School Committee to Embark on 2 Superintendent Searches This School Year

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The Watertown Public Schools will go through two superintendent searches this school year – an interim and a permanent replacement – but the timeline for the searches remains up in the air. 

Monday night, the School Committee discussed their game plan for replacing Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald, who is retiring in the beginning of October.

The search for an interim superintendent will start immediately, while process of finding a permanent replacement will begin in late November or early December, said School Committee Chairman John Portz.

The School Committee came close to just having one search for the permanent superintendent. Member Eileen Hsu-Balzer said she would feel more comfortable focusing on that search and have the current administrators run the district rather than someone brought in for the school year.

“I question the idea of even having an interim.” Hsu-Balzer said. “We will expend a lot of time, energy and money and then we have to do it all again in the same school year.”

Hsu-Balzer recommended that Assistant Superintendent Theresa McGuinness serve as acting superintendent during the year, or until a replacement is brought in. She argued that someone being brought in for nine months would not know the culture and goals of the district.

Portz said McGuinness was brought in to focus on curriculum and what is happening in Watertown’s classrooms.

“The last thing I want to burden her with is all the other things the superintendent does,” Portz said.

McGuinness added her thoughts, saying that it is difficult to do two jobs.

“I love what I’m doing, supporting teachers and curriculum leaders,” McGuinness said. “It is difficult to do two jobs. Even with Jean and I both working, finding time to meet is difficult, and I am right across the hall. We need two people working.”

School Committee Vice Chair Kendra Foley agreed and said it is important to let McGuinness do her job.

“It would be more detrimental to leave the seat vacant,” Foley said.

Others argued that the district should have someone to temporarily take items off McGuinness’ plate.

The School Committee voted 3-4 on a proposal to have only a search for a permanent replacement.

The timeline has not been set for how long the search will take, but Portz presented a potential timeline that would have the screening committee review applications from Oct. 3-7 and public interviews would take place Oct. 10-12 with the person being hired by Oct. 13.

The timeline will be decided at another School Committee meeting, likely to be held the week of Sept. 26. At that meeting, the School Committee will also ask for input from the public about what qualities they would like to see in the next superintendent.

Eligible for Full-Time Job?

The School Committee also debated whether to allow the interim superintendent apply for the full-time position.

Town Council President Mark Sideris recommended not allowing the person to apply.

“I don’t think, as we look for a new superintendent, we would cast a net wide enough is the interim is applying for the position,” Sideris said. “We want to give people a fair shot.”

Some wondered what if the interim is a good fit.

“That is a legitimate concern, but what if we say this person is the the best fit,” said School Committee member Candace Miller.

Portz said the interim superintendent would likely be a retired superintendent who wants to work for a short time, or someone who does not currently have a superintendent position.

Human Resources Director Craig Hardimon said to be fair to the applicants, the district should state whether the person is prevented from applying for the full-time job.

The School Committee voted 4-3 to prevent the interim from applying for the full-time job.

Search Committees

There will be separate search committees for the interim search and the search for a full-time superintendent.

Portz proposed having a seven person interim search committee, with two or three School Committee members, plus some parents, teachers and administrators. He said the people on one search committees may not be the same as the other one.

Other members said the School Committee does not need more than one person on because they will be interviewing the finalists and making the final decision.

Sideris recommended expanding the group a bit and including an elementary parent, a secondary parent, an elementary teacher, a secondary teacher, an administrator, a School Committee member and a student.

The School Committee voted unanimously to approve that proposal.

The make up of the search committee for the permanent superintendent will be larger, Portz said, and who will be on it would will be decided later.

5 thoughts on “School Committee to Embark on 2 Superintendent Searches This School Year

  1. Are our School Committee members completely incompetent? Eileen Hsu-Balzer frankly needs to retire, she is out of touch with modern education completely and John Portz seems in over his head. The entire process is embarrassing, and many members of our school committee are even more so. We need a clean slate.

  2. There are plenty of retired superintendents out there who could come in for the interim period and man the helm effectively. It should not be that difficult to bring someone in, preferably with a little overlap while the current superintendent is still here. The school committee should not heed Hsu Balzer’s recommendation under any circumstances. Unfortunately, this woman continues to be reelected while being one of the least competent of the school committee members.

  3. There may be plenty of retired supers but we are going to have to pay them a pretty penny to come to this town! Same for the permanent super.

    Maybe going through two of these searches is good – it will give them time to practice. Because that plan as presented was a little on the ridiculous side.

    I don’t know why you trash Eileen. She’s one of the few who know anything about education. All Candace can do is count, Kendra is just biding time to move up the political ladder, Guido doesn’t even have a kid in the system, John wanted so badly to be chair and it’s all gone to hell under him, and Liz is like wtf.

  4. Whothewho (really?), you are just mean, but you did make me laugh, so thank you. I can do way more than count. I can also make a great vegetarian chili. Plus, I have an extensive background in education research and evaluation globally and domestically, as well as decades of experience in other sectors impacting human and economic development. I make evidence based policy and resource recommendations to governments around the world. I’d be happy to share my professional resume with you. Now, have I been counting? I’m trying. I’d like to know exactly how many human beings we have in our prek-12 classrooms. I’d also like to know how those numbers are changing as this has important implications for our ~$50 million budget, building space, staffing, and curriculum initiatives. I would love to move to higher order issues but, since I was elected to serve on the Watertown School Committee, we have yet to get a handle on the changing number of human beings that we serve. I want to be confident that we have everything we need for those humans.

  5. Theresa McGuinness finally had a moment to interject her thoughts on doing one search(and having her take on the interim Super’s jobs) vs doing two searches. She plainly stated she did not want to take on the Interim’s superintend job. This is the one voice in the room which should have been listen to by all(IMO). In all fairness, John Portz did mention this early on(that they had discussed her taking on the job but that she did not want to do this for reasons she stated). The one in the room which would be taking on this responsibility. Good job Theresa for letting folks know how you can succeed in WPS and help our children/schools, given the pressure from differing viewpoints.

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