HARVARD — There was certainly a mind-numbing list of possibilities for the Harvard School Committee to consider in the wake of unforeseen events that have played out over the last month. Since they were publically announced shortly before Christmas, two of three named finalists for consideration as Harvard’s next school superintendent have withdrawn from consideration.
Dr. Judith Paolucci of Yarmouth, Maine instead accepted the superintendency in Leicester, while Dr. Jessica Huizenga of Burlington withdrew hours before the committee’s Jan. 14 meeting where they were to consider the remaining candidate pool. Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School Superintendent Scott Carpenter remains the singular named candidate in the mix.
Ultimately, the committee voted unanimously to re-energize the superintendent screening subcommittee to review the candidate pool. There were 31 applicants, eight semi- finalists and three named finalists. A subcommittee of 13 volunteers did the work in screening resumes gathered.
Site visits and reference checks were conducted over the holidays on Huizenga and Carpenter. The two attended community Q&A sessions, met with teachers and staff and toured the town’s two schools to on Jan. 10 and 11.
Committee Chair SusanMary Redinger listed multiple approaches to take- offer the post to Carpenter, reviewing the candidate pool, or scouting other are superintendents in the area. Also up for consideration — restarting the search “from square one” with another search committee and new posting or by hiring an outside consultant to conduct the screening process.
Perhaps Harvard could seek another critical need waiver. Harvard was granted two over the last two years that permitted the hiring and retention of present interim School Superintendent Joseph Connelly. Maybe Connelly could stay aboard for the whole or portion of the upcoming school year, Redinger pondered.
Connelly declined comment on that prospect. When asked after the meeting, Connelly deferred instead to the committee’s chosen path of reviewing the resume pool on hand.
During deliberations, Connelly advised “there are pros and cons to any and all of those options.” said Connelly. “I had the benefit of observing the entire process. This has nothing to do with the search process to date…These things happen, but the process in place was very successful.”
The search committee was actually disbanded, said Redinger. After it turned over the finalists names, “There was no intention of that group to operate as a committee beyond that point.”
“I see this as one of if not the most important decisions the School Committee makes,” said committee member Kirsten Wright. “I was prepared to choose the best candidate for the district based on a choice so I am not comfortable moving forward because I don’t have a choice with this particular candidate. It’s nothing personal towards him, but if feel it’s such an important decision that I’d like to have a choice.”
“I’d say that I was not prepared to support the remaining candidate,” said committee member Bob Sullebarger. “For me it’s not a matter of where there is a choice available.”
“Perhaps the subcommittee should re-engage,” suggested Redinger. “Review the pool of applicants to see if there are any we’d recommend to put forth by interview by the School Committee.”
“Perhaps some of the others may have taken jobs elsewhere,” suggested committee member Patty Wenger. Redinger said of the eight semifinalists, four are semifinalists in other district searches, with two of those four named finalists.
The ideal time to cast nets for a superintendent is from October through December, said Connelly. “Anytime after that, you’re potentially losing some of the stronger pool of candidates … but you never know.”
“What of the possibility of getting Joe for another year,” asked Wenger. “Good?”
Redinger said she hadn’t yet checked with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to get a sense of whether another critical need waivers would be granted. Redinger said 85 percent of waiver requests are accepted but “it could be too soon to apply for that.”
The Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) collected the resumes for Harvard. Redinger said the MASC is currently collecting applications for six districts including the Lakeview/Freetown District where Huizenga is serving out the remainder of the year as interim superintendent. Two other searches had closed, three others were open and one (Wachusett Regional) had an application deadline of March 1.
“We’re fighting over the same pool,” noted Redinger. MASC had repeatedly advised Harvard “We had perfect timing to attract the best candidate possible,” said Redinger.
While the timeframe is a “challenge,” Connelly said “the leg work has already been done.” That included constructing an alluring brochure for candidate consideration, training the subcommittee on reviewing resumes and conducting interviews. Connelly said the work a consultant would perform has been completed already.
“It’s been a large investment of time and energy and I don’t know that I have it in me to have a full-on search like we just did,” said Redinger. “Yes this is the most important thing we do but we have a school district that needs attention. I don’t want to put six months of this entire year into another search like I did on the first three months.”
“I’d do it [a fresh search] if I felt there’d be a number of qualified candidates to search from but I’m not convinced the timing is right,” said Redinger. “I will do what it takes to find somebody great but I need to know the game is winnable before I put my hat in.”
Committee member Keith Cheveralls served on the search subcommittee. “There were several on my short list that didn’t make the cut. I may want to go back and have a second look. Maybe there is an opportunity there that’s worth exploring.”
“I’m fine with that approach,” said Redinger, who likewise served on the search subcommittee. “I identified four myself that didn’t make the final cut that I’d like to look at again.”
But Cheveralls said “I’m also very mindful that we have a candidate who is still out there — Scott Carpenter. I’d like this committee to be extremely thoughtful and sensitive on how to communicate this to Scott.” Cheveralls wanted it made clear — the committee only wished to have other finalists for consideration. “We need to be mindful that Mr. Carpenter was a very viable candidate … still is.”
The committee unanimously agreed to re-authorize the superintendent search subcommittee to review the applicant pool again and report back to the school committee as soon as possible.
Any other outside search was put on hold. “Otherwise there’s too much going on at the same time,” advised Connelly.
Cheveralls said that after the Jan. 14 “shock” of Huizenga’s withdrawal he’s determined that “nobody could have written this in the wildest fictional epic that they wanted to write. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances. We’ll forever wonder why it happened this way. Monday was not a pleasant experience.”
Sullebarger said ‘the community made it really clear about how they feel about the quality of the superintendent that we hire. The School Committee understands and shares that posture.”
Follow Mary Arata on twitter.com/maryearata.