Committee Members Hash Out a New Vision for Superintendent
By CHRIS BURRELL
All-Island school committee members took their first crack this week at defining the kind of superintendent they want to lead Vineyard public schools.
Their suggestions ran the gamut. Some wanted a financial expert to oversee an educational budget on the Island that exceeds $35 million a year.
Others insisted that integrity and communication skills should top the list of qualities necessary for the new superintendent. Still others called for a superintendent who can stress student achievement and recruit the most qualified teachers for Island classrooms.
"Speaking as a former teacher, I'd like a superintendent to recognize teacher talent and hire the best," said Priscilla Sylvia, school board member from Oak Bluffs. "I'd like someone who's had experience in the classroom, who hasn't only been an administrator."
All-Island school committee chairman Diane Wall put fiscal matters first while also drawing a composite of the ideal school leader.
"For me, it's finance. You can't get away from the fact. It's what everybody talks about," said Ms. Wall, who is from West Tisbury.
Political savvy and a sense of humor are also critical, she added.
The Wednesday morning focus group, held in the culinary dining room at the regional high school, comes less than two months after former Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash resigned to take a new job in Dade County, Fla., after nine years leading the Island school system.
The departure of Mr. Cash - who gave a little more than two week's notice of his intention to leave - forced school committee members to adopt a plan for hiring two interim superintendents for the remainder of this school year.
They hired Edward Jerome, the Edgartown School principal, to take the helm for the first 90 days, through early January. Applications for the second interim superintendent are due Monday. At least seven applications have already been submitted, Ms. Wall told the Gazette this week.
Meanwhile, school leaders are focusing nearly all their energy on the search for a permanent replacement.
James Hardy, a field director from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees in Boston, is leading the process. He met with teachers in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury this week and plans to sit down with teachers in Chilmark and West Tisbury next week.
A Sunday meeting aimed at tapping opinions from parents is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the regional high school library.
Mr. Hardy will meet again with school committee members Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the high school to discuss his findings from focus groups.
The timeline for hiring a replacement is ambitious. Advertisements will be placed next month, first in the Sunday Boston Globe, followed by ads in Education Week and on Internet job sites.
The deadline for applications is Jan. 28. The all-Island school committee will appoint a screening committee by Jan. 22, Mr. Hardy said.
Names of finalists chosen for interviews will be made public Feb. 22. "The target is to choose three to five candidates but that's not set in stone," said Mr. Hardy.
After site visits to the candidates' current workplaces and interviews in March, the committee plans to appoint a new superintendent by March 17 with a start date of July 1.
Not surprisingly, school committee members up-Island aren't even talking about hiring permanent principals in their two schools - Chilmark and West Tisbury - where both principals are working on one-year, interim contracts.
Last summer, the former principals in both schools resigned unexpectedly. After a quick search, the up-Island regional school committee hired Diane Gandy to take over as interim principal in Chilmark and Michael Halt to assume the interim job in West Tisbury.
"Right now, we're focused on getting our budget squared away," said Kathy Logue, chairman of the up-Island school board. "We haven't even begun talking [about a search for principals.]"
But on the topic of the superintendent, there was no shortage of discussion this week. All-Island school committee members talked for nearly two hours Wednesday morning, at times sparring openly with Edgartown finance committee member Fred Condon.
Mr. Condon advocated a search process based on the corporate model, urging school board members to hire a consultant to analyze the school system and then recruit the best person to come to the Vineyard as the schools superintendent.
"What is it that we need and want to deliver our product?" asked Mr. Condon. "We should have a business model in mind . . . We should go out and find a real star. That's what we should do."
Mrs. Sylvia objected to this line of thinking. "A superintendent is more than a business manager," she said. "I want someone all-encompassing who understands education."
Committee members talked about the Island factor, the risk of hiring someone to come here who finds that Island life is a poor fit. Others cited the high cost of housing, the need for a superintendent who can work with the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School and the Brazilian population.
Ads for the new Vineyard superintendent state a salary range between $120,000 and $130,000 a year. Mr. Cash was earning $135,894 a year when he decided to leave. The average annual salary paid to a school superintendent in the commonwealth is about $121,000, Mr. Hardy said.