now.” The district is still in negotiations with Ramos over his contract.

“I want it to be clear and front and center that he is absolutely being hired as the chief officer of this district under a five-year contract. We have confidence.”


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