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By Brittni Henderson
With the intentions of becoming a problem-solving, innovative, and approachable figurehead in the Town of Smithfield, Judith Paolucci has joined the education ranks as Superintendent of Schools.
This experienced woman started her career as a Chemistry teacher throughout Rhode Island, spending time at Mount Pleasant, South Kingstown High School, and Coventry High School. During her tenure at CHS, she was asked to lead the RI Teaching and Learning Center for the last year of the grant. At this time, Paolucci developed an interest in administration and decided to change gears professionally to explore careers in this area of education.
Paolucci spent six years as Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Narragansett before a position as Superintendent appealed to her in Yarmouth, ME. This community was about the same size as Narragansett, and although her husband works at Rhode Island College, the family made this transition work. Her husband would spend weekends in Maine and travel back home to RI to work during the week. While this experience was very valuable to Paolucci, the lifestyle became difficult to maintain, so she found a position closer to home in Leicester, MA. The family moved to Sutton, MA to be closer to her job in Leicester and her husband’s in RI.
Paolucci’s hopes included moving back to RI to be closer to friends and family, so when she heard of the opening of Superintendent of Schools in Smithfield, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
“Finding a good match, in terms of values, was important,” she shares. “Smithfield is perfect—a little larger than my previous districts, but not so big that I couldn’t maintain a personal approach, which is important to me.”
This personal approach will be achieved by finding balance. Paolucci believes that knowledge and content matter, as well as utilizing various pathways for learning, like career and technical programs at the high school. She also believes in the strategic use of assessment data for planning interventions, the use of technology and blended learning approaches, appropriate staffing, guidance programming, and other means.
“We should not personalize the approach so much that students leave each grade with vastly different experiences and understandings,” she says. “At the same time, how well we know each individual child, his/her needs, gaps in knowledge and skills, strengths, and interests can help us ensure that instruction is adjusted for each student.”
Paolucci’s plans for Smithfield, while expansive and detailed, can be broken down into four core ideas. First, to ensure the right conditions for success. She considers herself a servant leader, one who serves the community. During her first few months in town, she has been observing and asking questions to get to understand the values and needs of members of the school community.
“I am following in the footsteps of a caring, hard-working Superintendent so many things are in good order, but one can always improve upon past practices,” she says. “I think of my job as working to ensure that the directors and principals can work under the best conditions. They, in turn, should be working to ensure that teachers are working under the best conditions.”
Secondly, she plans to communicate about the great work being done in our schools. Paolucci will utilize the numerous forms of communication to remain connected with the community.
“Twitter, Facebook, websites, newsletters, email, traditional news media, and face-to-face methods of communication are all means of communicating the work of our schools, letting people know our needs, and getting feedback to help shape decisions,” Paolucci says. “I want to see our school communities engaged and in-the-know.”
Next, she will attend to facilities and finance. One major plan in her sights includes renovations and upgrades to the school and athletic facilities in town because these places contribute to the success of students and the pride of the community. Finance is another area in need of attention, and she plans on investigating alternative funding sources, finding efficiencies, and communicating needs. All of these things are important leadership responsibilities that Paolucci takes very seriously.
Finally, she plans to support strong instructional practices.
“I have been impressed thus far with the quality of instruction happening everyday in Smithfield classrooms,” she says. “My support for the work teachers do everyday takes the form of resource allocation, scheduling and staffing, research, and, what is often overlooked, appreciation.
Amongst all of these goals, Paolucci is also very excited for the Future Search meeting planned for January 26 and 27, 2018. This is a planning session that brings together diverse stakeholders to explore the past, present, and future. Meeting members will develop a vision of what education will be like in the future for Smithfield students. The data from the Future Search will be used to create a new strategic plan for the district. Judy Enright, an experienced facilitator who knows how to make this process interactive and engaging, will be on board as well.
“It’s not simply a means to an eventual district improvement plan, but also a celebration of our past accomplishments and future culture.”
Although her home in Sutton was only about 35 minutes from town, Paolucci says that she decided to move into Smithfield to shorten commutes and become more connected to the community she is serving.
“Frankly, Smithfield is a great place to live so it was an easy decision,” she says.