Shortly after the DESE Commissioner announced his recommendation that the Southbridge School District be placed in receivership the Southbridge School Committee's agenda to interview candidates for Superintendent appeared on the town's website.
One has to ask in all earnestness, what’s the point?
On January 12th the Worcester Telegram reported that George P. King Jr., the assistant superintendent of the Bolton-based Nashoba Regional School District, withdrew his candidacy for superintendent.
That left us with three candidates for the position. Of these three only Richard D’Agostino comes close to filling the school committee’s desire for someone with three years as a superintendent. He served about two years as acting superintendent in Warwick, Rhode Island, and about a year as superintendent. Prior to that he had been Director of Special Education.
Neither of the other two candidates, Sheryl Stanton or Amy McKinstry, come close to fulfilling that stated goal.
Only two other districts in Massachusetts are currently operating under state receivership, Lawrence and Holyoke.
Clearly the addition of Southbridge to that list testifies to the dire straits in which the district finds itself.
Dealing with that problem calls for outstanding leadership. The current candidates do not offer a compelling case that they possess either the talent or experience to provide such.
There is also the issue of the leadership provided by the current school committee.
I’ll grant that they are an improvement over the prior situation. But not by much. As it now stands, only four of those on the board were elected to that position.
Two of those on the committee, arguably those who have been the most vocal, had long served on it prior to 2012.
They served on the committee while Dr. Dale Hanley was the Superintendent. When the time came to replace her in 2010 the school board dismissed the search committee and ended up selecting Eric Ely as the district’s head. That clearly marked the beginning of the descent into chaos. In many ways it was that action that led to the election of their now discredited successors. Current committee member’s claims that all was well prior to 2012 is clearly disingenuous.
All things considered the State has been extremely lenient in waiting for improvement in the district. After 12 years there is little reason to expect that anything will change substantively.
To proceed with current plans to select a superintendent on January 26th in light of pending action by the State is irresponsible. One has to wonder why, with all the uncertainty surrounding the current state of affairs, anyone would persist in being a candidate for such a position. Perhaps that very fact is testimony to their mediocrity.
In the case of Holyoke a superintendent was already in place. The State and the district reached an agreement to keep that individual on for a year with a contract as a consultant and a splitting of the associated costs.
In the case of Southbridge there is no such person in place. The district continued to pursue its plan despite a request from the DESE Commissioner to suspend its activities until a decision on receivership was reached. Now, despite the Commissioner’s recommendation for receivership, the district – specifically the school committee – persists in this effort.
And, one has to ask, toward what end?
I, for one, doubt that there is any possibility that the Board of Directors of the DESE will not approve the Commissioner’s request.
If that decision does not come until February 23rd will we then be burdened with a superintendent’s contract commencing on July 1 that may commit the community to additional costs? Will the superintendent-elect be confronted with a position that evaporates because said contract contains an escape clause?
And, even in the unlikely event that the Board decides not to impose receivership, is February too late to continue and/or reopen the search?
I simply do not think that the current course charted by the school committee is in the best interests of the students or the community.