SCARBOROUGH — For Julie Kukenberger, the newly selected superintendent of schools, the decision to accept the job was as much personal as it was professional.
“What initially drew me to Scarborough was that it’s a fast-growing community that clearly values education,” Kukenberger said Tuesday. “For me, I was looking for a district that would be a good fit for me, professionally, and my family,” she said of her husband and their 2-year-old daughter.
Kukenberger, 35, is the assistant superintendent in the Haverhill, Massachusetts, school district. She previously served as director of curriculum and instruction in the North Hanover Township school district in New Jersey.
An upstate New York native, she holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Rider University and a master’s degree in educational administration from Rowan University. She is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership at Boston College and expects to complete her degree in 2018.
Kukenberger’s appointment was announced by the Board of Education in a press conference Friday, April 15. She will succeed Superintendent George Entwistle III when he resigns at the end of June, after three years.
As she gets acclimated during her first few months on the job, one of her primary objectives is to do a lot of listening and observing, Kukenberger said.
“For me, my first big job is just to listen and get face time with as many people as I can,” she said. “I want to be really clear that I am coming in with no preconceived plans or notions; I have a lot of questions and very few answers. I have no intentions to change just for the sake of changing.”
Ultimately, Kukenberger said, her goal is “to make sure that all students have equal access and opportunity, and that we’re always trying to outgrow ourselves.”
The pace of education is changing, she said. Knowing that, “How do we really make sure that we’re honing in on decision making and critical thinking skills?” If necessary, she said, it’s important to consider how those changes would be made in Scarborough.
“For me, the thing I spend a lot of time thinking about is what the future will be like for our kids,” she said. “We’re preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist.”
Students shouldn’t be asked what they want to be when they grow up, Kukenberger said; they should be asked what problems they want to solve.
Kukenberger acknowledged that she will play a key role mediating the divide that has grown recently over school spending, and said she welcomes the opportunity “to build relationships with all constituents across the board.”
“I am accepting this role with the mindset that it’s my job to clear the way (not only) so that the educators that are on the ground, in the field, can do the work they need to do,” she said, but “to make sure each community member sees the value in their investment in our schools.”
Kukenberger is still negotiating her contract with the School Board, a process that is expected to be complete by May.