Superintendent Dr. David Abbey will retire at the end of the school year and the Board of Education has been hard at work looking for a successor.

More than 750 residents participated in a community assessment project, including focus groups and an online survey by C.E.S. Executive Search Consultants Tom Jokubaitis and James J. Ritchie, in January.

Board of Education Chairman Hazel Hobbs said the results were illuminating and were indicative of how much New Canaan cares about the school district.

"This is a town that cares deeply about their students and their learning," she said.

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According to the survey, 758 residents participated in the community assessment, with 654 contributing through the online survey and 104 through focus group discussions.

"I thought it was terrific that 15.2 percent of the respondents were not even parents of a student." Hobbs said. "It is just a terrific affirmation of the strong support we receive from everyone in New Canaan."

According to the report, the top challenge focus group respondents wanted to focus on was sustaining excellence and technology to enhance learning, followed closely by educating students in order to compete in a global economy.

"Parents discussed their view that the human element should be kept foremost and that technology should be deployed appropriately at each grade level," the report said.

"Parents also expressed their concerns as to the proliferation of social media and implications of its extensive use by today's students."

When it came to the strengths of the district, 72 percent of respondents said the high quality faculty was number one.

According to the report, "72.3 percent, or 472 respondents, expressed a belief that the high quality of faculty, administrators and staff is a significant strength of the NCPS."

"When it came to the qualities respondents were looking for in a new superintendent, the number one thing was someone who could create a positive learning experience," Hobbs said.

In essence, focus group participants are interested in an educator "who is approachable, has well defined ethical values, and who cares deeply about children," the report said.

"The next superintendent must be a teacher/student advocate, enthusiastic, empathetic, confident but not arrogant, thoughtful, professional and highly intelligent, a good listener and have an ability to put people at ease The superintendent must be able to manage calmly in an environment of high expectations. The community is looking for a superintendent with exceptional people skills, an effective communicator who inspires trust and loyalty and a person of the highest integrity. A good sense of humor is a must."

In terms of professional expertise, residents prefer someone with a doctorate and experience in curriculum instruction, faculty relations and budget development and management.

Approximately 70 percent of respondents said the candidate should have been a principal.

"The next superintendent of schools will have to be an accomplished educator. Focus group participants consistently pointed to their desire that the NCPS Superintendent have classroom and administrative experience," the report said.

"They also noted that a background in special education would be a benefit. An in-depth working knowledge of high performing school systems, a good understanding of teaching and administrative roles and a good decision maker were seen as essential to the success of the next superintendent. The ability to prioritize and manage school initiatives in a high performing, student-centered school system is another necessary professional attribute. It is expected that the next superintendent will represent the NCPS with distinction. In addition there is an expectation that the superintendent is aware of and up-to-date on technology, state and federal initiatives, is on top of pedagogical research and best practices, is understanding of political processes and is a team player. The superintendent must also have good judgment and be able to manage resources and operations in the district."

With the report complete, Hobbs said the search committee will develop questions from the new information for candidate interviews.

The whole process for interviews and candidate selection will begin

Feb. 29, Hobbs said.

The first round of interviews will be with the search committee and four of those applicants will be selected for the second and final round of interviews with the Board of Education.

Hobbs was hopeful to have the interviews completed by the end of March with an announcement of the new candidate by sometime in April.

pjha@bcnnew.com