Monday, September 28, 2009

Swimming with the Big Fish- Searching for a New Superintendent

Tonight, the School Committee met in public session with the consultants hired to conduct the search for a new Superintendent. John Connolly and Al Argenziano will be the two consultants from HYA working with the Screening Committee and the School Committee, HYA is a national organization, and the search will be national in nature.

Nobody knows better than Newburyport that HYA always gets their man or woman- recently they were hired by Hudson to help with their Superintendent search. They were successful- Hudson, you may remember, hired Kevin Lyons.

You can catch tonight’s meeting on cable later this week. To summarize some of the most important points raised tonight:

* HYA will conduct the search, and do all the initial screenings. They will forward the names of six candidates to the Screening Committee appointed by Mayor Moak.

* The Screening Committee will interview all six semi-finalists, and forward the names of three finalist candidates to the School Committee for their consideration. The School Committee makes the final determination.

* It is the School Committee that will set the parameters and role of the Screening Committee. The School Committee will use information generated by community responses to a Leadership profile to create a “script” of questions to be asked of each candidate by the Screening Committee. The School Committee will use the same script as the basis for their interviews of the finalist. The questions will be developed through focus group meetings and interviews in the community.

* Those community focus groups and interviews will happen in early November.

* The School Committee hopes to be introducing the new Superintendent to the community by March 31, 2010.

A few more points worth noting- HYA has told the School Committee that they search “very aggressively,” and that the likely candidate for the Newburyport job is not currently looking for a new superintendent position.

Also, they were clear that “the compensation package will determine the ultimate quality of the candidates you will get.” They will be doing some research on current salaries in MA and elsewhere in the country, and make a recommendation to the School Committee. Given the number of current openings and the generally thin pool of potential candidates, we should be prepared for serious case of sticker shock. A serious case of sticker shock, indeed.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Shape of Things To Come

There are a lot of things happening over the next several months that will have an impact on the schools this coming year. These include:


Since my name isn’t on the ballot for School Committee this go round, we have another uncontested election. You History shows that the three SC elections I have run in have been contested, the intervening elections- not. Three up, three down. This election is no exception. There is something about my presence on the ballot that stimulates the impulse for democratic, multi-candidate elections. Despite the absence of a field of candidates, these are important elections.

With an open Mayor’s race, the School Committee has four of seven seats up for grabs; since Steve Cole is the only SC member running for re-election, we will be seeing three brand-spanking new faces on the Committee come January. Dan Koen and Cheryl Sweeney, who ran unopposed, will join Nick DeKanter, Stephanie Weaver, Steve Cole and me. The Mayor-elect will assume the position of Chair of the School Committee, as authorized by the City Charter. The School Committee rules provide for a Vice Chair to preside over the meetings.

New faces, new challenges. As the election season proceeds, we will be gearing up our search for a new Superintendent. The School Committee has hired a search firm, and the Mayor will be convening a Search Committee shortly. Hopefully, the School Committee will be choosing from several candidates some time this spring.

The Charter

Also on the ballot is the Charter Review Question. A positive vote on the question will also establish a Charter Review Commission. The Commission will review the governing structures of the City, and recommend any changes that will promote better efficiency and accountability in governance. The potential exists for the Commission to consider School Committee terms.

If you search diligently among the 20 names on the ballot, you will find mine. I like to think of the Charter Review process as a Civics class. I’d appreciate your vote. I’ll study hard.

Other Stuff

Also on the docket for the fall will be the school administration response to MCAS results at the Middle School level. At the next School Committee meeting, October 5th, there will be a full presentation to the community of the MCAS results, with some of the initial analysis of data that is being done; with next steps. While on the whole the MCAS scores were very encouraging, there are some steps we need to take to address challenges that have been identified. I will devote a posting on those results shortly.

The ongoing economic challenges remain; these will become most apparent as we start the process of creating our budget for the next year later this fall.

I will post on each of these issues over the course of the next several months.

Buckle your seatbelts, folks. Should be a ride.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back on the Radar Screen

I have been uncharacteristically quiet for the past year or so. It feels like time to get back into the blogging business. People have expressed concerns about the issues and challenges facing the schools in Newburyport. Local media is not always able to, or inclined to present nuanced issues in all their complicated and messy glory. Other commendable local blogs are helpful, but don’t focus on the particular issues affecting schools regularly. A real public conversation about the schools is usually limited to a brief period before School Committee meetings; and thus far, even that is available only to those attending the meeting. The rest of the debate is held in blog posts and through letters to the editors. Those places provide great vehicles for expressing an idea, but leave a lot to be desired as a way to bring new and fresh ideas to the table for vetting.

The community should have a place to go for a dialogue about the long-term implications of the challenges we face. We need information, context, explanation, and a place to challenge assumptions and raise concerns about our schools.

Schools are no less important to me, and the larger community, than they were when I last posted in 2008. Some of the issues are old, some of the challenges we face as a community are new, and unprecedented. I’ve always believed that if you give the community all the information they need to make a decision, you significantly increase the likelihood they will make a good, compassionate decision. Solid, factual information is truly the down payment on the democratic process, and impending elections are always a good time to ante up.

Over the coming months, I will attempt to clarify some of the complex issues facing our schools and the community. Too often, local news reporting fails appreciate the larger context in which issues arise. Sometimes they do not, or cannot examine issues that cannot be easily rendered in black and white. I hope this blog will help. I will continue to strive for balance in the presentation of those issues; but again, I strongly believe that transparency rules, and that an informed community will get it right most of the time.

I write as a member of the community, as a parent, and as one of seven elected School Committee members. I do not write on behalf of the full Committee; nothing I say should be construed as representing the deliberations of the full Committee. I’m on my own here, folks. Again. Thanks for taking the time to read. And to think for yourselves. Those two practices make Newburyport a far better place to raise our kids.

Check back in the coming weeks, y'all. Let the conversation begin.