PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee on Thursday voted to appoint Deputy Superintendent Joseph Curtis as interim superintendent and to hold outgoing Superintendent Jason McCandless to his 90-day notice.
Last week it was announced that McCandless was chosen as the new superintendent of the Mount Greylock Regional School District. McCandless, who joined the district in 2013, flirted with the idea of leaving the district last year and was in the running for the Silver Lake Regional School District post. https://www.iberkshires.com/story/62748/Mount-Greylock-Offers-Superintendent-Post-to-Pittsfield-s-McCandless.html
During the first half of a six-hour meeting Thursday, the committee discussed its upcoming superintendent search but agreed they did not want to immediately release McCandless of his duties.
"It is never a good time to lose a superintendent. I think this is probably the worst of times for it to happen," School Committee member Daniel Elias said. "I do think we owe something to our community and children to protect ourselves ... the 90 days is there for a reason."
The School Committee first voted to accept with regret McCandless' letter of resignation. They then voted to appoint Curtis as the interim superintendent. He will take up the position once McCandless leaves.
This was the next question: should the district release McCandless early, easing his transition into his new position, or hold him for the entire 90-day timeline in his contract?
McCandless said he would like to leave some time around Labor Day allowing him time to ease Curtis' transition while freeing him up for the beginning of the school year. He said either way he will be available to the School Committee.
"That would give Mr. Curtis time to work with you on some decisions around an interim deputy superintendent and it would allow me to get started relatively close to the beginning of the school year with Mount Greylock," he said. "It gives us ample time to have the deep transition conversations that we need to have."
Mayor Linda Tyer said she would prefer McCandless to stick around at least sometime into the school year, and maybe an early October exit date.
The majority of the School Committee felt more time was needed and wanted to utilize the full 90 days. The district is formulating plans for how to educate its children during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Member Dennis Powell thought the administrative team would be stretched too thin during such an uncertain time without McCandless.
"We don't know what is going to happen and why would we not want to protect our community?" he asked. "With that 90 days ... we would have that time frame ... I really think we owe it to our community, staff, and district to really make sure we have that real secure support because we don't know what we are going into when we open school."
This wasn't without some leeway and the School Committee members agreed that they would allow McCandless to spend some time in the Mount Greylock Regional School District so he could acclimate.
McCandless said he did have vacation time available that he could use for this purpose and was amenable to the agreement.
"If you want me here for 90 more days you will certainly have 90 more days ... I am not one of the of those people who are going to walk away," he said. "I know the timing of this stinks ... and I will do whether you want me to do or need me to do."
This arrangement would have to be worked out between the two school committees.
The motion passed 5-2 with Tyer and Katherine Yon voting in the negative. There was a motion earlier setting an end date of Oct. 2 that failed 3-4, only gaining support from Tyer, Yon, and William Cameron.
Cameron thought the 90 days were in the contract to allow for an interim search and that with Curtis already appointed and ready, the transition would be seamless.
The School Committee first heard from Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, who outlined the committee's options in regard to hiring a new superintendent.
"I have been through the Blizzard of 78, I've been through the implementation of Proposition 2 1/2, I have been through desegregation, I have been through recessions all through my service on the school committee," he said. "They are a walk in the park compared to the fact that we are facing a very difficult stretch without knowing what the future will hold."
He recommended starting with an interim superintendent, allowing time to conduct a thorough search, or promote from within.
Tyer asked if there was a benefit to hiring a consulting firm and Koocher said MASC offers free support allowing districts to conduct searches internally.
"We provide very extensive technical assistance services to districts that want to conduct their own searches," he said. "It doesn't cost them anything and we do it for a lot of people. We just did it for Mount Greylock — probably the wrong thing to say to this group."
Tyer said she would prefer to conduct a full search.
"I would prefer to have a full comprehensive inclusive search," she said. "I strongly believe that we need to conduct a robust search process."