HARVARD -- The School Committee handled an unexpected issue at its meeting on Monday night: whether it should sign a $20,000 contract with a search firm to find a new superintendent or hire an internal candidate, Hildreth Elementary School principal Linda Dwight.
What made the discussion ticklish was that it occurred after Dwight and James O'Shea, principal of The Bromfield School, presented their school improvement plans for next year.
Dwight was sitting in the audience when board chairman SusanMary Redinger read her letter of interest for the district's top job.
"In fairness to Dr. Dwight and recognizing this is the first time we've been in this situation, are we attached to the process outlined, must we have a search?" Redinger asked.
Earlier in the year, the School Committee voted to hire a search firm to find a new superintendent of schools. But Redinger pointed out that the process allows the committee to rescind its vote if it is "presented with new information."
She recommended waiting a week, giving members time to mull over the issue and ask their neighbors what they think.
"In Harvard, we have very high expectations, and I want to make sure the next superintendent is fully supported," said committee member Kirsten Wright, who is also the committee's liaison to The Bromfield School Council.
Committee member Keith Cheveralls described the issue as "philosophical" and recommended that the committee weigh the advantages and disadvantages of abandoning an external search.
"We should do due diligence, be satisfied as a committee that we looked at this clearly," he said.
During the discussion, committee members were deliberate in avoiding using Dwight's name, although it was impossible to separate the flesh-and-blood candidate from the theoretical "internal candidate."
"This is dicey with the person sitting in the room," Redinger commented.
Dwight, who has served as principal for two years, was sitting in the second row, in a middle seat, and did not leave.
In her letter of interest to the committee, she presented herself as a candidate who understands the community and is an active member of it.
"When I look at areas of strength and improvement, I think of my own children and all of the other Harvard students," Dwight wrote.
In considering the pros and cons of hiring a superintendent from within the community, Cheveralls counted financial savings and career development as advantages.
"This is a small district, a small town, with few opportunities for career development. This is an institutional benefit that rarely occurs," he said.
Cheveralls also pointed to the financial savings if the committee goes with an internal candidate, roughly $20,000 that could be "deployed into the strategic plan."
He never referred to Dwight by name, although she is the only internal candidate.
Acting superintendent Connelly said the question that must be considered and answered when the committee meets on June 17 is whether the community will support an "internal candidate," forgoing a search process. He too, carefully avoided naming the candidate.
When it was time for commentary from interested citizens and the School Committee, the last item on the agenda before adjournment, Dwight was finally acknowledged by name. Redinger, the chairman, said these types of discussions are usually held in nonpublic session.
"I thought about leaving," Wright said good-naturedly, her face flushed.
Connelly, the interim superintendent summed up the discussion, giving high marks to committee members.
"You tackled a very awkward and complex issue tonight, and I'm very impressed," he said.