By Mary E. Arata
HARVARD -- And then there were none.
None of the three finalists publically named in late December remain in the mix to become Harvard's next superintendent of schools. The last withdrawal was made minutes before midnight on Sunday, Jan. 27 when the sole remaining candidate -- Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School Superintendent Scott Carpenter -- emailed Harvard School Committee Chairman SusanMary Redinger to remove his name from consideration.
"Unfortunately, after reflection over the past days, your search process and timeline have become less than desirable, and I would now not leave my present position for Harvard," said Carpenter. "I will be withdrawing from your search to focus my energy elsewhere."
The first finalist to drop out of consideration, Dr. Judith Paolucci of Yarmouth, Maine, accepted the superintendency in the Leicester School District within a few days of being identified as a Harvard finalist. Citing personal reasons, Dr. Jessica Huizenga of Burlington withdrew her candidacy on Jan. 14.
At a specially-called Jan. 18 meeting, the committee agreed it did not wish to select a superintendent from a field of one. Committee member, Bob Sullebarger, further indicated that he would not vote for Carpenter in any event. The meeting concluded with a charge to Redinger and committee member Keith Cheveralls to dip into the 31-resume applicant pool again to see if other candidates warranted a second look.
However, at the outset of Monday's meeting Redinger said she and Cheveralls came to quickly agree "a review would not be appropriate" in light of the fact that the superintendent search subcommittee had already combed the field for acceptable finalists. "For us to go back and reconsider was not necessary, so we were trusting the work that was originally done."
The search "is over" and "closed," said Redinger. There was no committee vote on exactly how to proceed to fill the post.
"We've been advised that conducting a new search in the spring is not optimal" since "we might see the same pool over again," said Redinger. She added the search subcommittee recommends "that we pursue an interim superintendent for next year. We have time now on our side to consider our options and not rush forward."
Among the possibilities could be to "pursue Dr. Connelly to see if he's interested," said Redinger. Dr. Joseph Connelly of Reading is in his second year as Harvard's Interim School Superintendent following the second consecutive annual granting of a 'critical need waiver' to Harvard.
The special dispensation allows Connelly, who otherwise formally retired in 2007, to work on an interim basis into his retirement years while Harvard studied what superintendency model it preferred. After considering the range from a part-time to a "unionized" or shared superintendent with neighboring Boxboro, the committee opted to stick with a full-time, Harvard-only superintendent model.
Connelly did no comment on whether he'd be interested in staying aboard for a third school year. Following the Jan. 18 meeting, Connelly declined comment on that prospect in deference to the committee's deliberations.
Redinger said it may be wise to "debrief and solicit feedback" from the original supt. screening committee "on what worked and what didn't work so if we re-launch we have the benefit of the wisdom gained." Maybe different search criteria or processes would result, or maybe a recommendation would be to hire a private screening agency. "All are possibilities as we move forward," said Redinger.
Why wait to search again, asked committee member Kirsten Wright. Redinger said that was the recommendation of Connelly and the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) which aided in collecting resumes in the Harvard search and trained the subcommittee on screening procedures.
"Pretty much based on the timeline you followed this year, the October-to-December window was ideal," said Connelly. Restarting in February or March is "certainly very different than what we considered to be the ideal timeframe."
The idea of hiring a firm "keeps coming up and I feel we at least need to look at it," said Wright. Cheveralls said an agency might not have mattered in these "odd" circumstances where the finalists withdrew. "We could have been in the same situation with a search firm but having spent $25,000 or more."
Wright said she conducted a web search and found 25 superintendent searches elsewhere that derailed, with 17 districts having used an agency. . "Certainly it happens," said Wright. "But a piece of me says I don't really know what the benefits of having a search firm are and I feel we need to find that out."
Former school committee member Stu Sklar served on the search subcommittee. He said if the superintendent oversees 70 percent of the town's budget, then the committee shouldn't worry about spending money on a private agency. "It's a good use of money," said Sklar. "No, it's not a guarantee but they can help tailor the person to the job."
Sklar urged quick action to fill the post as soon as possible, calling the hiring the "most important decision you can make while you're serving on the school committee." Sklar also urged the public release of the criteria used to rank the 31 applicants.
Harvard selectman Tim Clark likewise urged quick action to hire a permanent superintendent now. Clark cited the recommendations in the recently-released Bromfield School accreditation report which he suggested demanded a more consistent approach to improve the school.
"This district is somewhat rudderless without a permanent superintendent," said Clark. "No offense, Joe."
Clark said the district needed a permanent administrative leader who "embraces the philosophy of the district ... we're going to need some visionary thinking in this department."
Clark asked the committee to "accelerate your search and think beyond what you think a superintendent looks or smells like" including applicants who may not have yet served as a superintendent in another district.
Search launched for "Director of Pupil Services"
Connelly provided the committee with a draft job posting for a new director of Special Education services to replace Pam DeGregorio, who retired in December. Michael Debrule serves as Interim SPED Director until the permanent post is filled, and he's agreed to help in the search for a permanent hire.
Connelly said a survey of like-sized Massachusetts school districts finds that the annual salary for the post in Fiscal Year 2012 revealed a range of $97,000 to $130,000. Finding a set of comparable districts was tough because "Harvard continues to have a small enrollment" at 1,200 students, said Connelly.
If DeGregorio had stayed aboard another year, Connelly said her salary would have increased to just under $108,000 including a 2 percent cost of living adjustment. Connelly recommended a negotiable salary in the range of of $100,000 to $110,000.
Connelly also recommended the job title be changed to Director of Pupil Services to encompass the grant writing and civil rights compliance documentation DeGregorio also performed. "She wore many other hats," said Connelly.
Connelly proposed posting the job in the Boston Globe with applications accepted through February, with a screening committee empanelled and charged with forwarding the names of three finalists. The committee snickered in light of the 3-finalist superintendent search snafu that had just played out.
Connelly suggested a committee vote on April 8 with a July 1 start date pending negotiation of a mutually agreeable 3-year professional services contract with the ultimate hire.
The committee voted to advertise without citing a specific salary range but instead state the salary, subject to negotiation, would be "regionally competitive."
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.