Top school job still unfilled Weymouth’s top school job open
More than a year after the unexpected death of Mary Jo Livingstone, her job as superintendent of Weymouth’s 7,000-student district remains open. And while the School Committee has narrowed its choice to four finalists, there’s no date for a decision.
One reason for the slow process is that none of the applicants came from within the Weymouth school system, something previous school committees didn’t have to deal with, said committee chairman Sean Guilfoyle. The last three superintendents dating back to 1991 all came up through the ranks and were very familiar to the hiring board, he said.
“We’ve never gone outside before, and that’s part of the problem; we’re in uncharted territory,” Guilfoyle said. “We don’t know what to do.
“Right now, we’re all in reflection mode, thinking about the interviews, how people responded. They’re all very qualified, fantastic candidates. We just need to find the best match for Weymouth.”
Statewide, 11 districts, including Weymouth and nearby Scituate, are still looking for superintendents for the next school year, according to Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. He said 49 districts have filled the top spot already.
The four Weymouth finalists, chosen from about three dozen applicants by a search committee, are Kenneth Salim, director of the chief academic office in the Boston public schools; DeniseMessina, director of pupil services for the Cohasset public schools; William Hart, assistant superintendent of the Pentucket Regional Schools in West Newbury; and Ann Bradshaw, Mashpee’s superintendent.
Hart also is one of two finalists for the superintendent’s job in Scituate. He dropped out of consideration for the top job in his current district, where, in March, the regional school committee named Worcester educator Jeffrey Mulqueen to replace the retiring superintendent starting in July.
Bradshaw, meanwhile, was the Norton School Committee’s choice for superintendent earlier this spring, but was unable to reach agreement on a contract in that town.
Weymouth tried unsuccessfully to get a new superintendent last summer, drawing only seven applicants when it advertised in June 2011. The School Committee offered the job to Weymouth’s assistant superintendent, Matthew Ferron, but he chose to remain interim superintendent while the committee searched again. Ferron is back at his old job, and former Cohasset superintendent Edward Malvey is serving in the interim slot.
Guilfoyle said his committee is unclear how it will proceed in picking a new superintendent, whose salary will be $150,000 to $175,000.
“We have a really difficult choice in front of us,” he said. Besides leading the schools, “the superintendent has a big role in the town. They’re a force in town government because, quite honestly, you’re looking at half the budget” for the municipality, he said.
Scott said that typically finalists spend time in the new district, and school committees visit the finalists’ home district. “Both the committee, and the community, and the candidate need to feel this is the right place; otherwise it doesn’t work well,” he said.
“The process is really important,” Scott said. Without a good fit, superintendents usually leave within a few years and “districts that have short relationships in significant leadership positions tend to wobble around in terms of any significant growth, progress, or direction.”
The four finalists come from varied backgrounds.
Salim, who is the first in his family to finish college, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Brown University in 1999 and a master’s and doctorate from Harvard, where he was in the Urban Superintendents Program. He taught in Boston for five years before getting into administration. in San Francisco and Boston. His focus has included working with potential dropouts students in danger of dropping out and helping students succeed in college and careers, as well as teacher evaluation and training.
In his interview, he said that, coming from the Boston system with 55,000 students, he looked forward to being in a district that was small enough “to get to know every teacher. [That’s] an essential part of my leadership style.”
“I have relatively fewer years of experience [than the other candidates], but I think I have the right experience. I want Weymouth schools to be a beacon that parents want to send their children to,” he said.
Messina graduated from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1971 and holds a master’s in education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University in Florida. Trained in special education, she’s been director of pupil services in Cohasset since 2009. She held the same job for three years in Monson, where she also was acting superintendent for a year.
During her interview she said she has gone to about a third of the Weymouth School Committee meetings since August and was impressed with how the district had handled Livingstone’s untimely death. She also mentioned that her “third son’s best friend graduated from Weymouth High School.”
Hart, who graduated from Boston College in 1984 and earned a master of education degree there, also got a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University in Florida. He started his career teaching in Andover, where he was named teacher of the year in 1992, according to his resume.
He was an assistant principal in Greece, principal in a small high school in coastal Maine and then at Leominister High School. He became assistant superintendent of the 3,000-student Pentucket Regional system in 2007.
In his interview, he stressed his experience at Leominster High School working to lower the dropout rate and increase the number of students going to college. He also talked about his ability to creatively deal with annual budget cuts throughout his career and his desire to make Weymouth a model school system.
Bradshaw has degrees in early childhood education and reading from Bridgewater State University and a certificate in advanced graduate studies from Fitchburg State in education leadership.
She said she began her career as a teacher and, after taking time out to raise her children, returned as an administrator in the Falmouth public schools, working as director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment before being promoted to assistant superintendent in 2000, a job she held for five years. She has been superintendent in Mashpee since 2005.
In 2008, Bradshaw was a finalist for the superintendent positions in both Plymouth and the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at email@example.com.