'I've been aware of Barrington for years,' says District 220 superintendent pick
Robert Hunt, who will become Barrington Area Unit District 220's superintendent on July 1, said he was not looking for a new job when a recruiter approached him a few months ago.
But after 17 years as an educational leader, the 48-year-old said, it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.
District 220 is known nationally for its innovation and quality of education, and it has an engaged community with high expectations, like his current school district, he said. He'd also seen presentations from District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris, who's retiring June 30, and former superintendent Tom Leonard during education-related events.
"I've been aware of Barrington for years," Hunt said. "The fit (of a new superintendent) is really important -- not just with the board, but the fit with the community."
Hunt has worked since 2012 as superintendent of Chagrin Falls Schools Exempted Village Schools in Chagrin Falls, a suburb of Cleveland.
Hunt's family includes his wife, who teaches AP English in high school, and four children: a daughter in college, a son who's a junior in high school, a daughter in first grade and a son in preschool. The family will be figuring out living arrangements for his oldest son, who likely will finish his high school degree in Ohio, Hunt said.
District 220 developed a superintendent profile in the fall, and among the top priorities was someone who can tackle the aftermath of COVID-19.
Besides the need to ensure adequate funding for initiatives, Hunt said, it will be important to provide academic, emotional and social support.
"The superintendent has to think about how to provide the opportunity for the community to heal and come together, especially in districts like Barrington and Chagrin Falls where the schools are the core of the community," he said.
Just like in Barrington, the debate in Chagrin Falls about how to teach during the pandemic was intense, he said.
His district started the school year with hybrid learning for all levels. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade went back to in-person learning in late October and the rest will follow next week, he said, always with an option to remain all-virtual.
District 220 has offered all-virtual learning this year except for a few days in late October. Hybrid learning will start Jan. 19.
"Regardless of what district you are in, this is an extremely divisive issue," Hunt said, adding local school districts would have benefited from direct public health guidance during the pandemic.
Another top priority for District 220 was a superintendent who can tackle equity, diversity and inclusion within the district. Hunt said he's doing that work in Chagrin Falls, which formed a diversity, equity and inclusion committee in 2017, and this summer created a task force with about 70 members, including students, teachers and administrators.
Compared to District 220, Hunt's Ohio school district is smaller and less diverse. Chagrin Falls has about 2,000 students, 90% of whom are white, with the rest about evenly split among minority groups, Hunt said. District 220 has about 8,300 students, about 60% white, 18% Latino, 16.5% Asian and less than 2% Black.
Hunt said the entirety of students' experience, starting with bus drivers who greet them in the morning, is essential to their development.
"I believe it's our job to provide a very warm, inviting culture where kids can feel free to express themselves," he added.
He's also worked hard at effective communication, he said, embracing podcasts, video and social media, in addition to more traditional methods like email.
Hunt will share a transition plan with Harris and the District 220 school board in the next couple of weeks, but his first objective will be to absorb everything, he said.
"I really want to take the time to learn, to listen to people," he said. "The worst thing someone could do in a district like Barrington is say, 'I have X, Y and Z programs, and this is the solution.'"