GROTON -- Theodore Friend struck a confident tone in the second interview conducted by the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee as they proceeded in their search for a new superintendent.
Chairwoman Allison Manugian asked what he had observed on a tour of the district earlier in the day regarding its values and culture. Friend said there was a "perfect opportunity" to revisit the district's core values and goals.
Observing that it had been a "long time since it was done here," Friend said that if hired, he would bring together staff members, teachers, students, town officials and members of the community to develop a strategic plan that defined the schools' mission moving forward.
"You have to start over again," said Friend, adding that all interests should relate back to a strategic plan making for a single, unified vision.
Friend said today's schools must move away from outmoded educational practices from the last half century and look at new ways to teach.
To do that, they must start with the district's technology infrastructure, something the schools have already taken steps to improve by hiring an information technology director last year and raising funds to pay for tech upgrades.
"There's so many ways to look at technology," said Friend, "but it's still nothing more than what existed in books for the last 600 to 700 years. It's just a tool.
While not against building on the foundation begun by the district, the candidate said much could be done by having students bring their own instruments to school. He cautioned about the durability of expensive in-classroom tech such as new Chromebooks purchased by the schools.
"It's all about how you get the most out of instructional preparation," said Friend.
Currently the superintendent of the Sutton Public School system, Friend appeared before the School Committee on the evening of Jan. 16 as one of two finalists chosen from a field of 25 candidates who had submitted resumes to a screening committee last year.
He and fellow candidate Kristan Rodriguez, assistant superintendent in the Chelmsford school system, were picked out as finalists to replace interim superintendent Anthony Bent, who has been filling in on the job since 2012, when Joseph Mastrocola resigned.
Friend told School Committee members that he would be a hands-on administrator who expects to see students take an active role in their education with teachers acting more as facilitators than instructors.
"You get the job done by looking at what's happening in the classroom," said Friend, not by closeting yourself in an office.
One of the committee's top concerns is money, particularly after a shortfall of $464,485 was recently discovered in the district's budget. Thus, a question on the candidate's position on overrides was to be expected.
Friend said that school spending overrides "rarely happen" because they are either not done properly or not sought for the right reasons.
Uppermost is earning the trust of the public, which can start with keeping the entire budget transparent followed by a campaign that shows why the money is needed.
At the same time, Friend said he is a "realist" who needs to be certain of the support of parents and residents with no children in the school system before seeking an override.
On the other hand, "everything starts with a budget," said Friend.
For that, the formulation process must begin early with school principals, working with the district's business manager, building their individual budgets.
In order to facilitate the budget process, among other things, it is important to have good relations with the School Committee.
"What you see is what you get," said Friend. "It's about building relationships," explained Friend. "We're in this together. We're a team. We should do things together. We should be moving in the same direction."
As an example of his style in Sutton, Friend described how the district needed a million-dollars-plus to meet its goals, and after working in concert with the School Committee communicating the schools' needs to local officials, they succeeded in gaining support for the needed spending.
"Your job," said Friend, "is to hold me accountable."
When asked how he would address students' academic, social and emotional needs, Friend stressed his dedication to his profession.
"This is my life," he said. "This is what I do for a living."
Admitting that he needed to spend more time in the district to get the pulse of its culture, the candidate went on to say that "you can feel a culture when you walk through a school" and what he had seen of Groton-Dunstable, he liked.
A culture, said Friend, was built through different programs each contributing to the whole child, whether it be through sports, the arts or extracurricular activities.
"I would never advocate cutting these programs," said Friend. "There has to be another way.
When asked, Friend told committee members that he was looking ahead to retirement and that he intends to make superintendency at Groton-Dunstable the last position held in his career.
"I'm never going to do this again," said Friend of the interview process.