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.
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.