UPDATE | School board picks Moccia to take reins on South Whidbey

Josephine Moccia already knew what Rich Parker, chairman of the South Whidbey School Board, was going to say when she picked up the phone.

She got the job.

Moccia, currently the chief of schools for an east-of-Albany, N.Y. school district with an enrollment of 3,333, got the unanimous nod of the school board to be South Whidbey’s next superintendent during a special meeting Friday.

“I’m really happy the board felt so strongly,” she said later. “I am so looking forward to getting started.”

Moccia will replace Superintendent Fred McCarthy, who is retiring at the end of June.

The board’s selection followed three days of tours of the district by the trio of finalists for the superintendent’s post and meetings with staff, parents and the community.

The board’s selection came after a two-hour private session Friday afternoon where members talked about the three finalists for the job — Moccia; Mellody Matthes, the assistant superintendent for the Tukwila School District; and Jeff Sweeney, superintendent of the Fillmore Unified School District in California — then reconvened in a public meeting and took a quick vote for their top choice.

Board members praised the quality of the candidates and the process they used to find the district’s next superintendent.

“I feel really good about where we are and how we got there,” said Board Member Steve Scoles.

Board members said Moccia was the best of three qualified candidates.

“This one person rose to the top,” said Board Member Leigh Anderson.

Moccia said she was at her daughter’s house, watching the board meeting on the Internet. They started watching two minutes late, and were unsure which finalist had actually gotten the job.

“All I kept hearing was, ‘the candidate this’ and ‘the candidate that,’” Moccia said.

But by the end of the eight-minute meeting, the board’s pick became more obvious.

“I really just jumped for joy,” she said.

Moccia said it was quite amazing how quickly word spread, thanks to this wired age, and people were calling with congratulations before she had a chance to call anyone herself.

“I didn’t even get to tell my own mother,” she said.

Moccia is currently the superintendent of the Averill Park Central School District, and has worked in the district since 1989, where she has also been a deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent, director of special education and a principal.

She has a doctorate’s degree from Seton Hall, a master’s from the College of New Rochelle and a bachelor’s from Iona College.

Her departure from Averill is bittersweet, she said.

“I’m leaving 25 years of history and a lot of people I care really deeply about. At the same time, I’m getting a lot of positive wishes.

“They’re sad, just like I’m sad, but I’m really happy for the next chapter,” she said.

Moccia, 51, is the youngest of four children. Her father was an immigrant from Italy, coming over to work as a barber before going to college to become a CPA; he later returned to college and earned a law degree at age 40. Moccia’s mother was a nurse.

Moccia said her path to a career in public education started in college, as a pre-med student. She recalled how she switched her major to psychology, then went on to work as a school psychologist.

“I’ve had a variety of roles in the system and have loved every one of them. They have all offered unique challenges,” she said.

Moccia said there’s much to do beyond the cross-country move itself; she said creating an “entry plan” into the South Whidbey School District is on her immediate to-do list.

Her first day in the district is July 1, roughly six weeks away.

She said she will be talking with people in the next few weeks about the most pressing concerns, and her plan for what her first six to nine months on South Whidbey will look like.

District officials will continue work on a contract for the new superintendent, which will go before the school board for consideration at a future meeting.



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