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Central Berkshire Superintendent Panel Gets Input on Interviewing

By Dan Gigliotti
iBerkshires Correspondent
12:34PM / Wednesday, December 18, 2013
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The Central Berkshire Regional School District is seeking a new superintendent.

DALTON, Mass. — Robert Putnam will be interviewed publicly as an exclusive candidate for the Central Berkshire Regional School District Superintendent position in three weeks.

The district's search subcommittee determined its interview of Putnam, current assistant superintendent, will take place Tuesday, Jan. 7, at 6 p.m., at Nessacus Middle School, barring any critical scheduling conflicts. The interview is open to the public and will last approximately 90 minutes, according to Peter Gazzillo, co-chairman of the superintendent search subcommittee.

Last Thursday, the Central Berkshire School Committee decided that its superintendent search subcommittee will interview an internal candidate for the soon-to-be vacant position before any others and either recommend his hiring or not. Since the School Committee is the hiring authority, the interview was purposefully scheduled prior to its next meeting on Jan. 9, to allow the search subcommittee to make a recommendation.

"The process that we're taking is absolutely the right process," Gazzillo said, in reference to a conversation had with Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and authority on superintendent hiring practices. "Past practice doesn't necessarily dictate what we should be doing or what the law allows or doesn't allow."

Superintendent William Cameron announced recently that he will retire following the completion of his three-year contract in June.

Subcommittee members will create interview questions for Putnam independently, and they will be edited and finalized in a closed-door meeting.

Drawing from experience he had in the search for a superintendent yielding Cameron's hiring three years ago, Gazillo said it's important for subcommittee members to approach Putnam's interview in the scope of public perception, given their familiarity with him, as an internal candidate.

"Sometimes it's more challenging for a search committee to interview an internal candidate because you feel like you know so much about that person; But, the idea of the interview is to make sure everything gets vetted in public," Gazzillo said. "Even though we might have some idea about what the response might look like, we still need to be putting questions on the table that will allow Putnam to articulate his position across a broad spectrum of questions."

Jason "Jake" McCandless, superintendent of the Pittsfield School District, attended Tuesday's meeting as a guest, sharing personal experience on the interview process and insight into the demands of his current position. On Wednesday, it was current Cameron who shared his own knowledge with the subcommittee.

"It's great to have a couple of superintendent's input going into that [interview process]," Peter said.

The School Committee decided to forgo the approximate $25,000 cost of hiring a private consultant to conduct its superintendent search as Pittsfield did, opting instead to fill the position on its own, with the aid of the MASC, which routinely helps communities in the superintendent selection process.

Created in October by Vice Chairman Shawn Armacost, the School Committee delegated member Gazillo and Kittredge Elementary School Principal Deborah White to chair a 10-person superintendent search subcommittee, made up of parents, teachers and School Committee and union members from throughout the district to conduct the hiring process.

The private hiring firm was somewhat off-putting for McCandless as a candidate in the hiring process. He recalled receiving five emails in an afternoon, each asking to complete "electronic inventories" to demonstrate pertinent characteristics and personality traits of his, with unreasonable time constraints for their completion.

McCandless was the superintendent of the Lee School District for eight years, and was selected from a pool of 18 applicants for the Pittsfield post this past winter to replace Howard "Jake" Eberwein. What set him apart from the field, McCandless said, was his passion for and commitment to living and serving in Berkshire County.

In filling the same position in the same area, he did comment on the difference that a district makes, saying it was a culture shock to go from knowing everyone's name in a district of 750 to Pittsfield's 6,000 students. In six schools, Central Berkshire has more than 1,700 students in a geographically large area.

Among a number of intangible qualities McCandless suggested a candidate should have, he alluded to a certain inherent optimism in some of the best superintendents.

"Like it or not, one of the biggest parts of the job is cleaning up messes you didn't make and making the best of it," he said.

Ultimately, the questions McCandless would ask when marrying the right candidate with a school district are straightforward.

"I assume everybody who applies is going to be of a certain intellect level and above and a certain degree level and above and have a certain pedigree and above," he said. "Are you really in this to win this for kids? And are you in it to win it for this community and this set of towns?"

Tags: CBRSD,   search committee,   superintendent,   

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