PORTLAND — The deputy superintendent of one of New Jersey’s largest school districts is a candidate to become Portland’s next superintendent.

Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, the deputy superintendent for Paterson Public Schools, toured Portland schools Tuesday before she was introduced to the public at a forum Tuesday night.

Vanden Wyngaard is one of three finalists to succeed James Morse as superintendent. Morse will leave the district June 15 for a new job in New Hampshire.

The two other finalists have chosen not to be identified publicly, said Sarah Thompson, chairwoman of the superintendent search committee.

One of those candidates was interviewed Monday, while the other is set to visit Portland on May 22, Thompson said.

After Tuesday’s forum, which drew about 30 parents and school employees, Thompson said the candidates who do not want to be identified may alter their position before the selection is made.

School officials have said they hope to announce the district’s new superintendent by the middle of June. The other finalists are men. The three finalists emerged from 159 applications.

Vanden Wyngaard, who prefers to be called “Dr. V,” spent nearly an hour answering questions, joking with the audience and talking about why she wants to work in Portland.

She has been deputy superintendent for two years in the Paterson Public School District, an urban district in northern New Jersey, about 18 miles west of New York City.

According to its website, Paterson is the third-largest school district in New Jersey and one of its most diverse, with more than 28,000 students in preschool through grade 12. Sixty percent of its students are of Hispanic origin, 30 percent are African-American, and nearly 50 percent of all students in Paterson speak a primary language other than English.

The district, which was taken over by the state in 1991, operates 52 schools and employs 2,760 teachers.

As deputy superintendent, Vanden Wyngaard is focused on efforts to close the achievement gap between what students score in a particular subject and the state average. That would be her priority in Portland, she said.

Vanden Wyngaard said the people here have been welcoming and the seafood has been great.

“Part of the joy of coming to Portland is that I’ve eaten way too much lobster,” she said.

She was asked by one parent why an administrator from such a large district would be interested in working in Portland.

“Well, not for the weather I have to admit,” she said. “Portland has a diverse community, which is important to me, and the people here seem to respect diversity in all its nuances.”

Vanden Wyngaard said she is impressed with Portland’s school board because “they are passionate about education and are focused on student learning. That is not the normal way of doing business for most school boards.”

But she said that passion may need to be tempered. “They meet way too often,” she said.

Vanden Wyngaard said Portland seems to be a good place for her and her daughter to live. Over the last six years, Vanden Wyngaard has held school district jobs in Eden Prairie, Minn., Racine, Wis., and New Jersey.

She said her daughter “keeps saying, ‘Mom, please stop moving.’“


Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]