AYER/SHIRLEY -- The Ayer Shirley Regional School Committee has begun the search process for a new school district superintendent. The committee's goal is to have the new superintendent in place on or before July 1, 2014.
The school committee began working with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) to launch the search after it received a November 4 letter from the new regional school district's first superintendent, Carl Mock, indicating his plans not to renew his contract. The contract ends on June 30, 2014.
MASC Field Director of Information and Technology Michael Gilbert presented the committee with a superintendent search timeline during the committee's Dec. 3 meeting.
Gilbert said that between now and mid-January, the MASC would conduct focus group meetings in the community, talk to staff, and set up at least two evening meetings--one in each community--to give parents and community members an opportunity to weigh in on their expectations of a new superintendent in the next three to five years.
He stated that he would leave it up to the committee to decide if meetings would also be held with the towns' boards of selectmen, and that he would likely be reaching out to the two towns' administrators.
Gilbert and the committee agreed that community groups would likely include members of the Ayer Shirley Education Foundation's board of directors, the ASPTO, and other educationally focused groups, as well as senior citizens from both communities.
Gilbert recommended that the committee simultaneously make available the link to an anonymous online survey that would give a wider range of individuals the opportunity to have a voice in the selection process.
The committee agreed to deliver its remaining input for the survey within the next couple of days, and Gilbert said that by mid-January he would tabulate the results to present to the committee.
The list of key qualities and responsibilities that would become the profile of the ideal candidate would come from the school committee and focus group information, Gilbert said. That list will be printed in priority order in the advertising brochure that will be on the MASC and ASRSD websites, and available to hand out.
Gilbert asked the committee to quickly make a decision about whether or not it would pay for an advertisement for the position in Education Week, a national online publication. The cost of the ad would be about $2,500, he said.
School committee member Dan Gleason expressed concern that if the committee did not take out the ad, the committee "may be missing out on some good candidates."
"Most candidates have some kind of ties to Massachusetts, but if they are from a large distance, those people would see it in Education Week," Gilbert responded. "But it's probably not a large pool."
Gilbert suggested that the district set aside a total of $18,000 to $20,000 for the search.
School committee member Jim Quinty asked Gilbert if he had worked with districts that look for business professionals to fill superintendent positions.
"We have had conversations about this," Gilbert replied. "In some states it is fairly easy for that to occur. When it does occur there have been some successes and many failures."
The one instance he knows of in Massachusetts, which lasted for about 18 months, was a huge failure, he said.
"The person did not have an education background and the district is still recovering. It is difficult for a nontraditional candidate to get the necessary certifications in Massachusetts," said Gilbert. "It takes a significant amount of time, and I think the culture of public schools is very different than for businesses. Some things can translate and some can't.
"While we don't discourage alternative candidates from applying, we certainly would not rank them in the same way we would rank someone with the certification and background in education."
The deadline for applicants for the superintendent position will likely be Feb. 14, and the eight to 10 finalists identified by Feb. 18.
Gilbert recommended a screening committee of from nine to 11 people, with the PTO selecting the parents, and the teachers' union appointing the staff.
He suggested asking people from the community to submit letters of interest that would be "pulled out of a hat."
"My job is to keep them focused on the selection criteria you set forward," he said. "Using that criteria, we do the paper screening, so you get eight to 10 people who, at least on paper, fulfill the search criteria."
For parents and staff, he recommended two from each building, and for administration he suggested allowing the building administrators to select one principal or assistant principal to represent them.
The committee discussed having four staff, four parents, two community members, two administrators, one high school student, and two support staff on the screening committee, but did not yet commit to a definitive number.
The screening committee is expected to first meet with School Committee Chairman Pat Kelly in early February, and begin its work on Feb. 25.
The screening committee's semi-finalists are scheduled to be interviewed in early March, after which the committee will be charged with nominating three to five finalists.
The MASC plans to develop a site visit schedule with the school committee on March 11. Site visits are expected to commence the week of March 17, and final interviews, the last week of March.
Gilbert said that he looked at communities similar to Ayer Shirley based upon district size and ability to pay. Some of the communities he researched based upon size were Ashburnham-Westminster, East Bridgewater, Ipswich, Millbury, and Uxbridge.
In 2013, those districts, which have up to 2,100 students, paid their superintendents between $123,000 and $173,000. The average salary was $143,600, and the median, $145,000.
The salary range for schools Gilbert termed "major competitors" was $132,000 to $170,000, with an average salary of $152,000 and a median of $153,000.
His recommendation was that the committee set the salary range at between $155,00 and $165,000. Ayer Shirley's current superintendent is paid an annual salary of $148,000.
The school committee agreed to come up with a salary range by the first of the year.