I've had a lot of questions -- on this blog, in person, via private email/phone -- over the last few days about the events of the last week, and I want to take this opportunity to clarify a few points (to the best of my ability, within the confines of the law) about where we are, how we got there, and where I think we should be going.
1. Last Wednesday (March 3rd), all School Committee members received a set of evaluations completed by senior staff who worked with Dr. Rodriguez (principals, assistant principals, senior central office staff).
2. On Friday (March 5th), I was called in the early afternoon and told that an emergency executive session had been scheduled for that evening at 6 pm.
3. On Monday (March 8th), we attended an executive session, and a statement was released (as you've seen by now) stating that Dr. Rodriguez and the School Committee had reached an agreement that he would no longer work in the district.
4. On Tuesday (March 9th), we attended a School Committee meeting in which we expected to determine a plan for leadership in the district.
So, this means that less than a week passed from receiving the evaluations to making the decision to appoint Maria Geryk as interim superintendent for 16 months.
I have several concerns about the process - and since one of the main goals I have in doing this blog, and one of the principles I ran for SC on, is communication, I'd like to share those.
First, I believe that the SC should have taken the time to get comments from the public PRIOR to appointing an interim for a 16 month period. If we had only made a 4-month appointment, that would seem different, but a 16-month position is a very long time, and I believe that we owed it to the community to allow some comments. We could have easily postponed this decision for one week to allow time for parents, teachers, staff, and/or community members to share their thoughts about how best to proceed. That at least would have allowed for greater communication and transparency in the process of selecting a new superintendent (even a temporary superintendent), and frankly transparency seems really important at this time.
Second, I believe that appointing an interim superintendent for 16 months really deserves more thought and attention than a single hour or two discussion on one evening -- by people who were already 2 hours into the meeting before it began AND by people who were in the third long (3+ hour) meeting in 5 days. This is not a recipe for good decision-making. I don't think we did the community, or Maria Geryk, a service by making such a rush decision.
Third, the SC ultimately chooses the superintendent -- not the staff. And it was striking to me that virtually all SC members initially spoke in favor of at least trying to mount a search (me, Steve, Irv, Kathleen, Kathy, Debbie, and Haley - the student representative). Yet the staff (principals and central office staff) then clearly spoke against conducting a search, and ultimately, their views led a majority of SC members to change their minds. At a minimum, I think we could have contacted a few search firms to ask questions regarding the feasibility of conducting a search at this time -- and although I understand that finding a good superintendent takes time, I think it is also possible that were could have attracted a strong superintendent at this time (remembering that Jere Hochman was not selected by Bedford until late May). And although staff spoke about how time consuming such a search would be, that work is obviously going to have to occur - the only question is whether it occurs this spring or this fall!
Fourth, we could easily have appointed Maria as interim superintendent for four months, WHILE we conducted a search for a one-year (or permanent) interim. Maria then could have applied for this position, and if she emerged as the best candidate, obviously she would have been given that job. So I guess I don't understand why 6 members of the committee (all five non-Amherst members, plus Andy) voted against conducting a search for an interim superintendent when it was quite clear that Maria could have been a candidate for this search, and thus clearly would have been selected IF she emerged as the best candidate. That could ultimately have led to the exact same situation we are in, but in a way that would have allowed the community to see that we diligently considered multiple candidates and that we appointed the best person.
Finally, I think it is understandable that the staff would prefer to have Maria Geryk appointed - she is a known, she is familiar, and she thus provides stability. I certainly was in favor of having her serve as interim this time last year (after Helen/Al departed). But as I expressed at the meeting last night, I see our district as very, very insular, and I don't think that is a real strength -- and hiring Maria continues that insularity. I see the most significant contribution Dr. Rodriguez made to our district as bringing in experts (Dr. Hamer last summer, Dr. Beers this fall/winter) to examine what we do from the perspective of an outsider. I believe we learned a ton from these reports, and they point out some real areas in which we need to improve. I just don't know if I see an internal candidate as the best person to facilitate such change (again, had we conducted a real search, we could have asked Maria, and other candidates, for their strategies for accomplishing such change, etc.).
Nonetheless, the School Committee has voted, and has made the decision to appoint Maria Geryk to serve for 16 months as the interim superintendent, and as a School Committee member, I am committed to trying to work effectively with her (just as I was committed to working with Dr. Rodriguez, although I had opposed his hiring last March). And I will hope that she is indeed able to move our district forward in the goals that we have set so that we don't lose yet more time -- because we don't get those years back for the kids currently in our schools. And as Dr. Beers said last night (with respect to the middle school) -- it is a good school. But it could be a very good or even great school. I believe that statement holds equally well for our district -- it is a good district, but it could (and really should) be a great district.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.