Thursday, June 20, 2024

Marisa Mendonsa of Pittsfield Public Schools is no longer in the running to lead Somerville schools. (Photo: Marisa Mendonsa via LinkedIn)

Instead of announcing a new superintendent on Monday as expected, Somerville School Committee members were left wondering how to proceed as favored applicant Marisa Mendonsa withdrew her candidacy.

Mendonsa, the deputy superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools, removed her name from the pool of candidates early Monday for personal reasons, according to a statement from School Committee chair Andre Green.

The committee did not nominate either remaining finalist: Jannell Pearson-Campbell, the interim superintendent of Northampton schools; and Kevin McCaskill, assistant superintendent of secondary schools at Boston Public Schools.

There are now three paths forward, Green said at Monday’s meeting. One option is to reopen the current search without reposting the position. This could include revisiting the resumes of applicants who did not pass the screening committee while encouraging more people to apply.

A second option is to repost the position in September, which Green said would be akin to starting the process from scratch. It would require Somerville to hire an interim superintendent to replace current interim superintendent Jeff Curley, who is on a one-year contract and, Green said, uninterested in extending it. Curley did not apply for the permanent superintendent position.

The committee could also repost the position immediately, but Green warned against this option.

“It was strongly advised that we don’t try to start from scratch at this point this year,” Green said, citing consultant recommendations for next steps. “[We are] not confident that we could do it all over again in time to find a quality candidate.”

The finalists

In community feedback sessions and during public comment, residents expressed support for Mendonsa for her experience, commitment to equity and interest in bringing joy to schools.

“[Mendonsa] was really well placed to continue to move us forward in Somerville on a bunch of important conversations,” resident Erich Ludwig said at Monday’s meeting.

Parent and educator Shana Berger also expressed support for Mendonsa.

“I was really impressed by how she drew on her experiences as a principal and a teacher,” Berger said, “and [as] someone who brings a progressive approach to education with things like experiential education, the way she talked about equity and participatory budgeting. I don’t know what the next steps are, but I hope that another candidate who speaks to progressive issues the way she does comes forward.”

In a community feedback session, parents expressed concerns about the search’s other finalists. Pearson-Campbell lacked the depth of experience needed to run an urban public school system, some said. And while McCaskill has experience in an urban school district, parents worried that he was focused primarily on operations and not other district goals.

What’s next

School Committee members expect to reconvene Wednesday to decide how to move forward.

Committee member Laura Pitone emphasized her gratitude for all the people who participated in the search process.

“I don’t think this is a failed search,” Pitone said. “I think that the screening committee did good work, I think the community was engaged. And we probably could have done things better, and that’s how everything goes. But we just did not find a candidate … that met what we felt like we needed.”

In an interview, she reiterated a commitment to finding a good fit.

“We are not going to settle,” Pitone said. “We are going to pick someone who is a good fit and who will move the needle.”

This post was updated Feb. 15, 2023, with additional information about interim superintendent Jeff Curley and consultants’ advice for next steps in a permanent superintendent search. It was updated March 23, 2023, to correct the spelling of Maria Mendonsa.