The right place and right time aligned with the right person.
A year after not making the short list for superintendent of the Rochester City School District, Lesli Myers-Small became the list.
“It was unanimous from beginning to end,” Board of Education President Van White said May 18 as Myers-Small was named to succeed Terry Dade.
Dade announced in April that he wanted to terminate his three-year contract. The next day, he resigned after the Cornwall Central School District announced they’d hired him.
Terms of Dade’s separation from RCSD have not been made public.
Myers-Small said she would be at work “bright and early” May 19. A district spokesperson said her contract likely would be posted the RCSD website on May 19.
Myers-Small, former superintendent of the Brockport Central School District, served since January as Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Innovation and School Reform for the state Education Department.
Her work in Brockport and at the state, and her ties to the Rochester community, gave her a front-row seat to the budget problems, mid-year layoffs and other issues in the district over the past year – right up to her appointment. Three days before her hiring was announced, the RCSD’s chief financial officer announced his resignation.
Myers-Small becomes first non-interim female of color to lead the district. She also is the sixth different person to be superintendent since 2008. Of those, Bolgen Vargas had the longest tenure, being the interim from May 2011 to June 2012 and then holding the full position from July 2012 through December 2015.
“People have said, ‘Why, Lesli?’ I unequivocally say ‘Why not,’’’ said Myers-Small, who holds a doctorate in executive leadership. “There’s a saying, if not now, then when. … If not me, then who? I don’t say that with arrogance but I believe that to the core of who I am.”
Mayor Lovely Warren, who has been critical of the district, said in a statement that she welcomes Myers-Small’s efforts “to ensure every child in Rochester receives the education they deserve.”
Warren also said that her “longstanding concerns regarding our school district remain and must be addressed.”
White said that even though Myers-Small was passed over last year, she continued to build relationships with the board. “Lesli stayed strong.”
Myers-Small’s hiring was announced to the district’s parents via robocall. She said she hoped that when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, she could get out in the community and meet families.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “I know other leaders have said that. I’m going to have to prove that by the work that I do.”
White said Myers-Small’s ties to Rochester make her different from previous superintendents who said they were in it for the long haul. “The best way to understand whether someone’s really going to follow through with that is to look at where they’ve been before they said that. And Lesli has been in Rochester.”
Myers-Small said her early days on the job will be devoted to finishing the budget that goes to City Council in a few weeks, adjusting to demands on the district because of COVID-19 and finding a way to create a meaningful graduation for the Class of 2020.
As for finding a new chief financial officer, Myers-Small said the position is too important to rush to a decision. She would talk to the board about a stopgap measure. “We probably should hire an interim and then really take the time that is needed to hire a CFO who can work with some of the unique issues of our district, given the size, given the deficit.”