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Interim Superintendent brings experience to Tolland

Tolland's school district is under the Interim Superintendent brings a wealth of experience to the district, as the search for a permanent superintendent takes place.

Dr. Thomas McDowell has helmed districts in Orleans, Vermont (where he oversaw a large regional district) and Plymouth, Connecticut. He has also made something of a second career of being an interim superintendent, having done so in Wethersfield and Watertown.

McDowell said he retired in 2010, but served in both of those districts, and was asked by Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) Search Consultant Dr. Paul Gagliarducci to take the reins in Tolland short term. McDowell said he was interested in the job because it is short-term, but also because he loves working with children.

"I like it but I don't have to do it anymore," he said. "I like the interaction with the kids. I'm setting the table for the next person. The board is asking me to give them a very frank assessment of what I see, and I will do that."

Of what he's seen so far, McDowell said Tolland has many people who are very competent in their jobs, and added that the strength of the district lies in its people. He also realizes his short time inTolland will be one full of work.

"I think we have really strong building leadership, and that's a real plus," he said. "There are always challenges. There are curricular issues and budget issues. I can't walk out of here in December or February and say, 'have fun.' You have to start preparing a budget in September. I will be very participatory in that, meaning that I will have teachers', principals' and department heads' input."

Gathering knowledgeand forming a direction for the district will also be on McDowell's plate.

"When I get the principals together, I want to know what the plan is, and it's my responsibility to synthesize that into what our vision is," McDowell said, "and to continually project that vision. I don't know it yet, because I haven't worked with them together as a group. The other responsibility I have is to make sure that the four schools we have are sailing together as a fleet."

His own educational philosophy is that the focus is always about meeting every child's needs.

"I want every kid to get a fair break every day," he said. "I want kids educated to their potential, and not ours."

McDowell siad he plans to visit the schools every week, because he wants the teachers and students to know who he is, and to be accessible. He said making connections with people is important.

"I think we're really good at telling people what we need from them. We're not always good at saying, 'What is it you need from me?' I like to find out what people need from me. I look at myself as a facilitator and a cutter of red tape," McDowell said, adding that he doesn't care who gets the credit if the job gets done.

One of the first priorities is the completion of renovations at the Intermediate and Middle Schools, and making sure all of the buildings are ready to open in time for the first day of school.

"There's still a significant amount of work that needs to be done," he said. "My top priority is having schools ready to open. I always have angst over openings anyway. As a superintendent, after school opens, you can [exhale]. The kids are in the schools, and the teachers and principals are doing their thing."

McDowell said that after his time in Tolland is finished, he doesn't plan to take anymore jobs. "I think this is going to be it," he said. "I'm looking forward to retiring with my wife."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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