Moccia jumps into job as new South Whidbey School District superintendent

Josephine 'Jo' Moccia began her first week as South Whidbey School District superintendent on July 1. Moccia took over from retired superintendent Fred McCarthy after five years running South Whidbey schools.
— image credit: Record file

Everyone has a first day at work.

But not everyone’s first day is filled with as many meetings as Josephine Moccia, the new superintendent for the South Whidbey School District. Moccia has had so many meetings since July 1 that she couldn’t recall the number.

“It’s countless at this point,” Moccia said.

Those meetings, most for an hour at a time, were enough to impress anyone fortunate to fit into her full schedule. Moccia was so busy she had limited contact with one of her overseers, school board director Jill Engstrom.

“I haven’t really had time to speak with Dr. Moccia in depth, yet,” Engstrom said.

Their contact was limited to a luncheon and email correspondence. That was sufficient to affirm Engstrom’s initial evaluation when she voted to hire Moccia to replace retired superintendent Fred McCarthy.

“The competence she has in her responses — she’s very confident and knows from where she’s speaking,” Engstrom said.

Meetings and a packed schedule will likely be Moccia’s modus operandi for the next few months. Moccia said she wants to get a sense of the district and South Whidbey culture before she begins to make plans for improvement.

“My plan is to do a lot of listening,” Moccia said. “I really have no agenda.”

Guiding her first weeks on South Whidbey is a transition plan she authored to make the changeover seamless. The majority of that transition is familiarizing herself with the district’s strengths, weaknesses, needs and wants.

And the best way to do that, she said, is to observe and meet with people in the schools and around

South Whidbey, including the school board, administrators, service providers and the school district attorney.

“The first plan is to listen, learn and reflect,” Moccia said.

Then, she will develop a plan and implement it with the board. That plan was impressive enough for Engstrom.

“It was nice and thorough,” Engstrom said. “I just thought that was a really good plan to implement.”

Moccia drafted a four-page “entry plan” with an accompanying timeline that outlines her first year as South Whidbey’s superintendent.

According to the plan given to the school board, Moccia will spend most of this year in meetings with school district stakeholders, which includes parents, students, faculty, staff, administrators and anyone from the community, “to help them get to know me, and for me to understand them,” Moccia wrote.

She also plans to survey them about the strengths, challenges, changes and expectations of the school district.

“It is critical to learn as much as possible about the community, district, culture and the people in as brief a period of time as possible,” Moccia wrote.

In the document, Moccia acknowledged the difficult task of explaining building or capital projects to the community. Her plan is to create transparency to “garner support and consent from its stakeholders.”

“By investing in the community, being open to dialogue and suggestion, my hope is to have the community become enthusiastic about creating a partnership with the district,” Moccia wrote.

One struggle, if it can be called that, is adjusting from what Moccia said felt like a vacation. She shadowed McCarthy until her first day at her new job on Friday, July 1.

“I’m trying to get from feeling like I’m on a vacation to get back to work,” Moccia said.

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