By NICK GRABBE
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
AMHERST - The Regional School Committee decided Tuesday against starting an immediate search for a replacement for former Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez.
Instead, Maria Geryk, who had been assistant superintendent under Rodriguez, will serve as interim head of the school system through June 2011. It's the same job she held for four months a year ago.
The committee voted 6-4 not to seek a new superintendent in the wake of Rodriguez's agreement Monday with the School Committee that he would leave the post after negative performance evaluations by staff. The committee has not disclosed what financial arrangement it reached with Rodriguez.
Committee member Catherine Sanderson favored starting the search process immediately, and said it may be possible to get a new superintendent in place by July.
The committee should look at unsuccessful candidates for superintendent in Easthampton, Longmeadow, Newton and other towns that have recently done searches, she said.
The consultant who found Rodriguez, Jacqueline Roy of Dennisport, "failed in her obligations to the district" and "owes us another search for free," Sanderson said.
She disagreed with the notion that a negative environment created by anonymous blog posts was a key factor in the Rodriguez debacle, and shouldn't be a deterrent to future candidates. "Superintendents have tough jobs everywhere," she said.
In fact, Amherst could be a very appealing community for a "rising star who's demonstrated achievement in a diverse district," perhaps as an assistant superintendent or curriculum director, she said. Involved parents, the academic community, and high pay could be powerful lures, she said.
Committee member Steve Rivkin said he looked at an ad that Newton placed for a superintendent recently. It said it was seeking a strong leader and manager, an innovator, someone committed to the education of the whole child, with intellectual engagement and an ability to work well with teachers. He said he liked these attributes and said he'd like to see a "transformative leader with solid experience somewhere else."
Kathy Weilerstein of Pelham said a search was worth trying but is very risky. "Our intention should not be to get anybody in there regardless," she said.
Rivkin responded that a search could be futile but is "only risky if we settle" for someone the district doesn't really want. He said the committee should move ahead aggressively, and "reach out to people who didn't think they were quite ready for being superintendent."
Committee member Irv Rhodes said there's only a "50-50 chance" of having a new superintendent in place by July, "but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try." He said the committee should not engage Roy's firm again.
It should be possible to find a good candidate who's willing to come to Amherst for a lot less money than Rodriguez made, Rhodes said.
"We could get someone who's on the ascendancy of a career and believes in strong, functional public schools and has the administrative and managerial experience to pull it off in concert with the School Committee," he said.
He said he doesn't want the school system to be "in limbo" for any longer than necessary.
"We need to rely upon a shared vision and mission and objectives with the superintendent, and these things should be agreed to when the superintendent is hired," Rhodes said. "On the very first day, we need to meet with the superintendent and say how we want things to go."
Committee member Debbie Gould said it "would be best for the district" to find a new superintendent as soon as possible.
"I believe we should conduct the search in the most economically efficient way possible that yields the best results," she said. "I would like to see someone with very good leadership skills, someone who is able to bring together a diversity of opinion and provide leadership that can formulate a plan and move forward with it and bring people on board with it."
Gould said she doesn't think schoolchildren will be much affected by the Rodriguez affair.
"Any time a school goes through this situation, there's going to be some trauma involved. But I believe we have fantastic leadership in place administratively and in the principals and teachers. I don't believe anything that's happened will cause permanent damage."
Committee member Andy Churchill cautioned that there are trade-offs in doing an immediate search, in terms of the energy to be expended, which needs to be balanced against the likelihood of success.
"I'm not sure as a community we're in a position to say what we want for our schools," he said. "There's a lot of division and ideas floating around, and not a good sense of what we do well. It's possible we might get the right person, and if so it's all worth it, but it will take a lot of effort to do."
Churchill said potential candidates might look up Amherst on Google and "find all kinds of stuff there that might not be as attractive as other places." A better use of resources might be a community planning process, he said.
"If we jump now and say 'Let's see who we can hire,' the chance of success is low and the use of energy is high, and we might have better things to do in the meantime," he said.
Kathryn Mazur, the human resources director, said the search process started in August when Rodriguez was hired. "The hiring season has passed and the pool has been drawn down," she said, asking what the plan is if the committee fails to hire someone.
Mark Jackson, principal of the middle and high schools, spoke of the "rhythm of the profession," noting that ads placed in Education Week were extensive in January but have dwindled.
"I question our ability to make a judgment that none of the candidates are right and walk away from the search," he said. "If we come away with three OK candidates, are we going to capitulate and appoint someone for the sake of appointing someone?"
Jackson said he was more inclined to appoint an interim superintendent and "wait for another day."
Nick Grabbe can be reached at email@example.com.
Note from Catherine: This article doesn't give the final result -- but the vote ultimately was 4 to 6 to conduct a search for an interim superintendent (Sanderson, Rivkin, Rhodes, Anderson voting FOR), and then Maria Geryk being appointed to serve as interim superintendent through June 30, 2011 (with 6 voting in favor, and 4 voting against -- the same 4 who wanted to search for an interim voted against this appointment).
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.