The 2006 Search for a New Superintendent

February 20: Superintendent Committee "takes shape." [Lynn Item] The School Committee has chosen Amy Drinker and Patricia Blackmer to represent them on the search committee. Other members are, Doug Hill, Libbry Moore, Steve Maxwell, Jackie Belf-Becker (Selectman), Tony Sasso (Town Administrator), Kathy Leonardson

(Finance Committee), Mary Devlin (Glover School Principal) Nancy Anthony (teacher), Phyllis Smith (teacher), and parent representatives EuRim Chin (K-3), Sally Nugent (4-8), and Chris Lenahan (9-12). There are several people vying for the last "resident" spot on the Committee, and they include (after eliminations) Helaine Hazlett, Laurie Barham, Eda Green, Diane Lynch, and Katherine Prouty. School Committee member Jonathan Lederman announced he was in favor of Katherine Prouty. Member Joan Rosenthal favored Helaine Hazlett. The School Committee noted that additional names may be added to the list. By its charter one of the School Committee people must be Chairman of the search committee. The school district is seeking a candidate with a Ph.D. and more than 10 years of experience leading a 3,100 to 3,200 student school district for a salary of $150,000. The deadline for applications has now passed.

February 8: Superintendent Search Committee identifies an "educational visionary" as the successful candidate they are looking for. What that really means remains to be seen, but they said (as reported in the Salem News) that they are looking for someone who can "think on their feet and answer questions." The $150,000 position is scheduled to be filled by "early April." The successful candidate should know how to "craft a budget, understand curriculum, empower staff, and delegate authority." And the committee included a sense of humor as a attribute that "wouldn't hurt." Nationally, serach committees have identified six areas of concern: (1) policy and governance, (2) planning and assessment,, (3) insturctional leadership, (4) organizational management, (5) communication and community relations, and (6) professionalism. Many of these committees have adpoted the "evaluation" system in which the criteria of evaluation of a sitting superintendent is applied to the candidates. Many have realized the the superintendency is now a nationalstandard phenomenon rather than a local one. For Marblehead to approach the recruitment of a qualified individual the Town will have to set aside localized customs and practicies and begin to build in an accountability to its hiring process. That is, verify everything the candidates say and claim as strengths and professional accomplishments. It is noted that the human skills of successful superintendents are strong and enduring, the committee should investigate the legacies which follow the candidates for this position and they should use all resources to do it: adminsitrative, the corp of educators, and the population of parents and alumni. Jonathan Lederman is reported as listing his top priority in the hiring process as, "someone who has done the job successfully before." The School Committee noted that providing "on the job training" is not on Marblehead's agenda. "Experience is the operative word for me," said Chairman Rob Dana. School Committee member Joan Rosenthal mentioned that the new Superintendent will have a busy schedule: hiring a new High School Principal to replace the very popular and successful Marilyn Hurwitz, reviewing and updating the district's strategic plan, and managing the district and the Town through the next round of school improvements (the elementary schools).

January 31: Jackie Belf Becker back in the schools' business. Former School Committee member, Jackie Belf-Becker was unanimously appointed by the her new colleagues on the Board of Selectmen to represent them on the 14-member Superintendent Search Committee. As a first term Selectman, Mrs Belf-Becker previously served for several terms on the School Committee before taking a breather from public service. She successfully ran for election as a Selectman in 2005. Her service on the search committee should be an easy fit, given her extensive knowledge of and experience with the Marblehead Public Schools.

January 26: The Superintendent Search Committee continues to be "defined." After assigning committee seats to various components of the school community and the community at large in early January, the School Committee apparently has finally "finalized" [Salem News] the fourteen-member committee again. Even though the hopeful deadline for finding a replacement for replacement Superintendent Devaux who filled the suddenly empty chair is the rapidly approaching April 6 date set at the time of Devaux's return, the School Committee has only committed to the leisurely appointment of two of its five members no earlier than "next month." Also, only one spot on the Search Committee has definitely been filled as of now: Town Adminstrator Anthony S. Sasso. "I told them I'd be happy to do it."

January 9: School Committee Defines Search Committee. Make-up There will be 13 participants: two Town officials, three for school parents, two for teachers, one for a principal, three at-large positions for community representatives, and two for School Committee members. This committee will review applications and determine who will be interviewed. The committee will also conduct the initial interviews and make recommendations as to who will move on to the School Committee's interviews in the selection round. The target date for hiring a new Superintendent is April 6, 2006. The majority of the new committee's work will be done in March, as reported in the Salem News. Marblehead is advertising the position with a salary of $150,000.

December 28, 2005: New Supintendent update. School Committee members have indicated that the new individual will be hired by April and at a minimum salary of $150,000, the highest by far in Town.

November 23, 2005: Marblehead School Committee picks a firm to find new super. The New England School Development Council to head up the search for $16,720. The Committee and the Council will meet at the School Committee meeting of December 1.

November 10, 2005: Superintendent search marches on. It's a six way national hunt for Marblehead's new Superintendent of Schools. Here are the finalists: Massachusetts Association of School Committees, Boston; New England School Development Council, Marlborough; Goens/Esparo, LLC, West Hartford, Connecticut; Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Glenview, Illinois; Future Management Systems, Beverly (no known Internet site); McPherson & Jacobson, Bellevue, Nebraska. Interviews and budgeting for the search will occur at the Marblehead School Committee meeting, Thursday, November 17.

November 3, 2005: School Committee keeps old Super's Secrets, but Town in the dark. Many have spoken in opposition to the School Committee's descision not to speak about the dispute with Ellen Minihan, out-going Superintendent. The response always was, "Our lawyers have gagged us," or words to that effect. But in the end it was apparently part of a deal to keep quiet about Minihan's evaluation; a document that had always been discussed in the open. "It's about marketing," said Rob Dana, Chairman of the Committee. "We are looking for a new superintendent and we want to present the best picture of Marblehead." Which is to say, what? That the "best" picture is not the truth? The truth is always the best option. What has leadership come to when "it's all about marketing," and now about governing in an open and always honest way? Hmmm ....

October 29, 2005: Devaux steps in and wants to raise MCAS bar." Even though Marblehead scores are above the state averages and as he said, "some disrticts would be very happy with our scores," he still called for higher score yet. No response was noted from the community or educator corps. (Daily Evening Item)

September 29, 2005: Former Superintendent Phil Devaux is former no more: now he's interim. Hoping to head off the embarrassment of an empty Superintendent's chair or the confusion of a hurried-up search, the beleagered Marblehead School Committee announced the "interim" appointment of Phil Devaux as Acting Superintendent. Devaux is actually the highly successful predecessor of the fired and failed Ellen Minihan (just departed). Superintendent Minihan was immersed in an unspecified controversy surrounding her renewed (by email) contract which was subsequently un-renewed by a switch-voting Committee or month or so later, causing litigation and complications that dragged on and on., while the Town wondered what were the details and reasons. Eventually, the lawyers apparently reached an agreement and Minihan departed with a three-month separation package plus acrued vacation and sick days. With a sigh of relief, the Committee happily announced Devaux's appointment and immediately began looking to the future by appointing brand new member Patricia Blackmer to conduct the search for a new and "permanent" superintendent. The plan is for Devaux to serve ten months and the new appointment to take place prior to the next school year.

Devaux will be paid $10,000 per month and all of these separation and interim packages will have a "negligible" effect on the school budget, according to Chairman Rob Dana. RSVP 617-868-8719 or

September 22, 2005: Superintendent of Schools Ellen Minihan, as reported in the Marblehead Reporter and Salem Evening News has settled her disagreement with the School Committee and has resigned her post effective January 10, 2006. She will be on paid leave and utilizing her vacation and sick days. Some questions remain about why all this happened, but the School Committee has promised to publicly clear it all up.

September 15, 2005: Rob Dana announced that he had assigned School Committee just-elected member Patricia Blackmer to head up a search for the search firm that will hopefully find the new superintendent. And, as reported in local newspaper, Dana promised that the meetings would all be "open to the public."

September 1, 2005: Schools resume amid Superintendent controversy and a rising unrest among unions about expired contract and intractibility in negotiations. Despite sacrfices and "deferred payraises," teaches see no end to the lack of progress on a new three-year contract. In an action far short of a slow down or "working to rule" (meaning working only as prescribed in the current union -- which would restrict work loads to in-school time only and many other legal work reductions -- teachers held "meet and greets" outside of school to inform parents of the situation and encourage them to contact School Committee members. Meanwhile the Town is still left hanging as to why the Superintendent has basically lost her appointment.

August 11, 2005: Superintendent Minihan has retained an attorney in her struggle over reappointment to the position. At first she received an email informing her of a favorable (4-1 on 3/17/05)) vote on her reappointment and sometime later a second (unanimous on 6/23/05) vote was taken not reappointing her. Her lawyer is quoted in the Marblehead Reporter as saying: "For the board to act so heedlessly with respect to [Minihans] reputation is very troubling." (Michael Long).

August 4, 2005: School Committee reverses decision to reappoint the Superintendent. Switching from 4-1 in favor of reappointment to 5-0 against reappointment the School launched into a phase of confusion and contradiction that has astounded the Town. And, with no explanation whatever despite fervent and consistent calls from the Salem Evcning News to explain their actions.

July 21, 2005: The Superintendent of Schools was effectively fired, or not renewed, or shall we say the end point is in sight? But why? Local reporters have called is search of answers after asking every Town official who would take their calls (not many). knew nothing (on the record anyway) so the calls were pleasant and unproductive. Any ideas? Generally, Superintendants move on due to hiring practices, low scores (not the case in Marblehead at all), inability to build a team, or perhaps -- now this is just a guess -- failure in communication with the School Committee. There are other reasons that come up in some communities, but there is no hint of anything here. So what happened? Doesn't the Town want to know?

July 7, 2005: School Board quietly and without expanation announced that the Superintendent of Public Schools, Ellen Minihan, would not have her contract renewed. The Chairman of the School Committee, Rob Dana, notified the Marblehead Reporter that "on advice of counsel" he would not discuss the reasons why or the situation in any way. When a contract comes up for renewal there is always the possibility of non-renewal, but non-renewal with no explanation, leaving the situation to the active imagination of parents, teachers, students and townfolk, is highly unusual.

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