WESTERLY — After nearly two years overseeing six schools and 3,000 students, Roy Seitsinger Jr., superintendent of Westerly Public Schools, concedes that it would be easy to work 24 hours a day.
“I find you have to consciously decide on a little bit of ‘me’ time, a little bit of family time, a little bit of balance. You have to make an effort, because the people who are making the demands on this side have no sense of that,” he says.
Seitsinger enjoys hiking, bike riding and family outings — when he can steal a little time for himself.
His workday usually begins in his car on his way into the office or a meeting elsewhere, with a conversation with his assistant of two years, Rose Falcone.
“Rose and I start at 7,” he says. “We start talking. Sometimes, that 30-minute drive is a very highly organized drive, because we do a lot of phone calls, a lot of catching up, a lot of calendar decisions.”
Seitsinger usually works until late at night, either attending meetings or on work he has brought home.
“He spends countless hours in Westerly, attending after-school activities and meeting with community stakeholders,” Falcone says.
Seitsinger, 57, lives in West Warwick with his wife, Louise. He has two daughters, ages 27 and 25, two stepsons and two grandchildren. He was born in Abington, Mass., and attended Abington High School. He studied at Bridgewater State College, and spent some time at Arizona State University before returning to Bridgewater, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
Seitsinger taught second grade at East Bridgewater Elementary School in Massachusetts for five years before leaving for London, where he and his former wife taught for a year. When they returned, Seitsinger discovered that jobs in his field were few and far between.
“When we came back, it was very difficult to get a job for a little while, so I got my master’s degree [in leadership administration] and worked at UPS — United Parcel Service — for two or three years,” he says.
Seitsinger finally landed a job in 1983 as assistant principal in Taunton, Mass. Five years later, he came to Rhode Island as the principal of Stony Lane Elementary School in North Kingstown, and then became principal of Davisville Elementary School, where he began working on his doctorate.
“I took a year’s sabbatical and worked on my doctorate at the University of Connecticut,” he says. “I think I started taking the first course work in 1995, and I finished my doctorate in 1998.”
By the time he finished his Ph.D., Seitsinger was principal of Wickford Middle School. He left to become the assistant superintendent of the Bristol-Warren school district, and later, superintendent in Exeter-West Greenwich.
He then worked at the Rhode Island Department of Education as director of middle school and high school reform for four years before taking the superintendent’s job in Westerly. He is currently an adjunct professor in the doctoral program at Johnson & Wales University, where he teaches human resources and organizational theory.
“I tell people that I’ve been going to school since I was 4,” he says, laughing.
Seitsinger came to Westerly at a challenging time. In 2010, the high school had received a “caution” classification from the Rhode Island Department of Education for failing to meet some of the targets set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. In its accreditation report, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges noted that there were several areas in the high school that needed improvement.
Seitsinger wasted no time in announcing his commitment to improve student performance, complete renovations to the high school and streamline the district’s troubled finances. He has already had some success in meeting those goals.
A recent study by the Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now, an advocacy group, ranked Westerly High School the most improved in the state. The findings were based on students’ New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP scores. In her May 1 State of Education address, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist praised Westerly High School for its reading program.
“A colleague of mine said, ‘You know, the sparkle is starting to return.’ It’s not an ultimate goal, but it captures the idea of what we’re trying to do here,” Seitsinger says.
Westerly School Committee Chairman David Patten says Seitsinger’s experience at the Department of Education and at other school districts equipped him to spearhead the effort to raise standards in Westerly.
“I think what he’s done thus far in making changes in leadership in the Westerly public school system, his successful stewardship of the budget, his support of consolidating thr [finance] director position with the town, his partnership with the town and basically his management style — very collaborative, very professional and always looking to find the right solution that is, as we always love to say, in the best interest of the students,” Patten says.
A single director, James Lathrop, now handles the finances for both the school district and the town.
“We’ve made some pretty significant steps in laying more groundwork for future change,” Seitsinger says. “One, I think very large, is the willingness to consider a transformational model in regard to the finance director, because that really is an incredibly challenging shift in thinking and practice for both the town and the school department.”
Colleagues admire Seitsinger’s ability to focus on his goals. They also marvel at his patience.
“He is always patient even in the most trying situations. In the midst of difficult decisions, what we often hear from him is: ‘How will this affect students?’ They are always his first priority,” says Falcone.
Assistant Superintendent Alicia Storey praises Seitsinger’s collaborative management style.
“He makes me, and I think, everybody in the district, feel like we’re one team, all working towards the same vision and goal, and that’s to provide the best education for the kids of Westerly,” she says. “You know that in his heart and in his speech and his work and his doing, it’s all about the kids.”
Patten, who has watched Seitsinger in action at School Committee meetings, says he admires his calm demeanor in difficult situations, and his conciliatory approach.
“Sometimes people make comments that are borderline inflammatory or perhaps a little mean-spirited, and he looks for the nugget of fact in those comments and offers a little different perspective on how to amplify that point in a more positive way,” he says.
Seitsinger attributes some of his patience to having to overcome a learning disability, which he says most people are unaware of.
“A lot of people don’t know, I’m dyslexic,” Seitsinger says. “In my early years, I struggled with reading and learning, and the thing it taught me is how to persevere, how to just keep on pushing forward, and that developed in me a little bit of patience, particularly for others.”
Seitsinger’s large office in Babcock Hall is dominated by a World War II British poster that reads: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” On the credenza behind his desk is a “Toy Story” lunch box, a gift from his granddaughter.
“I bring my lunch every day to work, but also it does something else for me — and I know this is going to sound a little corny — but reminds me of what my business is. My business isn’t numbers, my business is children,” he says.