Island School Committee Names Edward Jerome Interim Superintendent

By CHRIS BURRELL

The All-Island School Committee voted without dissent this week to hire Edgartown School principal Edward Jerome as interim superintendent of the public schools.

Recommended last week by the cabinet of Island principals and assistant principals, the 90-day appointment of Mr. Jerome was approved Wednesday by the school board. The appointment is effective tomorrow, one day after Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash officially steps down.

Mr. Jerome has been principal at the Edgartown School for 25 years; he is also the only principal on the Island who was not hired by Mr. Cash.

"It's budgetary season and everybody will have to pitch in," Mr. Jerome told the Gazette yesterday. "I wanted to help. I don't want to see us take any steps backward."

Three other people expressed interest in the temporary job: assistant superintendent for curriculum Margaret Harris, former Vineyard schools superintendent Peter Palches and former West Tisbury School principal Robert Tankard.

School committee members had to act quickly. In a move that surprised many school leaders, Mr. Cash submitted his letter of resignation just over two weeks ago. His contract requires a 60-day notice, but also allows the superintendent to request permission to exit his contract with less lead time.

While no school board members complained this week about the short notice given by Mr. Cash, their game plan is full of temporary stopgaps. After hiring one interim superintendent, the committee plans to recruit a second interim superintendent to see them through the end of the school year next June.

Mr. Jerome said he has no intention of serving beyond three months. Assistant principal Anne Fligor will assume daily responsibilities at the Edgartown school, but Mr. Jerome said he will still play a role in any major decisions.

"We'll get the process rolling for the next interim superintendent," Mr. Jerome said yesterday.

At their meeting Wednesday, held in the library conference room at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, the All-Island School Committee sketched out a step-by-step approach for keeping someone behind the desk at the central office in Vineyard Haven.

On hand to help guide the discussion was hired consultant Jim Hardy, a policy field director from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees in Boston.

"I recommend that at 60 days, you have a solid plan in place for the next interim," Mr. Hardy told the board.

Meanwhile, the big task facing the committee is the search for a permanent replacement, a costly and time-consuming undertaking that committee members optimistically now hope to complete by March.

Mr. Hardy's work will cost Vineyard schools less than $10,000, said Diane Wall, chairman of the All-Island School Committee. Advertising to post the job opening will exceed $10,000, she estimated. Even more expensive, she said, will be the bills for bringing candidates to the Island for interviews, including food and lodging, and sending teams from the Vineyard to visit the sites where finalists are currently working.

Formulating a timeline, the committee agreed to advertise the job beginning in December and into early January. Ads will be placed in local newspapers, the Boston Globe and a trade publication called Education Week with a national circulation.

The recruitment process will also require school members to form a selection committee, draft a new job description and possibly charge Mr. Hardy with the task of convening focus groups to glean from the community what kind of school superintendent Islanders want to see.

Priscilla Sylvia, the school board member from Oak Bluffs and a retired teacher, seized on the idea of reaching out to Vineyard residents.

"The last six months of meetings we've had a difficult time forming and getting a consensus," she said of her own school committee. "It's important to know what my own people are thinking."

Mr. Hardy said the participation level of such focus groups depends largely on the political atmosphere surrounding the departing superintendent. If it was controversial, he said, then there will likely be more interest from the community and greater turnout for focus groups.

The last year and a half have been tumultuous for Island schools, particularly at the regional high school and in the up-Island regional school district. Malfeasance in the culinary arts department at the high school dominated school committee meetings just a year ago, followed by a flap over the use of hidden security cameras at the regional high school.

Up-Island, efforts to disband the regional school district began last year and are still under discussion.

Then this summer came the dual resignations of the principals in both the Chilmark and West Tisbury schools. Two weeks later, school leaders found themselves rushing to hire a new contractor to run the school buses when relations with the previous contractor turned sour.

All that turmoil has left its mark on both the high school and the All-Island School Committee. Last year, the committee split over whether to approve paying Mr. Cash a bonus on top of his annual salary. Committee members then spent months trying to develop a report card for grading the top school administrator.

Last month, two regional high school committee members questioned Mr. Cash's recommendation for extra pay increases for top administrators when teaching assistants and secretaries still lacked contracts for the new school year.

That's some of the political backdrop of the school system that Mr. Cash leaves this afternoon. A going-away party is scheduled for him at the Oak Bluffs School today.

"It's a tough, tough job," said Mr. Hardy of today's school superintendency in Massachusetts. "The pressures are enormous, the expectations never higher."

As for luring a new superintendent, Mr. Hardy said it's a seller's market with the supply low and the demand high. Falmouth and Mashpee are both searching for new school superintendents.

"The highly qualified candidates," said Mr. Hardy, "can pick and choose where they want to go."