Superintendent Search Committee Acts to Correct Missteps: New Co-Chair Elected


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Ten Applications Have Been Received for Superintendent Position

The Regional School Committee (RSC) learned over the previous weekend that the Search for a New Superintendent (SNS) committee is a public body, meaning that their February 10 meeting that was held without public access was in violation of Open Meeting Law (OML). SNS Chair Sarah Marshall told the RSC at its February 27 meeting that the committee will need to redo the vote for a co-chair because the OML violation rendered the previous meeting’s vote for a co-chair invalid. She added that the 14-year-old student, Inanna Balkin, chosen at the February 10 meeting  is not familiar with OML and so would have difficulty presiding over the meetings if Marshall was not present. Marshall suggested that RSC member Jennifer Shiao be chosen as a third co-chair.

The SNS committee was set up to have two co-chairs. Irv Rhodes asked why Marshall was asking the RSC to appoint another co-chair if the committee was going to elect a new one at their next meeting, scheduled for the next day. Rhodes and Bridget Hynes agreed that the SNS committee should choose its own co-chair and make sure it is someone who is familiar with OML and is able to chair a meeting in Marshall’s absence.

Martha Toro Elected as Co-Chair of Superintendent Search Committee
At the SNS meeting on February 28, Marshall explained that OML requires that all votes taken at virtual meetings need to be by roll call. Therefore, the election of Inanna Balkin as a co-chair on February 10 was invalid, because Marshall stopped counting votes when she reached 11 affirmative votes, a majority of the 20-member committee. She said that, although she has been impressed with Balkin’s input over the past two weeks, she felt that someone with more experience would be better as the co-chair.

At the earlier meeting, Martha Toro, Ellisha Walker, and Markyta Ables-Conyers were nominated for the position, but Balkin was selected before they were voted on.

Shiao then nominated Toro; Ables-Conyers nominated Shiao, who declined; and Toro was then elected unanimously to serve with Marshall as co-chair.

Search Firm Receives Extensive Input from the Community
In January, Ralph Ferrie and Candis Finan of the executive search firm McPherson and Jacobson, met with Amherst Regional Public School (ARPS) students, employees, directors, school committee members, and community members, including a dedicated LGBTQIA+ session. There was also a meeting of Spanish-speaking parents of current or former ARPS students, facilitated by the Collaborative for Educational Services. All meetings were held over Zoom. There was also an on-line survey.

Ferrie and Finan asked the same four questions to each group, and received several common answers among the stakeholders, as reported in the Stakeholder Input Report:

  1. What are the advantages of living in the Amherst/Pelham area if a candidate needs to relocate here?
  2. What are some of the positive aspects of working within the district?
    1. Special needs (AIMS) program
    2. Spanish immersion program
    3. Arts: performing arts and music
    4. Dedicated teaching staff
  3. What are going to be the major challenges that the new superintendent will have to address to be successful?
    1. Lack of sensitivity for what minority groups are facing
    2. Mistreatment of trans students in middle school with continued lack of transparency and failure to institute changes
    3. Lack of trust
    4. Moving the 6th grade to the middle school
    5. The need to serve three school committees
    6. Discipline issues
    7. School choice
  4. What traits would you like to see in a new superintendent?
    1. Great listener who can establish trust
    2. Thick skin
    3. Ability to deal with a very involved community 
    4. Collaborative leader who involves student input
    5. Has demonstrated development of successful DEI programs
    6. Can deal with fiscal challenges and capital projects
    7. Commitment to remain in the district long-term

The full report can be read here.
Ferrie said that many of the points raised are common concerns among school districts, such as fiscal restraints, trust issues, and concerns about bullying. Finan noted that when doing this kind of outreach in other schools, the most recent crisis is typically what is emphasized.  In Amherst, the bullying of LGBTQIA+ students at  the middle school last year was highlighted by many respondents. Ferrie cautioned that change takes time and that the district should give the chosen individual time and support to adjust and be successful.

Ten Applications Received 
The deadline for submitting applications was last week. Ten applications were received. Ferrie stated that it was important to maintain confidentiality until the search committee decides on the finalists. The SNS committee will review the applications in a closed, executive session and decide which applicants to interview. After the initial interviews, two or three finalists will be chosen for interviews that will be made public. The School Committee will then decide on which applicant to hire for the superintendent position.

Ferrie and Finan submitted a list of 25 possible interview questions to the SNS committee. Committee members then commented on those questions and added their own . Shiao suggested that Co-chairs Marshall and Toro review the questions and comments, and develop a list for the committee to vote on. Ferrie reminded the committee that each candidate must be asked the same questions. 

The search firm also provided a potential rubric to use in evaluating candidates at the interviews. Shiao noted that the school committees (Amherst, Union 26, and Regional) felt strongly that the chosen candidate have a minimum of 10 years’ experience working in public schools, so the SNS committee should not interview anyone who does not meet this qualification. The school committees also preferred that the candidate has served at least two years as a superintendent, has a master’s degree or doctorate, a history of being an educator in public schools, and experience in a multicultural and multilingual environment.

The SNS committee will meet next Tuesday, March 5 at 6:30 to finalize the interview questions and begin evaluating the candidates’ resumes. The candidate evaluation will be done in executive session, and will not be open to the public.

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1 thought on “Superintendent Search Committee Acts to Correct Missteps: New Co-Chair Elected

  1. I would recommend that any applicant for the position , to run the other way .
    You will not make a difference , despite your talents . You will tread water at best .
    The underlying system is problematic .

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