Few Residents Weigh-In On Superintendent Search
By: Mary Stanley
Whether it was the snowstorm, busy holiday schedules, or just a general lack of interest, the two forums that were held on Monday to elicit feedback from the community on the qualifications they would like to see in the next superintendent of schools drew only a handful of people. Six residents attended the forum scheduled for 1 PM and only three showed up for the 7 PM session.
The discussion was led by Thomas Hardy, field director for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, who is conducting the search for the district’s next superintendent.
Although the focus of the forum was to discuss the types of questions they would like posed to candidates and the criteria they would like to establish for picking candidates, the initial discussions on Monday afternoon centered on the selection of the search committee and some in attendance expressed frustration with the fact that the current superintendent was being replaced at all.
In June, by a 4-3 vote, the school committee voted not to renew its contract with the district’s current superintendent, Mary Ellen Johnson. Two months before that vote, the board had extended the contract. But the earlier meeting was ruled out of order, since it was not properly posted. By the time the contract was revoted, two new members had been elected to the board—two members who did not support the superintendent. Controversy over the contract has reigned ever since.
In June, with two new members, the school committee again voted on extending Dr. Johnson’s contract through 2013. This time they voted 4-3 not to renew the contract, which expires after the current school year. The status of Dr. Johnson’s contract has been in dispute ever since.
“Mary Ellen Johnson is never going to win a congeniality contest but she has been a damn effective superintendent,” said James W. Pierce, a selectman in town.
Ellen J. Guerin of Karla Lane, a member of the Sandwich Parent Advisory Council to Special Education, expressed concern about the selection of the search committee that will be part of the interview process.
The members of the committee will be chosen by the current school board.
“There could be well- intentioned people who may be mindful, but may not have a background in interviewing people,” she said.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday morning, Mr. Hardy acknowledged the challenges with filling this top post in the school district. “There’s always some kind of challenge when filling these positions,” he said.
He said, however, that the process of filling this post could actually be something that heals the community.
“The process could be a unifying force—if the people sitting on the board will let it be,” he said.
Mr. Hardy went on to say that the next superintendent will be faced with his or her own set of challenges.
“The biggest challenge will be bringing everyone back together, and that’s done through a lot of communication,” he said.
After residents at the forum on Monday night had a chance to voice their opinions about replacing the superintendent, they got down to the business of listing the qualifications they would like see in any candidates selected for interviews.
“What would you be looking for to move a candidate from the application pile into the group to be interviewed?” Mr. Hardy asked.
There was agreement among the six people gathered around the table in the lower level of the Human Services Building that the next superintendent should be someone with a strong background in curriculum development.
“I would want someone with a heck of a lot of experience developing curriculum from kindergarten all the way through the senior year of high school,” Ms. Guerin said.
She added that it will be important to know the candidate’s background, such as what work or programs they have developed in their own school districts, if those programs were sustainable, and if there was any data available that proved those programs were effective.
Frank Pannorfi, a former selectman in town, said he would like to ask candidates their thoughts about the need for libraries in schools. “Technology may be providing a different way for doing things. I’d like to hear their thought process to that question,” said Mr. Pannorfi.
The residents also agreed that they would want candidates to be people who have followed the traditional track; someone who has risen through the ranks from teacher to principal to administrator as opposed to someone with only a business background who may have extensive experience as a school business manager but no classroom experience or experience working with teachers.
“It would be important for us to know that the new superintendent had some exposure in elementary schools, either as a principal or as a Special Education teacher,” said Ms. Guerin.
They also agreed that no requirement should be made that the candidates agree to live in Sandwich but that they did want their next superintendent to be somewhat local, living either on the Cape or very near to it.
As for academics, the residents placed more emphasis on experience over a doctorate but said the ideal candidate would have both.
Mr. Hardy said similar qualifications were described by the three people who attended the forum scheduled for the evening. “It was consistent with what was said on Monday afternoon,” he said. He said the individuals expressed a need for good communication skills, a transparent budget process, and experience with budgets.
The school committee is scheduled to meet again on January 5 when they will, at random, choose the names of people to serve on the search committee. This committee will consist of 11 people: three school committee members selected randomly, one parent from the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, two representatives from the four PTAs, one member from the community at large who has no children in the system, one town employee working outside of the school system, one school administrator, and two teachers.
1 Responses to " Few Residents Weigh-In On Superintendent Search"
Leave a Reply
In order to comment you need to be logged in.