AYER – After 37 years in education, Mary Malone is retiring from the profession.
Malone announced she is stepping down as superintendent of the Ayer Shirley Regional School District during a school committee meeting on Jan. 20. She’s been in charge of the district for seven years and will officially step down on June 30.
“I am proud of my work and my service to the students, staff and families of this great school district,” Malone said at the meeting. “The towns of Ayer and Shirley are unique and similar in many ways. The biggest similarity is the commitment of all stakeholders to education. When I came to serve and made my first budget presentation to both towns in my first year, my pinnacle of advocating for a fair and equitable budget was, ‘Great schools create vibrant communities.’ Seven years later, this has not changed.”
Malone thanked school and town officials for showing support for the district in her time as the superintendent.
Under Malone’s leadership, the district has made a variety of accomplishments in multiple areas. These range from providing Dell Chromebooks to students at the Ayer Shirley Regional High School to the welcoming of a therapy dog to the halls of the district’s middle and high schools.
Malone has also been a major supporter of a proposed project to improve the outdoor athletic facilities at the high school, along with overseeing the hybrid method of learning in-person and remote during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It has broken my heart to witness the conditions for which students must adhere to in-school and never with a complaint or disregard for the new norms,” she explained at the meeting. “From preschool to grade 12, students wear their masks and stay distanced from their peers and teachers. Why? Because they want to be in school. This speaks volumes to the educational system we have in place and for the teachers and staff they so dearly love.”
During its Feb. 2 meeting, the school committee discussed the process of establishing Malone’s replacement. Glenn Koocher, executive director for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, or MASC, outlined his group’s recommended search strategies. Koocher noted at the meeting that it’s “a bit late in the year” for the committee to start a search for a full-time replacement and that it might be better to appoint an interim superintendent. With an expedited process and a small committee, Koocher said they could expect to hire by May.
“If we started a search group today, what’s the average process time,” school committee member Jonathan Deforge asked. “Do we need a vendor? I think we’d need help.”
Asked about next steps once that call has been made, Koocher recommended discussing the matter further with the chairperson, then gathering the necessary materials to work with.
Discussion followed, after which the committee voted unanimously to go with MASC, based in part on the premise that it was the same path taken for the last search, seven years ago, with a successful outcome.
“Whoever it was…they brought us Mary,” school committee member Joe Leone said.
Taking a page from “best practices,” the board said it would aim for a reasonable number for the search committee, with a balanced makeup. The model they came up with was a 14 member group, consisting of one parent and one staff member from each of the district’s four schools, one school committee member from each town, two school administrators and two high school students. The submission deadline is February 22 and can be submitted to Michelle Towne, administrative assistant to the superintendent, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Though preparing for the future, the school committee members still expressed appreciation and well-wishes for Malone during the Jan. 21 meeting.
“None of us can believe it was seven years and we know everything that you have accomplished, so thank you,” Committee Chair Joyce Reischutz said.
“You were exactly what we needed when this district combined and was off and running,” School Committee Vice Chair Cheryl Simmons added. “We needed a true leader and you have been that. People don’t know that it’s hard to convince you to take a day off on a weekend, never mind a vacation. You have put your heart and soul into this and you’ve worked tremendously hard.”
“I will continue to serve my school community with the passion, dedication and hard-work I committed to own July 1, 2014,” Malone said.
This articles contains contributions from reporter M.E. Jones.