Members of the School Committee enthusiastically and unanimously chose Dr. Dede Galdston to be Watertown’s next superintendent on Monday night.
School Committee members said Galdston, currently Assistant Superintendent in Billerica, has the experience, temperament and even the personality that they believe will allow her to successfully lead the Watertown Public Schools.
School Committee Vice President Kendra Foley said she wanted to make sure that the next superintendent was the best fit for Watertown, and she believed Galdston has the qualities needed to lead the town’s schools.
The two finalists, Galdston and Arthur Unobskey, were selected from 31 applicants, and then came to town for a day long interview and tour of the schools. Teams of School Committee members and school administrators then visited their districts, said School Committee Chairman John Portz.
Town Council President Mark Sideris said he was concerned at first about both candidate’s experience.
“I was hesitant because they didn’t have experience as superintendent, and we have not had good results the last few times we did that,” Sideris said. “(Galdston) was very comfortable talking about her vision for our schools and what she did in Billerica.”
Eileen Hsu-Balzer was just one School Committee member who took note that Galdston is very focused on students and teaching.
“I was impressed that Dr. Galston was interested in the interactions between students and teachers and what happens in classrooms,” Hsu-Balzer said. “She talked about students constantly.”
Hsu-Balzer said she also liked that Galdston always wants to look at whether a strategy or program is working, does it continue to work and see if there is data to support that decision.
Another quality multiple School Committee members liked was that Galdston knows everyone in the Billerica Schools – a district almost twice as big as Watertown’s.
“She knows names of all the teachers, the aides and the custodians,” said Sideris.
School Committee member Liz Yusem watched how Galdston interacted with people during her visit to Watertown.
“She’s a good listener, engaged directly with the public, always had a direct gaze and did so in a very pleasant manner,” Yusem said. “She is easy to talk to. That will be an important quality for interacting with all parents, teachers and district staff.
She also has a strong relationship with the municipal officials in Billerica. In a letter of recommendation written by Billerica Town Manger John Curran, he said that in six years as assistant superintendent she showed him that “one person can really make a difference,” Hsu-Balzer said.
Galdston’s leadership style is a collaborative one, said Hsu-Balzer, and she has dealt with some thorny issues in Billerica, including changing the grade configuration of schools and getting the support to build new schools.
“These are difficult issues that people are scared about,” Hsu-Balzer said. “It takes a leader to help get everyone on the same page.”
The School Committee members also said they thought Galdston provided direct and honest answers to their questions and was willing to admit when she is wrong and correct things.
Guido Guidotti said he believes Galdston would be in Watertown for many years, perhaps even until retirement.
“I don’t see this as her using this position as a stepping stone to higher office,” Guidotti said.
The Watertown Schools have been moving in the right direction under Interim Superintendent John Brackett, Sideris said, and he sees the improvement continuing.
“Dr. Brackett has raised the bar for us, and going forward she will be the one to continue the rise,” Sideris said.
Portz said he called Galdston after the unanimous vote.
“Sh is very excited and wanted to thank everyone on the Committee and in the community for their vote of confidence,” Portz said.
The appointment is contingent on successful contract negotiations. If successful, Galdston’s first day as Watertown Superintendent will be July 1, 2017.