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Mount Greylock School Committee Charts 'Expedited' Superintendent Hiring Process
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:13PM / Monday, July 20, 2020
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Friday outlined its schedule for selecting the district's next permanent superintendent.
If all goes according to plan, the committee hopes to learn the names of its finalists, interview those contenders and vote on its final selection within the span of three days at the end of the month with the intention of getting a new superintendent in the job in early August.
On Friday, the panel heard an orientation to the superintendent search selection process from representatives of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
The Mount Greylock School Committee designated MASC to screen applications for the district's chief executive officer and bring forward up to five candidates for public interviews and consideration by the School Committee.
The departure this month of Superintendent Kimberley Grady left the district in the hands of Interim Superintendent Robert Putnam, who was appointed on July 6 during Grady's medical leave of absence.
Putnam's appointment only runs through the end of August, Carolyn Greene noted during Friday's virtual meeting.
The short-term nature of his commitment is one reason why the School Committee decided on an expedited process for hiring a permanent superintendent.
"For Plan B [an extended search in the winter and spring], one of the things that would also involve is hiring another interim superintendent during that search process," Greene said. "We have an interim right now who is scheduled to be with us until the end of August. If we would need to go to Plan B, we'd need to potentially hire another interim.
"That's one of the reasons we're doing an expedited search. We have an interim for a short period of time, and it's good to have that opportunity."
The executive director of the MASC pushed the School Committee to avoid trying to fill a second interim vacancy, which typically attracts recently retired administrators with the proper skill set and desire to work for a brief period of time.
"The availability of interim superintendents is different around different parts of the state," Glenn Koocher told the committee. "I could not guarantee it will be easy to find an interim superintendent. The availability of good, experienced interim superintendents is less in Western Massachusetts than it may be elsewhere, which is why your Plan A does make a lot of sense."
On the other hand, Koocher said the Mount Greylock School District remains an attractive destination for superintendents and would-be superintendents seeking a permanent posting — despite its somewhat tumultuous recent history with the position.
"I know it's a good district," he said. "The quality of life is great. People may be able to afford real estate out there and settle in. There are people who would be interested in the opportunity to work in a college town with the elements of a diverse community up and down Route 7.
"I suggest you'll have a significant pool and will have a hard time making a decision."
The job was posted on the MASC website on Tuesday, July 14. Koocher said on July 17 that he had "talked to two people yesterday and one today," but he did not expect the applications to be filed until the last moment.
"Superintendent applicants are a notoriously procrastinating group of people," he said. "We're used to getting 80 to 90 percent of the applications in the last five days of a search no matter how long the search stays open."
As of Monday morning, there were two superintendent searches active on the MASC website: Mount Greylock (application deadline July 28) and Millis in central Massachusetts (deadline Aug. 14). The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents also lists openings, but many of the job listings are left on the site long after the deadlines for application have passed.
Not everyone was as sanguine as Koocher about the School Committee's push for an expedited search.
At the start of Friday's meeting, the committee heard emails from three residents who were concerned that the committee is neither devoting adequate time nor allowing sufficient public input through mechanisms like a traditional superintendent search committee.
In a non-expedited search, the School Committee has the power to appoint a search committee including faculty, administrators, parents, students and other community members to review applications, conduct initial interviews and recommend finalists to the School Committee, which has ultimate hiring authority. The School Committee also would have time to conduct reference checks and do site visits to the finalists' home districts.
In the expedited search favored by the Mount Greylock School Committee, the initial screening of applications and reference checks will be conducted by the staff at MASC — services the district already has paid for with its annual dues to the statewide organization.
Amy Perry Mercier, a resident of Lanesborough, practicing attorney and vice chair of the district's Parent Advisory Council, called on the School Committee to eschew the expedited search in favor of a more conventional approach.
"I would ask that, as has been done historically, a member of the special education Parents Advisory Council board sit on the hiring committee for the new superintendent," Mercier wrote in an email read into the record by Steven Miller.
After citing the provision of Massachusetts General Law that creates PACs in school districts, Mercier continued.
"In its duties in advising the School Committee, it has historically occurred that members of the PAC have been on various hiring committees," Mercier wrote. "The reason it is important is that the Superintendent, as well as other administration officials, make policies and procedures which impact children who receive special education, including policies and procedures regarding to [sic] the education and safety of students with disabilities, as well as directives to follow Federal and State Special Education Law.
"The position of Superintendent is an important decision for this school committee. By failing to include [the] PAC in making hiring decisions, you are not permitting the PAC to fulfill its statutory obligations. … While I understand the urgency to have a Superintendent in place, this is not a decision to be taken in a rushed manner. All stakeholders need to be considered when hiring such critical personnel."
After hearing Mercier's and two other letters in opposition to the expedited search, School Committee Chair Christina Conry made a couple of points.
"The School Committee is dedicated, first and foremost, to the district," Conry said. "We continue to want to work hard toward building community. The School Committee also takes seriously its roles and responsibilities. Hiring a superintendent may be our absolutely greatest responsibility to the district.
"I would like to propose, since we are taking hits on social media, that it might be in the district's best interest to allow MASC to take on the screening process of applicants. That would keep applicants anonymous during the screening process in the event they haven't notified their employers of their outreach for a new position. Also, it might help to allay community fears that the School Committee has already hand picked candidates prior to the interview process. In addition, I have been assured by MASC that nobody outside the MASC staff will see the applicants because of the seriousness of potentially jeopardizing someone's current employment. It is important to note that MASC staff and its executive board are two different entities. No current or past district employees serve as part of the MASC staff."
One former district employee, former Assistant and later acting Superintendent Andrea Wadsworth, is a member of the 14-person MASC Board of Directors, occupying the Division VI chair on the board. Koocher, the executive director of the association, is hired by and reports to the board of directors.
The School Committee on Friday spent some time discussing how to involve members of the community in the expedited search process.
Conry again asked that residents who have questions for candidates submit them to her email at The School Committee committed to trying to incorporate some of those questions into a list of questions it will compile for the finalists during a meeting on either July 29 or 30. The committee already has a meeting posted for July 30 for the purpose of reviewing the school reopening plan Putnam has to submit to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on July 31.
On Monday, the School Committee reposted the originally scheduled July 30 meeting for July 29.
Assuming that interview questions can be drafted on July 29, the MASC agreed to schedule interview blocks of 60 to 75 minutes plus 30-minute virtual "meet and greets" for community members to interact with each finalist on July 30 and 31. The committee discussed using Aug. 1 for more "meet and greets" and interviews if there are too many finalists to accommodate on July 30 and 31.
The job listing on the MASC website specifies the new superintendent is to begin work in the district "August 3, 2020 or as soon as possible."
An Aug. 3 start date would assume that — after receiving applications up until July 28 — the interviews and selection could be completed by Aug. 2, the prospective candidate is coming from a job where he or she does not give any notice and the School Committee and new superintendent can negotiate a contract before Monday.
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