PORT JERVIS - On the eve of the Port Jervis school board election, with three seats in play, the board chose Superintendent for Instruction Mike Rydell to be the new district superintendent.

The board terminated the contract of Superintendent Tom Bongiovi in July and promised a search for a replacement that incorporated community input. Previously, the board had selected Bongiovi without interviewing anyone else.

In a search process guided by Orange-Ulster BOCES superintendent William Hecht, school community groups were asked what they wanted in a superintendent, and an online survey was conducted. “Strong knowledge of teaching and curriculum,” at 306 votes, or 86.4 percent of the total 354 votes, was first, closely followed by “excellent communicator,” at 293 votes (82.8 percent).

However, communication has often been sparse since Bongiovi left. With Ruth Zuclich as interim superintendent, the administration did minimal public presentation of the proposed district budget in contrast with previous years, when Bongiovi led presentations at Common Council meetings and elsewhere.

At a school safety meeting, when parent Sarah Hendry said, “We’re not getting enough information,” Zuclich told her, “We’ll give you information we believe you need to know.”

In response to a request on Tuesday for comments on his new role, Rydell emailed back, “The official appointment is not until Thursday. I will remain assistant superintendent for instruction until July 1.” However, he said he would be available for an interview later in the week.

In a previous interview, Rydell described his three curriculum initiatives at Wallkill High School, where he was principal before he was hired in Port Jervis. In one initiative, he and his colleagues instituted an “academy model,” in which students chose an academic path in humanities or STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and math.

A second initiative required ninth grade students to take an elective that focused on a group project. Students collaborated on doing the project and also in developing criteria to evaluate and grade it. In one project, students researched policies in other schools to determine what enhanced school functioning.

Rydell said he also worked with other staff to implement a system to assist students in graduating on time. To help “focus” students at risk of not graduating, he said, a team of teachers and guidance counselors monitors them, meets regularly to discuss them and may meet with the student as often as once a week.

Growing up in the City of Newburgh, he said, “I was a child of the ‘70s and ‘80s. There was so much happening, like students now see with their cell phones and medical engineering.”

He taught science in Washingtonville, then Wallkill, becoming assistant principal there and then principal in Ellenville for two years, before returning to Wallkill as principal. Consistent with the constructivist method that has become popular in education, he said, “I shifted from providing information to having students wrestle with material and draw from their experiences.”