Superintendent search moves to next phase with ‘strong,’ diverse pool of 57 candidates
Having wrapped up open meetings with staff, students, families and other community members on what they would like to see in a new schools superintendent, a search firm and the School Committee are poised to begin preliminary interviews with candidates, it was announced at a special meeting Wednesday to prepare for the next steps in the search.
Superintendent Jeff Young is serving a one-year extension and will be stepping down at the end of the school year. The committee decided to conduct a search this fall for his replacement, and hope to name Young’s successor in late October – before municipal elections that could result in a change in committee membership and a new mayor, who chairs the committee.
In next steps, Hank Gmitro, president of the search manager Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, is scheduled to meet with a special superintendent interview committee Sept. 29 to prepare its members for candidate interviews Oct. 5-6. Within the next week the firm will also finalize and post online a document summarizing what the community and committee wants in the new superintendent.
Over the past few weeks, the firm’s associates have solicited, reviewed and begun screening résumés from candidates, 40 of whom have completed applications. Another 17 had partially completed applications as of this week. These include candidates the firm approached.
“That’s a pretty strong showing,” Gmitro said. Of the 24 the firm had interviewed, 10 are “of color,” nine are female, 14 are current or former superintendents, and seven are deputy or assistant superintendents.
“It’s a strong pool number-wise and diversity-wise,” Gmitro said. There are “numerous candidates that have many strengths around issues that you have identified.”
The next step is Gmitro’s Sept. 29 meeting with the full interview committee, focused on developing questions and a matrix for evaluating candidates. The committee will interview a recommended subset of candidates privately. The top three candidates are due to be recommended to the committee Oct. 7, which will do final interviews in a public meeting.
The names of interview committee members will be finalized within a few days, Mayor David Maher said, but the School Committee members on it are known: Fred Fantini, Richard Harding and Patty Nolan – the three longest-serving members, each of whom has taken part in previous superintendent searches.
In a July 28 committee meeting, Maher said the committee would including three staff and principal representatives, three parents, two people from higher education, two from nonprofit school partners, two business-related members, a designee from the superintendent and from the city manager, and an independent affirmative action representative. Maher had expressed a desire to try to combine some of these positions to make the committee smaller than 18.
Update on Sept. 19: The final list includes 19 names – well above the search firm’s recommendation of a group of eight to a dozen people. The list can be viewed here.
HYA conducted 35 community meetings from Aug. 26 through Sept. 1, meeting with 132 people. In public comment, Jake Crutchfield – a candidate for School Committee – expressed concern that the meetings were lightly attended. He said he had attended nearly all of the meetings and found that at many he was the only one present.
Gmitro said this participation rate is “average for a district of your size.” Individual committee members held other open meetings across the city after school began.
The firm also conducted an online survey that closed Sept. 10, reportedly filled out by 539 people, including more than 200 parents and 30 to 40 students.
Joined by the firm’s Ed McCormick and John Connelly, Gmitro summarized the community comments on the strengths and challenges of the district, saying they were struck by the “very thoughtful comments” and “deep engagement” of attendees, and that major themes were shared across community groups. (The online survey results were not included in the draft document presented to the committee, but will be incorporated in the final version next week):
Community impression of strengths:
a well-resourced, diverse school population
an overall sense of high-quality teaching staff and many academic programs
“most impressive was that everyone wanted to ensure that all kids were learning”
Community impression of challenges:
given the diversity, “the difficulty of making sure that all students were challenged to the maximum of their potential”
concern about de facto segregation of advanced placement and honors classes in the high school
at the same time, concern that teachers in heterogeneous elementary school classes do not have enough support to provide differentiated instruction
desire for “restorative justice approach and staff cultural competency” for discipline and special education placement
improving the upper schools
“finding the right balance between honoring [individual schools’] roots and programs” and students’ meeting appropriate academic benchmarks
Committee members offered suggestions to fine-tune the firm’s draft of its evaluation of what Cambridge is looking for in a superintendent. Major points included:
the ability to “build a team of eight” by creating a “collaborative” partnership between the administration and School Committee
an ability to “truly connect with different populations in Cambridge”
leadership in helping to develop a consensus on a strategic plan, then implementing it
educational leadership experience in urban district of “similar size and complexity”
the energy and commitment to “inspire educators”
This post was updated Sept. 19, 2015, to add information about the search committee membership and correct that a meeting is to be held Sept. 29, not Oct. 29.