HAMBURG — Dr. Vincent Coppola has lived within the Hamburg School District for almost 50 years; two of his children graduated from Hamburg High School.
Now, Coppola will serve as the superintendent search consultant in Hamburg, a job he has performed in districts across the Western New York region for the past 15 years.
During a special meeting held Oct. 30, the Hamburg Central School Board unanimously approved a contract with Coppola to conduct the superintendent search at a rate of $12,500, plus printing costs of approximately $200; other advertisements and a processing credentials flat fee of $2,500.
Beside conducting searches at the WNY Educational Service Council – where he has been a part of 75 searches in recruiting and researching school chief candidates to bring to school boards – Coppola has served administratively as superintendent in the West Seneca and Corning-Painted Post school districts, also working in the area as assistant high school principal, middle school principal, English teacher and director of personnel.
He is currently working on two superintendent searches in Orange County, in the Warwick Valley and Greenwood Lake districts. Within the past few years, he has conducted superintendent searches at Frontier, a school district that’s also seeking a new school chief.
Coppola is not performing Frontier’s search, in this instance. He said that the first meeting with Hamburg District officials regarding their search will be held Nov. 7, with a timeline that could include the selected candidate’s starting in July 2014.
According to Coppola, the candidate search process will include meeting with seven focus groups of 10 members per group. These will be comprised of teachers, parents, Hamburg School students, support staff, administrative personnel and other community members. A letter from the school board would be directed to Coppola, indicating a meeting date between the search consultant and all seven focus groups that would be involved in rating superintendent candidates. All 70 focus group members will fill out candidate evaluation forms.
Coppola will then communicate the focus groups’ findings to the school board. The main action items that school officials would dictate in the process would be expressing a positive theme about its district and community, as well as problems the district is currently facing moving forward, and the desired strengths and abilities of the desired candidate. The search consultant additionally suggested that individuals with differing opinions and backgrounds be selected to join the focus groups, to form a diverse representation.
Coppola reminded board members that they have the final say on narrowing and picking a final list of candidates and, ultimately, the school chief.
“I’m a guide; a resource,” said Coppola, who has lived in Hamburg since 1966. “I want you to be comfortable. I have to recruit. It’s not just about putting an ad out and waiting for people. Once we can get the word out that Hamburg is a great district, the better. It is a great district.
“Let’s take the time to do this right,” he added. “There have been a couple bumps in the road [in the district], but we’ll get through them. Because I’m a Hamburg resident, I have a vested interest [here].”
The search consultant joked that he is “too visible” in the local community to not make a positive difference, shopping at local grocery stores and appearing at other close venues. He cited Hamburg’s high ranking on New York state academic achievement lists, also noting two district science teachers’ being selected as “mastery” level achievers among the top 105 in NYS.
District officials expressed confidence in Coppola’s long-standing history and diversity in search consulting. Board Member Thomas Flynn III said, “I like the fact that Vince is local and has a [proven] track record.”
Fellow Board Member Laura Heeter said the district is “in excellent hands,” in terms of Coppola’s search consulting. Both Board Vice President Sally Stephenson and Board Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci said that moving forward in the search process, especially with Coppola’s handling the consulting, will strengthen the district.
“We owe it to the students, staff and taxpayers to go out and look for the best candidate, whether it be internally or externally,” Stephenson said.
“He is an excellent [choice] for us,” Schrauth Forcucci added, in regard to Coppola. “We should do whatever we need to do, to get the process started.”
Board Member Holly Balaya noted that the presence of Frontier’s seeking a superintendent could diminish the number of prospects for Hamburg, especially if Hamburg does not spread the word of its administrative need in the very near future. Frontier is expected to announce its new school chief on May 6.
Other districts Coppola mentioned that were seeking superintendents were primarily in Downstate New York areas, including Newburgh, Mount Vernon, Garrison, Adirondack and Cazenovia. The search consultant added that assistant superintendents are unlikely to leave posts at these downstate districts, due to salaries’ being higher than many upstate districts’ primary school chiefs.
Various costs associated as part of the process also include fees of $250 and $525 for 30-day job postings in a pair of trade journal/associations, as well as a $300 fee for a posting with the NYS School Boards Association.
Coppola asked that district officials submit to various information related to the district, such as high school and middle school progressions and highlights, as well as budgetary information and voter approvals from the last five years, to candidates. The search consultant said that the average length of term for NYS superintendents has recently been 4 1/2 – five years.