NEW BEDFORD — The ongoing search for a new superintendent to replace Dr. Pia Durkin is approaching the screening and interview process.

With the deadline for candidates to submit applications set for Feb. 15, the Superintendent Screening Committee has been organizing focus across the city to attempt to gain an understanding of what the community wants in a new superintendent.

Don Macrino and Dan McCormick, representatives of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the executive search firm selected to assist in the search, have hosted community input meetings this week to give the public a chance to express desired characteristics of the next superintendent.

One of those public meetings took place at Keith Middle School on Tuesday night. There, Macrino and McCormick welcomed about 10 area residents to list the good and bad aspects of the school system. The same process was then applied to the current superintendent.

“The purpose of the focus groups is really to dig as deeply as we can into the desires of this community. What are the characteristics they're looking for in their next leader?” said Macrino. “By meeting with a whole host of constituents in parents, teachers, administrators, building level administrators, staff members, and students, we hope to put together a leadership profile with the desired characteristics that will allow us to match the perfect candidate with the City of New Bedford.”

When asked to list the positives of New Bedford Public Schools, the room credited the school system for having steered away from the verge of a state takeover, and for qualitative aspects such as the dedication, teachers have towards educating all of their students.

Dr. Pia Durkin was credited by most at the meeting for her managerial skills, ability to be cost-effective and utilize local resources, and motivation to make the school system successful. Respectively, Durkin was mostly criticized for how interacted with staff, with an anonymous parent saying, “She was more of a boss than a leader. We want somebody to work with and support our teachers and staff.”

The school system as a whole was criticized by those in attendance for a decade of failing state test scores, its overall reputation and attractiveness to prospective employees, the academic gaps between certain populations of students, and the administrator and teacher retention rates as the school has seen the departure of 886 staff members over a four year period.

Following the meeting, those who attended were asked to take an online survey and share their opinions to further help the firm search for the right candidate. The survey can be found by visiting ecrasurvey.com/NewBedfordMA. The public is asked to share any opinions via email at SuperintendentSearch@NewBedford-MA.gov.

“This is one of the most critical steps because it gives us the voice of New Bedford. It tells us what you're looking for,” said Macrino. “A search company can't come in and determine what is best for New Bedford, we simply guide the process. It's the people of New Bedford that have lived here, who have experienced the present leadership and know what they want for future leadership.”

The firm also held a meeting at Normandin Middle School on Monday night and scheduled a final meeting at Roosevelt Middle School on Wednesday night.

The Screening Committee will begin interviewing candidates the week of Feb. 26, and will announce the finalists for the position during the week of March 5. The School Committee will publicly interview the finalists the week of March 19, with the final vote to appoint a new superintendent scheduled for March 26.