Mount Greylock School Committee Picks Interim Superintendent

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock School Committee on Wednesday voted 7-0 to enter negotiations with the district's assistant superintendent to serve as interim superintendent after the abrupt announcement that Jason McCandless intends to leave the district at the end of the school year.
Assistant Superintendent Joseph Bergeron told the committee that he would be willing to serve in the capacity and, at the same time, welcomed the prospect of a new permanent superintendent joining the office — likely some time in 2025.
"The opportunity to serve the students, staff and the community is something that, as a duty, is something I feel I need to do," Bergeron told the panel. "Doing that to bridge the gap between right now and when this committee is able to hire a permanent superintendent is something I'm willing to do. I'll provide the stability and support and the push for areas where I know we can and should improve.
"I do want to say to any potential superintendent out there that I would love to work with you. I'd love to work with you on behalf of this whole district.
"So please come."
The committee authorized Chair Christina Conry to negotiate a deal with Bergeron to serve in an interim role and to figure out a transition plan to make the change from McCandless, who did not attend Wednesday's virtual meeting.
In his absence, most of the School Committee members took the opportunity to thank McCandless for his service and express their shock and disappointment that both he and Williamstown Elementary School Principal Cindy Sheehy announced their departures within four days of one another.
"Over the last four years, our district has benefited greatly from [McCandless'] wisdom, unabashed honesty, kindness and experience," Conry said, reading from a statement she prepared for the meeting. "Dr. McCandless steered our team through our COVID reopening and began the difficult community conversation about bias in our district. He invested time in mentoring new leaders and built strong relationships with our classroom educators.
"[Sheehy's] depth of knowledge and experience, genuine kindness, infectious energy, engagement with our community, collaboration with staff and concern for the welfare of every individual child is deep."
Conry expressed her gratitude to both McCandless and Sheehy and to all the remaining professionals who make the district's three schools run.
The School Committee agreed that her note should be distributed to members of the Lanesborough-Williamstown school community as representing the sentiments of the full body.
Several of the elected officials offered their own thoughts as well — both about McCandless and the challenges faced by the school administration as it worked and will continue to work to achieve the goal he laid out of creating a more equitable and inclusive school community
"I was motivated four years ago [to run for School Committee] because of a whole range of experiences I learned our children were experiencing in the district," Jose Constantine said. "I was eager to be part of something that might address those challenges, those harms.
"I truly believe those two administrators [McCandless and Sheehy], both of them, cared about every single one of our children. That said, what we heard [at the May 9 meeting] from our families — all that remains true. Our kids do experience all kinds of harm in the district. We have a responsibility, not just as a district but as communities to call these challenges out, to recognize where they come from. They come from the fabric of our communities. Until we are brave enough to address these challenges … we will never make the real progress that's needed."
Julia Bowen, who echoed many of the sentiments expressed by Conry and Constantine, also said the disruption caused by McCandless' departure is an opportunity for the School Committee members themselves to look inward.
"It's challenging because the decisions were private," Bowen said, acknowledging that neither McCandless nor Sheehy has spoken publicly about their reasons for resigning. "But can we do differently or better to ensure our leaders have the support? We have the knowledge, and we can know when these things are bubbling in a way that is more supportive for the district.
"I want to name that because I hold right now, certainly, questions for myself of what I could do differently or better."
Most of the relatively brief (47-minute) meeting was devoted to looking forward to the committee's next steps as it enters into a search for McCandless' permanent replacement.
But it opened with a more critical comment on what at least one resident perceived to be the reason for his departure.
"I believe you've been unfairly attacked for trying to do the work, especially that referred to as DEI, the work that has been asked of you," Ralph Hammann said, addressing his remarks directly to McCandless. "Without having spoken to you or knowing your reasons for leaving, it seems clear to me and many, many other people that it's a certain viciousness of intolerant and hypocritical and, ironically, DEI-driven people who have rushed to judgment in search of a scapegoat.
"If you and your administration have been guilty of anything, it's of being nice. It's a virtue but not always a workable one when dealing with certain miscreants, whether they be young and in need of discipline or old enough to know better."
School Committee Vice Chair Carolyn Greene asked that other speakers at the meeting refrain from attacking, "not just individuals, but groups of individuals."
"If we could keep it all civil, that would be helpful," Greene said.
Conry reported to the committee that it has time to put together a search strategy for the new permanent superintendent. Representatives of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees advised Conry that this is the worst time of year to start such a search, and it really should begin in earnest in the fall, with candidate interviews taking place — at the earliest — in November.
Conry said the School Committee could discuss the search process at a future meeting, perhaps in consultation with advisers from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. Bowen noted that particular care will need to be taken to crafting a job description to make the district's priorities clear to potential candidates.
The School Committee that hires McCandless' replacement could have a different composition from the one that met on Wednesday. Voters in Lanesborough and Williamstown this November will have three committee seats on the ballot, those currently held by Bowen and Constantine of Williamstown and Ursula Maloy of Lanesborough; per the regional agreements, four members of the seven-person School Committee are residents of Williamstown, the larger of the two member towns. Residents in both towns vote for all seven positions on the panel.
Nomination papers are currently available at the district office on the Mount Greylock Regional School Campus. The deadline to return signed nomination papers is July 23. Conry said she intends to have the three incumbents up for re-election tell the community at the School Committee's June 13 meeting whether they plan to run again.
Several of the current School Committee members have experience with a superintendent hiring process, perhaps more than they have wanted.
Turnover among school superintendents, the "CEOs" of public school districts, is an issue nationwide and in the commonwealth.
In February 2022, the Watertown-based research firm Education Resource Strategies released an analysis of the nation's 100 largest school districts and found that the percentage operating under an interim or first-year superintendent rose from 19.6 percent from 2016 to 2020 up to 25.5 percent in 2021 and '22.
Closer to home, the director of member services of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents told Boston's WGBH last August that the average tenure for a superintendent is "about five years."
On Tuesday, MASS Executive Director Mary Bourque said in reply to an email from that the state group does not have hard numbers on the issue but is looking to start tracking average tenures across the commonwealth.
In the Lanesbourgh-Williamstown district, a five-year stretch would be a break from recent trends.
Douglas Dias, who was hired in the spring of 2015, left abruptly in November 2016 after about 16 months on the job.
Kimberley Grady, who served as acting and interim superintendent after Dias' departure, was hired full-time by the School Committee in April 2018. She departed in July 2020, about 27 months into her tenure.
McCandless was offered the job on July 31, just 20 days after Grady's resignation was announced. After giving the Pittsfield Public Schools 90 days notice, he took over in November 2020; last week he announced he will leave the district at the end of the current school year, less than four years after coming on board.

Tags: MGRSD,   superintendent,   

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Pittsfield Council Passes $216M Budget, Cuts Schools

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council closed budget season just before 10 p.m. on Tuesday, approving a $216 million spending plan for fiscal year 2025. This includes a cut to the School Department.

Councilors approved a $215,955,210 spending plan that is a 5 percent increase from this year and includes a $200,000 reduction to the $82 million Pittsfield Public School budget. The budget passed 10-1 with Ward 2 Councilor Brittany Noto in opposition.

All conversation was related to the schools, as droves of staff members came to council chambers believing this was a direct slash to positions. It was agreed that misinformation sparked the uprising and was attributed to a "divide" between the school district and the council.

"The amount of misinformation that happened, I don't want to dig into how it happened but it is concerning," Ward 6 Councilor Dina Lampiasi said.

"And when I look at the emails that I received over the last several days from parents and people who are in the School Department, it's apparent to me that there is a divide here and there are a lot of people that agree with us that something isn't working."

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III emphasized that there should be a focus on communication — noting that Superintendent Joseph Curtis has communicated more than previous holders of his title.

"I think there is something missing from what you guys have said to us and from what we hear and that's where we struggle," he said.

Curtis maintained that a staff email he sent out was purely informational and did not make unsound claims, noting that "certainly this was an incredibly complex budget season." The FY25 spending plan includes the reduction of 53 positions, some related to the sunsetting of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

"There was no negativity put forward," he said. "There was a recounting of what happened and some possible next steps in the process because I feel it's incredibly important for the school community to know the process."

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