There is a big story in tomorrow's Gazette on the most recent Regional School Committee drama: here's the link to that piece (http://www.gazettenet.com/2010/09/24/amherst-some-want-interim-superintendent-have-school-post-perman).
I just want to add a few additional thoughts about this very important issue.
I was really disappointed in last night’s meeting, and in particular the extent to which all of the hill town School Committee representatives voted to halt the hiring of the superintendent search firm (the bid would have expired in 5 days, so any delay would have meant we lost this contract -- the only offer we received). This topic was not on the night’s agenda and other School Committee members were not given the courtesy of learning of this monumental motion prior to the meeting (which initiated as a motion by Ms. Luschen from Shutesbury -- which was seconded by I believe Kip Fonsch from Leverett -- to simply hire Ms. Geryk permanently and conduct no search). Also, since there was a unanimous vote at the last meeting to hire a search committee to assist with hiring a superintendent, there was no reason for School Committee members or the general public to expect that any discussion involving making an appointment without a search would be proposed. It felt a bit like an ambush political tactic rather than a sincere desire for an open discussion.
Some people have noted that the Amherst SB just appointed John Musante without a search, and suggested that we should follow that lead. However, there are three key differences between these two situations. John has a long tenure as the key assistant to the Town Manager, he was a finalist in the previous search four years ago, and finally, the Select Board made this appointment only after a significant public process to solicit input from the community. So, these are really not comparable situations.
I have no idea whether Maria Geryk would or would not emerge at the best candidate in an open evaluation process. But I would expect any qualified candidate for superintendent would welcome, and in fact insist on, such a process where he or she could demonstrate to the community their qualifications. This is how a candidate gains broad support from not only the School Committee but the broader community (not just teachers and principals, but parents and community members as well).
Members from the hill towns spoke passionately about Maria’s excellent performance over the last 7 months. Certainly she appears to have support from the staff of the school system who appear to see her as bringing stability to the schools. Personally, I am impressed with Maria’s communication skills and her ability to build bridges to the community (such as the coffee with the superintendent and the hiring of the ombudsman). However, virtually all of the improvements and evaluations around instruction and curriculum accomplished recently were started well before Maria’s tenure. Programs such as the improvements in the middle school, creation of the First Day event, expansion of the preschool program, hiring a staff person to assist with Five College collaboration, the hiring of Dr. Chen for the math review, and implementation of the afterschool and summer school intervention support were started before she was appointed interim superintendent (and initiated with former superintendent Dr. Alberto Rodriguez). She has yet to go through a planning cycle for developing district goals, or develop any specific plans in response to external evaluations such as the special education review or math curriculum review. I believe it is fair to judge people on their body of work, and unlike John Musante, Maria’s work as superintendent has occurred over a very short period of time. She has not had the chance to demonstrate her effectiveness.
On the other hand, Maria has been in charge of the special education program for many years. The recent external review of this program raised a number of serious issues (as have been noted by many parents of children in special education for years). Whether these concerns reflect on Maria’s ability to serve as superintendent would be clarified by a real search process. Many parents, including parents of children in special education, have expressed concerns about Maria as superintendent. She does not at this time appear to have the unanimous public endorsement that John Musante received during the public comment on his proposed appointment.
Moreover, I have never seen Maria Geryk’s resume, and to the best of my knowledge neither has any member of the School Committee. She has never been through an interview process, there are no answers on record as to her views on critical issues to the school such as academic rigor, social justice, and budget priorities. This is due diligence we are obligated to do as a town and as a School Committee. It is also the best possible way for any candidate to win the support of the community.
I believe hiring a superintendent is the single most important thing a School Committee does, and believe the community should have an opportunity to share their thoughts about the qualifications for such a hire. Do we want someone with experience as a classroom teacher or principal? Do we want someone with a doctorate? Do we want someone with experience on budgets and finances, or curriculum and instruction, or hiring and mentoring teachers/principals? Do we not care about experience and just want someone who is a strong communicator or is supported by current teachers? I believe the way to make the best hire is by going through a fair and open process in which both internal and external candidates are given full consideration and evaluated on their merits, experiences, backgrounds, and ideas. I believe that is how we will end up with a superintendent that reflects the values of the community and has the broad support of the community. I hope that members of the Regional School Committee who represent the hill towns will allow such a process to occur so that the entire community can have confidence in the person we hire in January, and that we can provide that person with the support and respect he or she deserves.
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.