Track and Field Renovation Moves Ahead
Report on the Joint Meeting of the Regional and Union 26 School Committees, October 3, 2023
This meeting was conducted in person and was recorded. It can be viewed here.
Amherst School Committee Elects Officers
Prior to the Regional School Committee (RSC) and Union 26 meeting, the reconstituted Amherst School Committee (SC) elected officers for the remainder of the year. Irv Rhodes was elected to be chair, Jennifer Shiao to be vice Chair, and Katie Lazdowski to be secretary. All votes were unanimous (5-0). The three officers will serve on the Union 26 committee. Roger Wallace was selected as the SC representative to the Elementary School Building Committee.
Initial Steps in Superintendent Search
Glenn Koocher and Liz Lafond from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) gave a presentation on the steps involved in a superintendent search. Koocher said that the law states only that the appointment must occur at a public meeting, so the SC has a lot of leeway in finding the next superintendent. He suggested that the committee begin the process by deciding what qualities and skills it wants in a superintendent, and advertising the advantages of the region and living in a college town. Experience with a regional school system was suggested as an important qualification. Brochures advertising the position are posted electronically on the MASC and Superintendents’ Association websites. The latter is a nationwide network, and it costs little to produce and post the brochure.
Koocher stressed that the state attorney general does not permit the SC itself to do the initial review of applicants if it wants a confidential screening process in the early stages. Therefore, he said, the appointment of a search committee is essential. He said that search committees need to be large enough to include necessary representatives of constituent groups. The average size is about 11 members, but MASC has worked with committees with up to 27.
Superintendent Search Subcommittee Proposal Discussed
The superintendent search subcommittee (SSS), consisting of Shiao (Amherst), Anna Heard (Shutesbury), and Margaret Stancer and Bill Sherr (Pelham), met on September 27 to create a proposal for establishing a timeline, hiring a search firm, and appointing the full search committee for a new superintendent. The proposed timeline is to hire a search firm and determine the composition of the search committee in October; gather community input and develop a job description in November; post the job by December 1; review applications and conduct screening interviews in December; determine finalists in January; have public forums with the finalists in February; and offer a position to the chosen candidate by March 1. The subcommittee suggested two rounds of interviews before selecting the finalists; Lafond thought that this might not be legal.
The SSS suggested that the following categories of residents be represented on the search committee, although some residents can fulfill two categories:
■ Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS) or Amherst Regional High School (ARHS) staff ■ Amherst elementary staff ■ Pelham elementary staff ■ Building principal ■ Administrator ■ Direct reporter to superintendent ■ Educator ■ Special ed educator ■ Non-educator staff ■ Amherst Pelham Education Association (APEA) ■ Association of Professional Administrators (APA) ■ American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) ■ United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) ■ ARMS or ARHS parent/guardian ■ Amherst elementary parent/guardian ■ Pelham elementary parent/guardian ■ Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) parent/guardian ■ ARHS student ■ Identify as LGBTQIA+ ■ Identify as BIPOC ■ Identify as a person with a disability ■ Identify as other historically marginalized identity ■ Speaker of language other than English ■ Municipal government representative ■ Community member. The SSS is anticipating a search committee of 15 to 20 members.
To avoid bias, Shiao envisioned an online application in which applicants can check off boxes that apply to them until all categories are represented. Once the search committee is chosen, it will screen all applications and decide which applicants merit an initial interview.
Weaver thought community input would be more important in developing questions for the interviews than in creating a job description because much of the job description is prescribed by the position. Doing the job description first, however, would allow the position to be posted earlier. Roger Wallace agreed. Katie Lazdowski thought it is important to first determine the needs of the community by obtaining input.
Rhodes objected to any decisions being made at this meeting because no vote on the subject had been posted on the agenda. Shiao pointed out that all suggestions made by the SSS need to be ratified by the RSC and Union 26. She said she hoped the larger group would at least empower the SSS to begin speaking to and evaluating search firms. Despite Rhodes’ initial objections, the members of SSS were charged by unanimous votes from the RSC and Union 26 members with refining the timeline, starting the process of choosing a search firm, and proposing a process for appointing members of the search committee.
In public comment, Laura Hunter suggested that the search committee include two students, since students must often miss meetings due to conflicting activities. Also, two students would allow them to support each other in a large committee of adults.
Slaughter Announces the Passing of Barry Brooks Sr.
At the start of his superintendent report, Interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter announced that long term educator Barry Brooks Sr. had died earlier that day. Brooks was a retired guidance counselor and was instrumental in the establishment of Amherst’s A Better Chance (ABC) program. He and his late wife Judy, a 30-year teacher at Pelham Elementary School, served as the first house parents at the ABC house. Irv Rhodes said, “Barry, was so many things to this community and it was an honor to have known him. His contributions to the schools of Amherst will never be forgotten, especially his role in establishing the ABC house.”
Designer Sought for Track and Field Project
Interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter that the district is seeking a designer for the upgrade of the track and the enclosed field at the high school. Borrowing of $1.5 million has been approved by the Amherst Town Council and by the Town Meetings of Shutesbury, Leverett and Pelham for the regional school budget and additional money has been allocated from Amherst Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds and free cash from Amherst’s operating budget. The CPA committees in Leverett and Pelham declined to give CPA funds to the project if it uses artificial turf on the enclosed field, and the Boards of Health of all four towns recommended against artificial turf. Pelham and Shutesbury town meetings voted not to support additional funds for the project if artificial turf is included.
Slaughter wants to get cost estimates on several options for the project, and then the RSC can make a choice based on the available funding. He said the plan to reorient the track and expand it to eight lanes and to improve the drainage of the enclosed field and surrounding area is complex, and he would like to begin the process of obtaining a detailed plan which could then serve as a construction document.
Heard asked what options will be costed out, since former SC member Peter Demling wrote into the previously approved motion for borrowing that the funds could only be used if artificial turf was used for the infield. Slaughter said that if the towns decide not to use artificial turf, the RSC must rescind the original financing agreement and reauthorize a new one. All four towns must approve the project as designed, so he would like the detailed proposal finished by the time of the spring town meetings of Leverett, Pelham, and Shutesbury.
Town to Hire Part-time Interim Finance Director
Because Slaughter is now serving as interim superintendent, it is impossible for him to fulfill all the duties of a finance director as well. Therefore, he would like to hire a part-time interim finance director to work about half-time until a permanent superintendent is hired. Slaughter wrote a draft job description. He is hoping to find someone who is retired from a similar position who possesses the necessary license or can obtain emergency certification. He will evaluate the applicants, but the RSC must sign off on the hire.
Slaughter also said he is working on a complete list of student activities, so that the RSC can approve their fundraising. He said that student activity funds are raised by students, and students determine how they are used. They can purchase equipment, contribute to a program, or donate to a charity. He noted that there are some clubs that are no longer active who still have money in their accounts, which must be used.
Sherr asked for regular updates on how the new policies to respect and protect LGBTQIA+ youth are working, specifically the pronoun registry, the training of teachers and staff, and a listing of instances of bullying and how they were handled. Weaver said that she wants the RSC to have a discussion about being able to see the Title IX report, because “if we are going to be making policy about where the breakdowns in procedure occurred, it is important that we have as much information as possible about everything that happened.” Rhodes noted that the RSC will not be able to see the full Title IX report due to personnel issues, but it is important that the RSC see enough of the report to know that the breakdowns have been corrected and that the new policies are sufficient to protect students.
Renata Shepard came to the meeting to suggest that the regional schools offer middle school boys’ soccer and indoor track activities, which her older children participated in but which are no longer offered.