EAST PROVIDENCE — At a hastily convened gathering Monday morning, Aug. 6, John DeGoes was formally introduced as the new East Providence School System interim superintendent to the remaining staff at the Burnside Avenue office.
Mr. DeGoes was hired Saturday, Aug. 4, by the three-person subcommittee formed by the Budget Commission. School Committee Chairman Charlie Tsonos, who sits on the subcommittee along with Commission chair Diane Brennan and State Deputy Commissioner of Education David Abbott, presented Mr. DeGoes to the administrative personnel.
“Everything we do is all about the kids,” Mr. DeGoes said in his opening remarks to the staff.
“I’ve had many people offer me good wishes and I need those good wishes,” he continued. “We face tremendous challenges, and the only way to meet those challenges and recapture the highlights we used to know here in East Providence is by working together.”
Mr. DeGoes, who interviewed late last week for the position left vacant with Edward Daft’s departure on Aug. 3, hit the ground running Monday. He planned to begin meeting with staff throughout the day as a way of getting to know those he will be working with and as a means of “assessing what we need to do.”
As his title indicates, Mr. DeGoes was hired on an interim basis. And as a retired public employee, he is only allowed at this point to be in the position for 90 days. Both he and Mr. Tsonos, however, left open the possibility for a longer stay if certain details can be ironed out.
For Mr. DeGoes serving as interim superintendent of East Providence Schools marks a return to the post he held on a full-time basis from 1987 to 1994. This past association with the department played a role in his decision to apply for the vacancy.
“I felt there were many things I could do to help if we get people working together,” he explained. “The idea is to get the most done possible for the kids and the community at large, and I think I can help do that. At least temporarily, I thought I could make a contribution to the city.”
Mr. DeGoes served five years as Central Falls Schools Superintendent after leaving East Providence. When he retired from that role he moved on to an assistant superintendent post in nearby North Attleboro, where he spent the better part of a decade before retiring from education completely.
He later served on the board of directors for Navigant Credit Union, the former Central Falls Credit Union, and became chairman before stepping aside from that position.
When asked why he wanted to return to city school department Mr. DeGoes said, “It’s certainly a question I was expecting to be asked. I have lived in East Providence since the time I was superintendent. I thought we did some very good things when I was here. In the beginning, anyway, we didn’t face the financial problems we do today. Most of the things that happened were on a positive note. It wasn’t until near the end that things began to turn because of changes made at the state level. And a large part of those changes occurred after the banking crisis.
“The state started to send less and less money back to the cities and towns. Prior to that is was always a little more each year. However, the (East Providence) school district continued to flourish. So many good things were happening here even after I left. Then everything started to change for the worse. The money wasn’t available to be sent back to the cities and towns. Some communities suffered more than others, and unfortunately East Providence has been one of those who has suffered the most.”
Mr. DeGoes said his time spent in the private sector confirmed his belief that whether it’s school administration or business, serving the community is one of the most important aspects on any management position.
“My time with Navigant certainly reinforced my belief in acting conservatively in terms of financial matters,” Mr. DeGoes explained. “And the structure there put a great deal of emphasis on customer service, serving the community. And I think that idea is important in any position of authority.”
Mr. DeGoes has some immediate decisions to make. First and foremost is working with the Budget Commission to find a replacement for the soon-to-be exiting director of transportation Raymond Linnehan. One of Mr. Linnehan’s last tasks is implementing the new busing guidelines in time for the start of school in September.
Mr. DeGoes must also familiarize himself with the workings of said Budget Commission, a wrinkle he’s not dealt with specifically during his previous stints as a superintendent.
“There’s a learning curve I need to travel,” Mr. DeGoes said. “I certainly want to work with the Budget Commission. I’ve worked with city and town councils and school committees in the past. I’ve had to present budgets that someone else has had to approve, so that’s not new. But I do have to gain a full understanding of the process and I look forward to doing just that.”
Mr. DeGoes said he would take a cue from Mr. Daft, of whom he bestowed praise for his year-long stewardship of the district.
“I don’t think the East Providence system is a bad system at all,” he said. “I think Interim Superintendent Daft did an outstanding job. Look at the past year’s test results and East Providence held itself quite well. And I think that’s a testament to Mr. Daft’s leadership. I think the community owes Mr. Daft a debt of gratitude for his efforts over the last year.”
Like his predecessor, Mr. DeGoes takes over a district one could say is rife with discontent. Money woes, aging facilities and a work force wondering when the other shoe might drop have done nothing but drag down morale and the perception of East Providence schools.
“How can I combat the negative feelings about the system? I’m not sure to be honest,” Mr. DeGoes said. “I just think I have to be myself and hopefully people will respond to my leadership style. I think the style by which I lead will go a long way in putting to rest many of those negative feelings. I firmly believe that if you treat people with dignity and respect, treat them the way you would want to be treated, you can accomplish great things. No matter what the news is, good or bad, if you deliver it with a sense of empathy, people will respond positively.”
Moving forward, Mr. DeGoes said he understands the task at hand and appreciates the difficult circumstance he enters, though he does so willing.
“I would not be truthful if I didn’t say there is obviously some trepidation on my part. We face a daunting task. But I look forward to taking those challenges on,” he added. “With the backing of the School Committee and the Budget Commission, we’ll take those steps one at a time.”