Last night Rob Curtin of the DESE presented his report on the District Review of Southbridge schools.
Following the presentation, and several comments from School Committee members, Chairman Scott Lazo offered some closing remarks.
The gist of those remarks was that he and his three new colleagues on the committee marked a new day, distinctly different from the prior committee chaired by Lauren McLoughlin.
He particularly pointed to the search for a new Superintendent of Schools, not just now but in 2010 as well.
Here are his remarks:
Unfortunately the 2010 Superintendent search, which he cited as a clear distinction from those undertaken during the McLoughlin era, was not quite as he made it out.
Circumstances as they really were are recounted in an article from the Worcester Telegram. In a piece titled “School board disbands search committee”, Brian Lee wrote on June 9, 2010:
The School Committee last night voted to disband a screening committee that was charged with finding finalists to replace retiring School Superintendent Dale M. Hanley.
The process will continue with the seven School Committee members acting as a subcommittee.
Glenn Koocher of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees was the search committee's consultant and was paid $10,500 plus expenses.
The screening committee consisted of School Committee members John D. Jovan Jr., Scott S. Lazo and Mary Ellen Prencipe; Town Manager Christopher Clark; parents; current and former teachers; Town Councilor Laurent E. McDonald, and three school administrators.
The group had been asked by the School Committee to recommend three to five candidates and it recommended three.
Ultimately the screening committee recommended just one candidate, who was not identified, for an interview with School Committee, which declined to do the interview.
School Committee member Patricia Woodruff said her committee should have taken the recommendation of the search panel.
"I'm very disgusted with what's been going on," she said.
Vice Chairman David L. DiGregorio apologized for "the failings" of his committee, and suggested the search panel had been undermined.
Mr. Lazo said he had no reason to apologize because the process had to move forward with integrity on the committee's part.
Mr. Jovan agreed and said more than one candidate should be interviewed because while the search committee's choice was strong in an interview, other candidates could have improved through rounds of interviews.
So, in essence, the search committee was disbanded and the search was undertaken by a committee of the whole. The resulting process ended up selecting Eric Ely.
Not only was this contrary to Mr. Lazo’s characterization of the 2010 process, it was in contrast to this community’s last District Review issued just the prior month.
The school committee should conduct an open, transparent, and inclusive process for the
replacement of the retiring superintendent.
It is imperative that the school committee hire a superintendent who will continue to build
upon the systems developed and implemented by the current superintendent and her staff and who will provide the leadership necessary to move the district to the next level. To accomplish
this, the school committee should enter into a contract with an independent consultant with experience in superintendent searches for assistance with the process. The consultant could assist the school committee by such services as helping to identify the qualities and
qualifications sought in the new superintendent, drafting a superintendent of schools job description, developing a brochure about the community and the position, advertising the position, preparing a timetable for filling the position, seeking input from the various constituencies both in the school system and in the community, and assisting with the initial screening of applicants.
It is essential that representatives from each of the various stakeholder groups, such as
teachers, parents, students, and citizens of Southbridge, be included in the interview process and that the interviews be open to the public. Furthermore, it is suggested that provision be
made for a smooth and orderly transition by enabling both the retiring and the new superintendent to work together for a reasonable period of time.
For ESE: In addition, it would be most helpful if ESE monitored and supported the
recruitment, screening, and interviewing process for the new superintendent, in order to help
make sure that the candidate who best fits the needs of the district is selected.
In considering its decision as to whether or not to move the Southbridge school system into Level V status the DESE Board of Directors should consider these facts. Yes, there was a Superintendent search committee in 2010. But it was disbanded by the School Committee (which included Mr. Lazo and Mr. Jovan) and had no hand in the actual selection of the Superintendent.