At the beginning of next month, there will be a big change at the top in the Liverpool Central School District.
Dr. Richard Johns will take over as superintendent Aug. 1, replacing Jan Matousek, who has been superintendent since 2003. Johns was one of 20 applicants for the position and one of four the board strongly considered. Only two candidates met all of the board’s criteria, according to former Board of Education President J. Mark Lawson.
Lawson, who was on the board when Matousek was appointed, said the search process was entirely different this time around.
“When Mrs. Matousek was hired, the make-up of the board was very different, and we had trouble agreeing even on a process for hiring,” he said. “This time, the board was unanimous from start to finish in how we proceeded, whom we interviewed and our final decision. Before, over the objection of some board members, we did not conduct a national or even regional search. This time, we advertised nationally and received a few applications from out of state.”
So what set Johns apart?
“Dr. Johns brings a wealth of experience as a superintendent in many different kinds of school districts – small, medium, and large; rural, suburban, and urban,” Lawson said. “He has a proven track record of turning around troubled schools.”
Indeed, in 33 years as an administrator, Johns has served a wide variety of districts, including Newburgh Enlarged City School District in the Hudson Valley.
“I was basically brought in to save that district,” Johns said. “They were in a tough situation. Six of their schools were on the federal ‘in need of improvement’ list Basically, the district was failing.”
Johns spent three years at the helm in Newburgh. After that time, he said he and the board of education managed to pull the district back up.
“We were successful in turning things around,” he said.
At the other end of the spectrum is Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University, where Johns spent five years as superintendent.
“This is the second most well-educated community in the U.S.,” Johns said. “The students there had more advantages than most. The high school students are more like college students.”
Johns was brought into Liverpool to put the school district back on the right track. Lawson said the board felt Johns would help district employees to become more goal-oriented and keep the district out of the headlines.
“The board believes that Dr. Johns will bring a strong management style that emphasizes clear mission, goals and strategies,” he said. “He emphasizes the importance of evaluations and good supervision. We believe that his leadership will foster cohesiveness among all our buildings and staff.”
And what about the rumors that he’s coming in to “clean house”?
“I don’t think it’s the mission of the board to have me come in and get rid of everyone,” he said. “But we do need to look at positions and ask people what their purpose is in this district, what they contribute. If they can’t answer that question, then we need to address that.”
Lawson also believed Johns could help put Liverpool back on the right track.
“Dr. Johns is very enthusiastic about this appointment and is ready to get to work,” he said. “He has said repeatedly that Liverpool is a great school district doing many wonderful things that don’t get enough credit. He wants very much to put all the negative distractions behind us and get the focus back on education and children.”
“I’m really excited about what we’re going to do in this district,” Johns said. “I’m going to make sure we keep up the reputation it has as a world class school system.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.