With the search beginning for a new superintendent of schools in Toms River, the focus is on someone to advance the district forward and support the students.

Michaeal J. Ritacco (Townsquare Media NJ)

While only around 10 people attended the first meeting at Toms River High School North to discuss what qualities residents would like to see in a new superintendent, the conversation was robust and focused on the needs of the district.

Specifically, the need for new technology in the classroom, more student programs, and facility upgrades; as well as restoring a direction for the district in the wake of a corruption scandal involving former Superintendent Michael Ritacco.

Hazard, Young, Attea, and Associates, an Illinois-based firm with satellite offices in New Jersey, is handling the search for a new candidate, and will be holding another public meeting-Saturday June 15th in the cafeteria of Toms River High School East from 9:30 to 11 a.m.

The firm was paid $19,500 by the Board of Education to conduct the nationwide search based on criteria set by the board and include comments from the general public. The firm was chosen in part for their experience finding superintendent candidates throughout New Jersey, including Brick Township.

Hazard, Young, Attea, and Associates president of Northeast Division, Bill Librera, notes the lengthy process involves getting input from parents groups, staff, administrators, and the general public-both through meetings and via an online survey currently posted on their website.

All residents were and will be asked the same three questions:

  • "What are the district's strengths?"
  • "What challenges does the district face in the near future?"
  • " What characteristics are important for a future superintendent?"

In addition to a public meeting held in the evening, Librera noted he met with administration, union groups and parent organizations earlier Thursday as well.

Librera points out recurring topics, concerns, and comments will be noted, specifically after they are repeated five times or more; adding the process will be taken serious and is not "window dressing."

"There are things that have been said all day long those things will appear [in the final report], they shouldn't be news to the Board."

The primary requirement given by the Board of Education is the candidate must have experience in central administration, other qualifications will be considered based on the comments from the public. Librera says while they will be casting a wide net in terms of education, experiences, and background, he points out the position will require someone with a proven record of results and a desire to take on the challenge of working on one of the state's largest districts.

"This isn't for someone looking to get their feet wet," he points out. "If you want to get your feet wet here, you'll drown."

Residents pointed out the importance of finding someone outside of the Toms River, to bring new life into the district.

"To have someone come in, clean house, and not have baggage behind them."

Librera noted background checks will be very thorough to ensure candidates don't have any skeletons in their closet. He says the history of the School District, including the Mike Ritacco scandal will be fully disclosed, and high ethical standards of the candidate will be paramount. However, he also notes while the issue is still prominent within the Township, outside of the state it will have less bearing.

For residents, the memory of Mike Ritacco will live on, but several feel a new superintendent can be an important step towards resetting the district.

"The only reason Mike Ritacco is going to come up is because is because we don't want someone like him. They want to put him to bed, in the past, and go forward," notes one of the attendees of the meeting.

Screening will begin August 21 and roughly between 10 and 18 candidates will be chosen, five to eight of the candidates will be considered finalists. The entire process is expected to run into the fall. The firm has a two-year guarantee on whoever is hired.