Two Vineyard Educators Proposed as Candidates for Interim School Post

By IAN FEIN

At the behest of the all-Island school committee, a group of top school administrators, yesterday recommended two of their own for consideration as interim superintendent of Vineyard schools.

Edward Jerome, who has served as principal of the Edgartown School for the last 25 years, and Margaret Harris, who taught in the school system for 27 years before being named the director of curriculum and instruction for public schools last fall, are both now candidates for the interim job.

The recommendation comes in the wake of last week's sudden resignation by superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash, who leaves next Friday after more than nine years on the job.

Martha's Vineyard Regional High School principal Margaret (Peg) Regan said the group, also known as the superintendent's cabinet, recommended that the school committee consider naming Mr. Jerome as a "short-term interim" for about 90 days, and then appointing Mrs. Harris to serve as interim superintendent for the remainder of the school year. The cabinet includes all the Vineyard school principals.

All-Island School Committee chairman Diane Wall said she would like to hire a permanent superintendent by March of next year, to begin work in July.

"It was the feeling of the cabinet members that this was a sensible approach because Ed has the long experience, and Margaret could spend the early period shadowing him and learning the procedures," Mrs. Regan said.

The recommendation from the cabinet came yesterday morning during a closed-door session that directly followed a special joint meeting called by the school committee.

The meeting was the second this week for the school committee, which also met on Monday night to take the first tentative steps in what promises to be a long search for a new school superintendent.

Yesterday school committee members repeatedly suggested that an ideal interim candidate could probably be found within the cabinet, although the committee has also circulated a letter in the schools and in the Vineyard community asking for applications for the position.

Applications are due by noon on Tuesday; the school committee meets again on Wednesday to decide on the appointment, two days before Mr. Cash leaves. The meeting begins at 4 p.m. in the high school library conference room.

There has been some confusion about the plan to appoint an interim superintendent, but Ms. Wall said yesterday she expects the committee to appoint at least an immediate replacement at Wednesday's meeting.

"I'm a little bit foggy of what we do now myself, but my guess is we're going to get someone in there before he [Mr. Cash] leaves so that we have some steady leadership," Ms. Wall said. "I don't see why we wouldn't make a decision on Wednesday."

The discussion Monday brushed at the long-term plan, but yesterday school officials talked very little about the permanent replacement, focusing instead on the immediate future.

"At the moment, trying to find the right person and stabilizing this entity are two different things," said Edgartown school committee member Leslie Baynes. "We need to have that chain of command and get it set."

A number of school committee members said they wanted to appoint only one interim superintendent, who would serve through the school year. Committee members did agree that they need to appoint someone before Mr. Cash leaves.

"This is a period of time where stability is the most important thing; growth and change can happen later," said director of student support services Daniel T. Seklecki. "From my perspective within the superintendent's office, the three major responsibilities are budgetary, day-to-day operations and ongoing DOE [Department of Education] compliance. And I think we have the talent and expertise to handle that in this room," he said.

Every committee member who spoke at the meeting agreed that the interim superintendent should have a working knowledge of the school system and personnel, and could well come from the cabinet.

"We can make this as easy or as complicated as we want," said Robert Tankard, a member of the Tisbury school committee. "I feel safe because the people in this room have a support system already in place. I think we could pick four or five different people in here that I would feel very comfortable with."

A few school officials said they have had trouble sleeping since they learned of Mr. Cash's impending departure. But Mr. Baynes said: "When I look around this table, I see that we have a really competent group of people. As long as we can fill this vacancy going forward, we have no need to be nervous."

Michael Halt, the interim principal at the West Tisbury hired by Mr. Cash only one month ago, offered another reason choosing an interim superintendent with institutional knowledge.

"As the junior member of the cabinet, I think that it is vital that this position is filled from within, so myself and [newly appointed Chilmark School interim principal] Diane [Gandy] aren't the ones educating the superintendent on what's going on up-Island," Mr. Halt said. "And even if you can't have the horse for the whole race, you might want to go back to the same stable."

The Island principals agreed to meet every two weeks instead of every month, and said they would help each other if one was appointed interim superintendent, so that the school committee could continue the search for a permanent replacement.

"The all-Island school committee needs to focus on July 1, 2005," said Ms. Regan.

Mr. Cash did not attend either meeting this week, but the outcome yesterday to be in line with his own recommendation to Mrs. Wall before the Monday meeting.

Ms. Wall said Mr. Cash had suggested that Mr. Jerome be appointed immediately as a short-term interim superintendent. And Mrs. Harris was hand-picked by Mr. Cash earlier this year for her new position.

A three-time Fulbright scholar and award-winning teacher, Mrs. Harris, 60, headed the regional high school history and social science departments before her administrative role appointment last fall. Former high school principal Dr. Gregory Scotten told the Gazette last year that he often encouraged Mrs. Harris to move into school administration. "When you have a person who over the years becomes the model for teachers, it becomes worthwhile to have that person exposed to other teachers," he said.

Mr. Jerome has received many awards during his 29 years at the Edgartown School, and has served on numerous regional and national education panels.