I'm posting a story that will appear in tomorrow's Gazette on some questions regarding the superintendent search (http://www.gazettenet.com/2011/01/18/questions-arise-over-amherst-superintendent-search-leverett-offi). I will say I share Irv's concerns about the letter from the Leverett Select Board and find it very unfortunate that they have chosen to engage in such a hostile act.
I'm surprised that the Leverett Select Board apparently believes the fairest process is to appoint an interim superintendent effective immediately when that person was chosen without a single bit of public comment, at a meeting in which the selection of a superintendent wasn't even on the agenda, and on a vote that was opposed by 80% of the Amherst School Committee members (which represent 75% of the students in the elementary and regional schools). That hardly seems to me to be the process that is most inclusive of the community.
The summary of the timeline is as follows:
1. In March, a superintendent was chosen to serve for 16-months without any opportunity for public comment. At that time the discussion focused entirely on whether we should immediately search for a permanent superintendent or wait a few months; no one on the SC suggested this might be a permanent appointment.
2. In July, the SC discussed plans for starting on the search, as planned. Only one person (Kip Fonsch, from Leverett) suggested cancelling the search; no one agreed with this idea.
3. In August, the SC discussed moving ahead with the search (no one disagreed, although Kip wasn't there).
4. In September, the SC discussed (on a surprise motion by Kristen Luschen from Shutesbury) calling off the search and appointing the interim permanently. The motion to call off the search failed 4 to 5.
5. In October and November, the SC met with HYA, held numerous focus groups, received over 400 responses to an on-line survey, and developed a time line. That time line involved holding interviews on the 18th/19th/20th and choosing a finalist on the 20th. We also developed (and agreed by consensus) membership on the search committee: 3 SC members (representing each committee), two teachers, two parents, and a government official.
6. In November, Kip requested that we make several changes to the search committee; adding members from Leverett and Shutesbury, adding an administrator, allowing teachers to choose their own representatives. We made ALL of those changes in order to increase the community's voice in the selection. At no time did the SC even discuss allowing the school committees of Leverett and Shutesbury to select their own town's representative.
7. In January, the search committee met three times to review and interview the candidates. This was an active and thoughtful group of people who took this job VERY seriously. I appreciated the insights of each person and believe that we all approached this task with an open mind and focused entirely on kids. We chose 3 finalists.
8. Concerns were raised about not having adequate time to gather feedback on the two outside finalists, so Rick switched the schedules around so that we would have 24 hours after seeing Dr. Kohn (and 48 hours after seeing Dr. Bayless) to get feedback from the community. Again, this change was done to allow for more gathering of feedback and reflection on the two outside candidates, which seems entirely appropriate (since the community and the committee obviously has much more extensive knowledge about the internal candidate).
Now, after all of this time, we are hearing that the process is unfair because the Leverett SB (who has no say whatsoever in the selection of a superintendent) wanted a different person from Leverett on the search committee. In addition, they would like me, Nora, and Rick to resign because we developed this process, and they would like the interim to be appointed permanent superintendent (which they somehow feel allows for much more community voice in this selection, although I find it hard to believe that many Amherst residents have contacted the Leverett Select Board with their thoughts about the qualifications they'd like to see in a superintendent and/or their thoughts about Ms. Geryk). I find this all very discouraging.
I believe we all have to focus not on politics, but on education for kids in our schools. A thoughtful search committee (including parents, teachers, a SB member from Shutesbury) has selected three finalists to bring to our community. I believe we as a community owe it to these three finalists to treat them with respect and to get to know them. There are two public forums each day in which these candidates will respond to questions, there is extensive information from the candidates themselves (essay responses, background summary) on the web, and there will be two lengthy interviews (which can be seen live on the web and/or in person). The community will have multiple times to give input, and that input will be seriously considered (along with the extensive other input the SC will have, including more extensive biographical data and many references).
I believe we all need to focus on selecting the very best superintendent to lead our community, and this can only occur if all members of the community approach this process with a fair and open mind, and do not prejudge any of the finalists without even meeting them or attempt to sabotage the long-established process. I hope members of all four towns will join me in engaging in a fair and objective process this week and vow to fully support whoever is chosen as our next superintendent. I didn't vote for Dr. Rodriguez in the last search, and I was disappointed when my preferred candidate, Dr. Sklarz, wasn't chosen. But from the moment the SC made its decision, I vowed to work collaboratively with Dr. Rodriguez, and I believe we had a very good relationship throughout his time in Amherst. I believe all members of the SC, and all community members, need to have the same commitment to supporting our next superintendent, whoever that person is. We owe our kids this much, and I have to believe that all of us must share the same goal of choosing the best person to provide our kids with the excellent education they deserve.
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.