Norwich hires South Kingstown, R.I., school administrator as new superintendent

Norwich — The South Kingstown, R.I., superintendent for the past 10 years and 2017 Rhode Island Superintendent of the Year was selected unanimously Tuesday as the new head of the Norwich public school system.

Kristen E. Stringfellow, 52, who earned her doctorate degree in school finance and teaches the subject at Providence College to prospective school administrators, will become the new Norwich school superintendent beginning July 1. She will succeed Abby Dolliver, who is retiring June 30.

The Board of Education unanimously approved a three-year contract Tuesday with a starting salary of $185,000. The board skipped a planned executive session to review the contract at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, conceding to the overwhelming support for the top finalist candidate, who spent the entire day Tuesday touring all Norwich schools except the preschool centers, and interacting with students.

Her husband, Peter, daughter Samantha and sons P.J. and Jake, all Stringfellows, and her mother, Judith Provorse, attended Tuesday’s meeting and tour of the Kelly Middle School prior to the meeting.

Stringfellow said she was attracted to the Norwich school district because of its preschool through eighth grade structure. Norwich sends most high school students to Norwich Free Academy and has numerous other designated high schools. She said she has served as assistant superintendent for 10 years and superintendent for another 10 years in districts with high schools, but also that had experience with paying tuition for students’ enrollment at charter schools and sent other students to private or parochial schools.

But overseeing education in younger grades, Stringfellow said, is her passion.

“The focus on K through eight is a dream come true,’’ Stringfellow said after the vote. She said she has followed a lot of the Norwich school district’s initiatives in reading and writing and even the Choose Love social and emotional learning program. She said Rhode Island has few magnet schools, and she is “very interested in the magnet school concept,” referring to Norwich’s two magnet middle schools and two magnet elementary schools.

“I just think this is a district that focuses on children and their well-being and their academic achievement,” Stringfellow said, “and so I want to be a part of that.”

Stringfellow said she is finalizing a 100-day plan for her transition to Norwich schools. On Tuesday, she met the teachers’ union president, all principals, the principals’ union president, and several staff members, and toured every building.

“I plan on attending night events, weekend events as much as I can between now and July 1,” she said.

Once she starts on July 1, she plans to spend a day with each building principal, each board member, key city leaders and NFA leaders.

Stringfellow was selected from 26 initial applicants and two finalist candidates, Board of Education Chairwoman Yvette Jacaruso said. Her expertise in school finance “jumped right out at us,” Jacaruso said, saying the district needs a financial “magician” to help deal with chronic budget crises and rising costs.

Stringfellow said she is working on a “sustainable” budget for the Norwich district that "will lead us into the future.”

She will take over a school district with a projected $2.4 million budget deficit in the current school year, and a proposed budget that likewise is some $3 million lower than what the Board of Education requested.

“It’s certainly a challenge,” Stringfellow said of the budget problems, “but it’s certainly something that I am good at and it’s something I can lend my expertise to. I know it will be difficult, but I am not afraid of that challenge.”

Stringfellow started her career in education as an elementary school teacher in East Providence, Cranston and Providence. She became a principal in Scituate and later assistant superintendent in Scituate and in East Providence before becoming the South Kingstown superintendent 10 years ago.

Stringfellow currently is president of the Rhode Island Superintendents’ Association. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and education at Rhode Island College, a master’s degree in early childhood/elementary education at Rhode Island College and her administration degree at Providence College. She earned her doctorate in educational finance from Johnson and Wales University.

Jacaruso called Stringfellow personable and approachable, along with being a strong leader and experienced professional.

“I’m very, very proud as the chairman of the board to have selected Kristen Stringfellow as our new superintendent,” Jacaruso said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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