The Ayer Shirley Regional School Committee selected Adam Renda – currently chief innovation and intervention officer in the Fitchburg Public School District — as the next superintendent of schools, with a start date set for July 1.
Meeting at the high school Monday night, the in-person, members-only session was open to public viewing via Zoom, with no remote participation. The committee previously hosted meet and greets with each of the three candidates – Renda, Margaret Ferrick and Karen Zaleski — followed by interviews in public.
Selecting the superintendent was the only item on the agenda.
Discussion lasted about half an hour, with individual members stating their reasons for preferring one candidate over the other two, noting that all three were extremely well qualified for the position.
“It had to be someone who had been a teacher,” James Quinty said.
Renda began his career as a teacher in Fitchburg, where he has also held administrative positions, including assistant principal and principal. However, “I can honestly say that I’d be happy as a clam” with any of them, Quinty said.
Although all three candidates hold doctorate degrees in education, Renda’s role as a former classroom teacher made him a stand-out in the finalist group, in committee member Joseph Leone’s view.
Leone, a teacher himself, agreed that all three candidates were “outstanding,” he said, but Renda topped the list, particularly in terms of meeting the criteria people favored in a public survey, including academic diversity in hiring, staff retention and other issues.
Leone also said he was impressed by favorable statements from Renda’s colleagues in Fitchburg that backed his own assessment. “He talked the talk and walked the walk,” Leone said.
“This was a difficult decision,” Cheryl Simmons said, particularly because she “strongly favors… women in leadership positions.” In this case, however, she feels Renda is the right person for the job, having tackled difficult situations and come out on top.
Simmons also gave credit to outgoing Superintendent Mary Malone, who is retiring at the end of the school year. Malone was hired to lead the new regional school district seven years ago. Under her leadership, Simmons said she came to appreciate the importance of striving for excellence, not only in terms of students’ academic performance but also in hiring practices.
While any of the three candidates would have been “fine… we needed more than fine,” Simmons said. For that reason, among others, she believed Renda was the best choice, she said.
Jonathan Deforge, who did not run for re-election this time around, said the search committee had done such a great job picking three well-qualified finalists from a field of 21 applicants, it made the school board’s decision even more difficult. After much reflection, including reviewing the 235 responses to the public survey, he was “leaning toward” Renda, he said.
He also put weight on what Renda’ s colleagues had to say. Specifically, middle school principals who said the students who came to them during Renda’s elementary school leadership were better prepared. He was also described as a good mentor, Deforge said, another important factor. His conclusion was that those skills “could translate well here,” Deforge said.
“I’m not an educator… I don’t work in the schools,” said Michele Granger, adding that she’s “passionate” about the school system and about learning. Consequently, she put “a lot of thought” into this decision, she said, adding that it wasn’t easy to choose among three “capable, qualified candidates.”
She, too, favored Renda, Granger said, based in part on the committee’s site visit to Fitchburg. “He does a lot of mentoring, and excelled at it,” she said. He’s also a problem solver, she said, and that’s key, as well as strong communications skills, all of which were cited by his colleagues.
Chairman Joyce Reischutz praised the accomplishments of Margaret Ferrick, who is deputy superintendent of the Southbridge Public School District. Apparently, it’s in receivership, which poses unique challenges. Also, “there’s a lot of poverty” in the district, Reischutz added. So it hit hard when the schools shuttered last year due to the pandemic.
Ferrick did an “outstanding job” making sure at-risk students were served during the shutdown, Reischutz said, including meals delivered off site and opening up some of the school buildings for emergency use. But Reischutz sided with the rest of the group when it came to a vote.
The committee voted unanimously for Renda. After the vote, the chairman notified Renda, who accepted the job. His appointment is subject to successful contract negotiations.
Contacted for comment Tuesday morning, Renda said: “I am honored to be named the next superintendent of the Ayer Shirley Regional School District. I look forward to continuing the amazing legacy of Dr. Mary Malone and to being part of this great community.”