The School Committee voted on Thursday to approve a 12-member committee and hire a consultant to help launch a search during the next two weeks for a permanent school superintendent.
The deadline for interested candidates to apply for the job is Oct. 31 and selection of search committee members will be announced on Nov. 3, the committee said. It approved a budget up to $10,500 to pay for the consultant and search costs.
Current Superintendent is Interested
The votes came after a much debated discussion about whether or not to even have a search committee involved in the process .
Gray has been interim superintendent since May, when former Superintendent Dr. Raleigh Buchanan and the School Committee which .
Chairman Alexa McCloughan thanked the public for the responses to her request for feedback about the top criteria for a superintendent candidate. McCloughan said there were four main points for the School Committee members to focus its attention on, including:
- The need for stability and permanence;
- The value to the formal search process so that the community could be re-engaged in the opportunity to interview candidates;
- The need to be fiscally prudent; and,
- That the interested internal candidate brings value and experience, but also brings some complexity to the process.
School Committee member Bill Dery said emphatically that the “old style configuration” of a superintendent with strength in academics was already in place with Assistant Superintendent for Learning, Dr. Celeste Bowler, who was hired over the summer.
“We should proceed to hire a superintendent who is a business manager; someone who is good at getting money and politically [astute],” said Dery.
McCloughan recommended that the first phase involve paying the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to assess the internal candidate - Gray - something she said she felt was important to start the search process in a fair and unbiased way.
The second phase of the search process would be to determine the parameters and composition of the newly formed search committee, McCloughan said.
In previous meetings, the School Committee had gathered data in order to complete a leadership profile. With that, the search committee made up of school leadership, members from each town government, faculty and the community would bring forward their findings and recommendations.
If Gray is considered as a candidate for the permanent position, the job will have been completed prior to spending money on a process to further vet the candidates. Gray was present during the discussion.
Search Committee or Not?
Larry Swartz, the former chairman of the Wenham Board of Selectmen who is the newest School Committee member, said the Bedford School Committee did not appoint a search committee and that they conducted the forums and made the decision without one during a recent superintendent search.
“Bedford officials found that school committees often prematurely appoint a search committee,” said Swartz.
Swartz also said that if the process goes beyond accepting Gray as the permanent superintendent, the cost could increase to $20,000-25,000.
School Committee member Dacia Rubel said she did not agree with the findings of Bedford school officials.
“The most important thing in the criteria for this process is having the public involved in an open process,” said Rubel.
Swartz was not swayed, however, and continued to press for having the MASC conduct the search without a separate search committee.
“This is a trained professional and not the community,” said Swartz.
McCloughan and Dery Agree
McCloughan felt strongly that the community was a vital part of the vetting process.
“I know this is the first time and probably will be the last, but I am going to probably agree 100 percent with Alexa,” said Dery.
Dery was referring to hiring a consultant to help conduct surveys and public forums.
The audience laughed aloud.
Dery, however, had concerns about the timing of introducing a potential search committee.
“Why would we have a search committee to find someone who already exists?” questioned Dery as he acknowledged Gray. Dery also reminded members and the audience he had his eye on fiscal responsibility.
Swartz kept pressing for ditching the idea of the search committee indicating that having MASC staffer Mike Gilbert conduct the entire process would give unbiased feedback rather than the community, which might carry some bias.
“Everyone still gets their input even without the search committee,” said Swartz.
Selectman Supports Search Committee
Hamilton Selectman Jeff Stinson, the board's liasion to the School Committee, told the committee that he supports having a search committee involved in the process.
“There is a unique benefit to taking information and meeting with folks in each of the sectors and to have them come back and make recommendations,” said Stinson. “It makes sense to have a search committee; otherwise we are just having dissected discussions.”
The School Committee agreed finally to McCloughan’s proposal to mirror the composition of the search committee to that of the most recent one, which would include three School Committee members, one school district leadership team member, two district faculty members, one representative from both Hamilton and Wenham and four community members.
Some concern was raised about whether the staff would be able to come to an unbiased determination with Gray in the mix.
Bowler, who had sat quietly for the entire discussion, first raised the point that all discussions are supposed to be confidential during the search process.
And after more discussion by committee members still wondering if the vetting process would be unbiased, Bowler said the committee should trust the professional expertise of the district leadership.
“The leadership team has come together and we have been working diligently on audit recommendations and other pressing matters. There are certain things we are looking for in a leader considering we are new. Questioning our professionalism…I am a little uncomfortable because we serve the superintendent but we serve the children first.”
The audience applauded Bowler.
Resumes from interested candidates are due to the no later than Oct. 31.