FAIRFIELD — From an advocate to a leader open to parent input, the qualities parents hope to find in the school district’s next special education director represent a range of desires.

Seated across from over 30 parents and community members assembled in the McKinley School library, human resources director Ann Leffert asked what positive qualities parents hope to see reflected in a new hire at a Special Education Parent and Teachers Association (SEPTA) meeting Monday night.

The district recently began a search process after Fairfield Public Schools’ 20-year Director of Special Education and Pupil Services Andrea Leonardi announced her departure. Leonardi will start as Wilton Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for special services July 1.

Parents expressed they want a special education director who acts as an advocate, speaking up for individual students as well as special education generally, in particular at the Board of Education. One parent requested a hire who will defend budgeted special education funding to the school and other town boards. One called for a director that gets creative to do more with less funding, showing they can be a good steward of taxpayer dollars.

Others called for a director that is open to parent input, has integrity, values inclusivity and is a visible part of the community at schools and events.

Board of Education Vice Chairman Trisha Pytko, seated beside Superintendent Toni Jones amongst parents, called for the hire to have experience as a special education teacher. Parents were divided on the request — about half concurred while others called for a broader search.

One parent concluded with a passionate plea for the new director to be someone who takes parents’ judgment seriously as their child’s best advocate.

Candidate interviews for the role will begin next week, Leffert said during the meeting. Fairfield Education Association and SEPTA representatives will be among search committee members. Leffert added that if the search doesn’t find the right fit, the district is willing to hire a search firm and conduct a nationwide search to find the right candidate.

Parent Tracy Pechkis, incoming 2017-2018 SEPTA President and search committee member, said she hopes the process represents as many views and interests as possible. She noted parents all just want the best for their child.

“It’s a huge role,” Pechkis said of the special education director position. She added the role entails significant responsibility and merits a dynamic individual.

After the meeting, parent Lisa Davy said she hopes the new director will differ from the current director. She called for someone who focuses on educating and avoids turning to litigation to hash out disputes with families.

“We’re looking for somebody most — number one — who is listening,” Davy said.

Parent Suzanne Fevang said she hopes for a “let’s work with the parents” attitude from the new director, someone willing to work through disagreements with parents and avoid turning to due process.

lweiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16