CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The North Berkshire School Union Committee took less than five minutes to select John Franzoni as its next superintendent.
Franzoni, principal of Brayton Elementary School in North Adams, was the last of three formal interviews the committee held this week. On Wednesday night, just minutes after he'd left Clarksburg School, the committee voted for him 10-2 on a roll call vote.
"It would be a long-term commitment and I'd really like to emphasize it would be my priority if I was able to get this opportunity," Franzoni said in his closing statement. "I have a good 10 years left in my education career, I have experience, I think, and I would love to emphasize that as something that I want to bring to the district."
There was no discussion of any of the three candidates — Franzoni, Abbott Memorial School Principal Heidi Dugal and Vermont's Battenkill Supervisory Union Superintendent William Bazyk. Dugal was interviewed on Monday night and Bazyk on Tuesday.
All three had toured the schools in the district with retiring Superintendent Jon Lev and meet with focus groups and committee members. That was apparently enough for the committee to make its determination. When Chairwoman Ellen Miller of Rowe asked if the members wanted to talk or take a vote, four or five chimed in that they were prepared to vote immediately.
After the roll call vote, Miller left the room to call Franzoni. "He's very happy," she said on returning.
Committee members had determined what they were looking for in an educational leader who could manage the four schools, five towns and six school budgets in the supervisory union.
On Monday, prompted by a question by Dugal, their qualifications were for someone who was a good communicator, who could keep the communities aware of what was happening, who could handle difficult budgets and present them, who could prioritize on the fly, be open-minded and value other's opinions, approachable and accessible, be a strong administrator who could catch problems before they arose, who could delegate, find money, be wise and, most importantly, protect their small, unique schools.
It was quite a list but the committee seemed overwhelmingly confident that Franzoni had those qualities.
Franzoni has been principal of Brayton Elementary since 2013. Prior to that, he was assistant principal and dean of students at Greylock Elementary and the former Sullivan Elementary in North Adams. He is a graduate of Bryant University in Rhode Island and earned his master of education from Fitchburg State College. Franzoni was also the athletic director at Drury High School for six years and a basketball coach.
"I'm an advocate for small schools and what I saw today only reinforced that belief," he told the committee. "That's the most effective way to help our students move forward."
It was important to work collaboratively between schools and districts with the caveat that "you have to do what's best for the students first," Franzoni said, and that did not include putting them on buses to larger school districts. He said he would advocate for the schools under his supervision with the local legislative delegation to obtain them more money.
"The key thing that really stuck out to me today was how dedicated [the staff] are and how passionate they were to help their students. ... one thing that really attracts me to this position is it seems to lend itself to being in the schools," he said, noting that Lev knows the students and their families. "That to me is so important and it's basically the same leadership model I would carry over."
He pointed to his efforts working with the teachers and food service director in North Adams to develop the "Breakfast in the Classroom" program to give pupils at Brayton a better start in the day. More than 80 percent of pupils now participate in the program that has become a model for the state.
"It's really allowed us to build in a much more healthy and productive start to our day," he said. "It's shown in that third year when we've made a large increase in our assessment scores ... it really starts us up for a more effective learning process."
Brayton has also implemented time during the day to work on social/emotional behaviors and created a Welcome Center for parents and social service agencies to connect with the school and each other.
"It's key for staff to be communicating with the families," Franzoni said. "That we're here to work with them not against them."
Franzoni also discussed his budgeting and staffing experience, noting that he was principal during two redistrictings in the North Adams schools. He emphasized the unique character or the schools but also said consistency in setting rules and regulations, as well as expectations, provided structure for both staff and students.
He did not anticipate coming and making and sweeping or immediate changes during a transition period.
"The most important thing in that situation is to get to know the schools, our towns, speak with the teachers," he said. "I want to hear from them ... One rule I have if there's one thing you're not happy with, what have you thought through to make it better."
Principal Heidi Dugal prepares to answer questions on Monday; below, William Bazyk of Vermont addresses the committee on Tuesday.
All three candidates had extensive experience in educational administration. Dugal, who's been principal of two schools in the union, also pledged to protect the small rural schools and spoke of her ability to work collaboratively with teachers and staff at her school in ways that she felt strongly she could replicate on a broader level.
"Taking what I know in one school and being apply it to the union is very important and I think I have the ability to do that," she said, adding that transparency and communication were critical to oversight, budgeting and developing trust within the communities.
"I want to be your next superintendent but I also have a job that I love."
Bazyk has worked in both Massachusetts and Vermont, including a number of years in special education. He was straightforward with the committee in saying that North Berkshire was a place he could see himself staying for a long time but felt he couldn't promise that would happen.
He said budgeting was among his strengths, having overseen a number of large budgets. He also was the only with supervisory union experience. However, the upheaval in Vermont over school consolidation was weighing on his mind when asked about the viability of small schools in an era of aging and declining population.
"The most important things in the rural towns is keeping your school open," Bazyk said but added that towns have to be realistic as well and consider they might have to give something up. "You want a place at the table. Each town needs a voice on that to say the direction they want to go ... I feel confident I could walk your school districts through that."
Patricia Correira, a field director for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, who facilitated the search process, had reminded the committee that they were making one of their most important decisions and that the person they selected would likely be there for the long run.
On Monday night, the committee members had believed they needed at least eight votes but further research determined that they only needed a majority of those present and voting. That number was 12 on Wednesday night because two members were absent and a third, Judy Oleson, abstained because she works at Gabriel Abbott School.
Voting for Franzoni were Clarksburg School Committee members Patricia Prenguber, Cynthia Brule and Laura Wood; Savoy School Committee members Jennifer Nocher, Alana Boyd and Brian O'Grady; Rowe School Committee members Susie Zavotka and Ellen Miller; and Monroe School Committee members Kim Oakes and Carla Davis Little. Dugal received two votes from Florida School Committee members Seth Bean and Rebecca O'Hearn.
A second vote to offer the position to Franzoni pending contract negotiations was passed unanimously by those voting, with Oleson again abstaining.