Peter Gray did not get the backing Monday night of a search committee charged with deciding whether he should be named permanent superintendent for the .
The voted 8-2 against recommending to the School Committee that Gray – the interim superintendent since May - be named to the post permanently. The School Committee, if it concurs when it meets on Thursday night, would then open the search to outside candidates.
Gray, who was hired as Assistant Superintendent of Business in June 2010, was named interim superintendent last summer .
Search committee members on Monday expressed a range of concerns about Gray, from his lack of experience as an educational leader to a lack of support from the teachers.
A full search for a permanent superintendent will start soon, said School Committee Chairman Alexa McCloughan, who served on the committee but abstained from voting at Monday night’s meeting.
“It will start in fairly short order,” she said about the full search.
McCloughan said she expects a deadline of mid-March for resumes to be submitted and a final pick would be made before the town elections in May.
“It would be a huge risk, on our part, to move (Gray) forward,” said Roger Kuebel, the School Committee vice-chairman who sits on the search committee.
Kuebel offered plenty of compliments for Gray’s work, including his “excellent” handling of opening day and his candid, open and forthright personality.
But he also offered the most detailed criticism, including an assertion that Gray doesn’t “understand the numbers or the budget in any detail.”
Committee member Helen Allard said from her business background she felt Gray could be the “inspirational leader” that companies look for in a CEO – someone who she said could have taken command in his series of interviews with the faculty, parents, community members and search committee.
“I was terribly disappointed,” she said.
Gray spent about a half hour talking to the committee again on Monday night before the committee’s two hours of discussion and vote. Gray defended what he said were “undocumented, unsupported” allegations outlined in a two-page letter sent to the School Committee by the Hamilton-Wenham Regional Education Association - the teachers union.
High school teacher Joe Maher, a member of the search committee, said in 15 years he has never seen a letter like the one sent to the School Committee by the union.
“I think it took something drastic to walk into new territory,” he said about the union's decision to send the letter.
The letter raised a wide range of concerns about Gray, including a lack of communication with faculty and staff, that he has never worked as a teacher and that he did not answer questions specifically enough during his public interviews.
Gray said he was most concerned about the allegation that he “has not been in our schools.”
He gave the search committee a list of about 30 events, ranging from end of the year barbecues to school plays, which he has attended since being named interim superintendent.
That was part of a 20-page packet that he offered to the search committee on Monday night, which also included letters of support from Interim Principal John Driscoll, Interim Principal John Hughes and Schools Business Manager Pola Andrews.
The only search committee members to vote in favor of Gray was Bill Bowler, a former member of the Hamilton Board of Selectmen, and Celeste Bowler, the district's Assistant Superintendent for Learning.
“I personally think he really has some strengths,” Bill Bowler said, before later adding that he was impressed by Gray’s leadership qualities and willingness to make tough decisions and later stand by those decisions.
Celeste Bowler said she felt Gray could "mend fences with the union" and could receive training that would help boost the skills needed to be superintendent.
One committee member, Kim Smith, was absent from the vote. The School Committee’s consultant hired to assist with the process, Glenn Koocher, was also in attendance.
Tom Starr, a member of the search committee, said he was “touched” by Gray’s defense Monday night of the criticisms leveled by the union but said he did not see or hear an outpouring of support for Gray from anyone.
“He has a Mitt Romney problem,” he said. “He could probably do a good job but people aren’t excited about him doing it.”
This article has been corrected to state that the final vote of the committee was 8-2, plus one abstention and one member absent.