Newly hired Superintendent of Schools Patrick Stirk isn’t a coffee drinker, but over the last three months he’s spent hours in “staff coffee” groups just to get to know his new co-workers.
Since taking over as superintendent in March, the former principal of Ridge Road Elementary School has started a process sometimes dubbed a “look and listen tour” to learn about the teachers, administrators and other stakeholders in the district.
“I know a lot of names just from being here for four years, but I didn't know a lot of the faces or people per se, and they need to know me too,” Stirk said while in his office last week.
He’s also taken many meetings with individual teachers, administrators and members of the overall community, who want to meet him and share their pride in the school system and hopes for the future with him.
It’s this quality of really listening to people that has stood out to Joyce Lapre, Stirk’s administrative assistant, since he started.
Lapre has been assisting superintendents since Sara-Jane R. Querfeld, the superintendent before Robert Cronin, who Stirk has replaced.
Lapre said every time you get a new person in the role, everyone wants to make an appointment to meet them.
With Stirk, she’s found that he’s “such a good listener.”
“I think that's such an important trait to have, because people want to be heard, people want to know that they're heard and I think he makes them very comfortable that he's listening to them,” Lapre said.
For Stirk, these first few months have been spent getting to know the schools, their cultures and leaders, as well as learning the day to day job responsibilities, like paperwork, public speaking, and getting approvals done.
“I want to make sure I'm supporting the people in this office here ... as well as our building administrators and whatnot,” he said. “I always say, I'm taking care of the people who take care of the kids.”
Stirk said he didn’t go into the superintendent role with a lot of expectations, save for one big one – that this job would be unlike anything he’s ever done before. So far, it’s lived up to that expectation.
Stirk succeeded Dr. Robert Cronin, who retired earlier this year after almost 10 years in the position. Stirk said he is in touch with the former superintendent, even meeting weekly for a few months to learn from his “wealth of knowledge.”
“Dr. Cronin was really great. He's like the most organized person I've ever met and he wanted to make sure he had things kind of wrapped up so I wasn't walking into things blind,” Stirk said.
A resident of Orange, Stirk pondered working as a superintendent down the road, but wasn’t actively looking for jobs when Cronin announced his retirement.
When Stirk applied for the position he knew he’d stay in the district no matter the outcome.
“Now that I'm here, I could never see myself anywhere else,” he said.
Coming from teaching jobs in Bridgeport and Stratford, Stirk said he finally felt at home in North Haven. Like when he was first hired as principal, Cronin and the Board of Education had called him with the offer and when he accepted, they cheered and clapped over the phone.
“It was like they were just as excited as I was. That meant a lot,” Stirk said. “They make it feel like family.”
As superintendent he said he hopes to inspire that same pride and excitement in his staff, a feeling he thinks will spread to the kids.
Board of Education chairwoman Anita Anderson said the board has been very happy with the decision to hire Stirk.
“Patrick is doing a wonderful job, he’s going on with the great strides and improvements that we have been making over the last several years,” Anderson said. “At this point, we’re just really happy with his work and the way he communicates with the board.”
She said his knowledge of the district has made the transition smoother than if they had gone with an outside hire.
Already, she’s been impressed by the way he looks at issues and his ability to adjust resources, like with internal staff transfers.
Among the adjustments Stirk has made is getting used to not being in a building with students all the time, as he was as principal of Ridge Road Elementary School for four years. He still gets to visit schools often and interact with kids, which remind him what he’s working for.
Replacing Stirk as principal at the elementary school is Chris McLaughlin, formerly the high school assistant principal. McLaughlin started July 1.
“He's a really good, caring guy. He's very soft spoken and knowledgeable, so he'll fit in great there,” Stirk said of his successor.
Looking forward in his own new role, Stirk said he wants to continue focusing on the culture of the district, building a sense of excitement to work and be in the district.
Along with fellow administrators, he’s also working to develop intentional direction in promoting an inclusive way of thinking among students and curriculum that teaches socio-emotional learning to ensure students’ well-being is fostered.