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School board considers handling supt. search; decision tabled for the present

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HARVARD — The search for a full-time school superintendent will launch this fall.

Interim School Superintendent Joseph Connelly will hold over for a second year on a reduced-schedule basis.

School Committee member Patty Wenger said she, Connelly and Chair SusanMary Redinger met with Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, to chart a course for the search process.

Wenger said they “discussed the pros and cons” of hiring a private search firm versus the district conducting its own superintendent search. In either event, Connelly said Koocher strongly recommended that local decision makers have the opportunity to review all applications received, regardless of what semifinalists are suggested for the job.

Connelly said the best search launch window is September, since potential candidates are still wrapping up their current school years. A September launch would also provide added time in case the committee wishes to terminate and restart the search process in the event the applicant pool is not satisfactory.

Connelly provided a tentative timeline to the committee in which the board nails down the job duties this summer in order to advertise the post in mid September. A stakeholder focus group and surveys would gather community sentiment on what attributes are desired in the next superintendent.

In mid-October, a 12-member search committee could form, consisting of three teachers, three administrators, one or two School Committee members, three parents, and two community representatives. As proposed, the search committee would review community feedback and identify 10-12 candidates for interviews by mid November.

The School Committee could interview four to six semifinalists on Dec. 9, and narrow the pack to one to three finalists by Christmas break. Site visits, in-depth reference checks, and public question-and-answer sessions with the finalists could be conducted before a proposed Jan. 21 School Committee final vote to offer a three-year contact. If negotiations wrapped by Feb. 1, the incoming superintendent would have five months of overlap before Connelly’s June 30 departure date. The new superintendent would start July 1.

Redinger encouraged the use of online surveys to gauge community input, stating “focus groups are not really well attended.”

The committee postponed debate on whether or not to retain a search firm. Since Harvard is a member, MASC technical assistance on how to hire a superintendent is available for free. However, more detailed, hands-on assistance could be provided by MASC or a number of other firms in the field.

Redinger said MASC quoted $8,500 with an added $3,500 for advertising costs and materials. Redinger wondered if the committee had the “bandwidth and time” to devote to a longtime frame.

School Committee member Keith Cheveralls said Connelly’s work schedule is about to taper off for the summer, so his time and availability can be banked for the coming school year. Still, Cheveralls suggested the committee “could do it on our own” and come out with a “better product.” Cheveralls said the degree of free MASC technical assistance “is substantial” but added he remained open to “going down that path” of hiring a search firm.

Cheveralls and Redinger volunteered to work together to flesh out a draft set of core job responsibilities for the next superintendent.

Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata and at facebook.com/mary.arata.

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