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G-M chooses Sullivan as new supt.

TURNERS FALLS — The Gill-Montague Regional School Committee voted Thursday night to offer the superintendency of the district to Michael E. Sullivan.

The hiring of a permanent superintendent is the first of two final steps recently established by the state education commissioner to lift the district out of the Level 4 or underperforming status it has held since 2007, when the education department applied the label following a review more critical of governance and finance than student achievement. Individually, none of the district’s four schools are or ever have been ranked as low as Level 4.

Current Interim Superintendent Mark Prince is now on paid leave for the rest of the year. At Thursday’s meeting, School Committee Chairwoman Joyce Phillips said “the committee and Mark have determined that he will be on a paid leave of absence for the remainder of the year.” No reason was given for Prince’s absence.

Prince’s contract automatically expires June 30. He had expressed interest in the permanent position when entering the district in 2012 but said following the announcement of the finalists that he had not applied for the permanent position for personal and professional reasons.

The School Committee also voted Thursday to make Martin Espinola, director of teaching and learning, the district’s acting superintendent until the permanent superintendent is in place.

As of 2012, Gill-Montague was one of 12 districts, 3 percent of all Massachusetts school districts, in Level 4 and one of only three in that category without a component school individually listed in Level 4. The more common method of classification in the five-level scale assigns districts to the level of their lowest performing school.

The criteria for moving up in the state’s accountability and assistance system, to Level 3, have not always been clearly established and have changed over the years.

Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester wrote in January he will consider a decision to remove the district from Level 4 status when a permanent superintendent is in place and the School Committee has adopted a plan establishing how the district will continue improvement, a plan to be developed by the district after the permanent superintendent is in place.

The School Committee concluded interviews Thursday night with the final candidate, Maureen Ward, current superintendent of New Hampshire’s School Administrative Unit 18, covering the Franklin and Hill school districts. Ward’s resume includes work as assistant superintendent of another New Hampshire district, SAU 21, where she served as superintendent for three of six member districts for four years, a year as a Connecticut school reform consultant and four years as superintendent of the Naco Elementary School District in Arizona.

The choice was between Ward, the only candidate with experience as a superintendent; Patricia Gardner, current Turners Falls High School principal; and Sullivan, an assistant superintendent in the Longmeadow Public Schools.

The vote to offer the job to Sullivan was first split 5-4, then made unanimous on a second vote.

All members had positive things to say about each of the candidates but support was almost evenly split between Sullivan and Gardner.

Gardner has worked in the district for over a year, first as high school assistant principal beginning late in 2011 before her promotion to principal at the end of the school year.

Supporters of Sullivan pointed to his accounting background and his interview response to the question about leadership style, supporters of Gardner to her in-district experience and plans for promoting the district’s image.

Arguments against Sullivan included his statement that he might look into talking to the state about refining the state-mandated turnaround plan. Debate frequently referenced a follow-up email that led some to question his interest in the job or his confidence, while others said it muddied the waters.

Several praised Gardner’s performance as a principal but worried she lacked the experience to move up to superintendent so quickly.

As advertised, the job offers $130,000 to $160,000 with benefits and a three-year contract to govern the 1,051-student district, covering Gill and Montague with Erving students taken through a tuition agreement.

Sullivan, of Northampton, has been Assistant Superintendent for Learning in the Longmeadow Public Schools since 2011, having previously worked in the district as principal of Glenbrook Middle School for five years, according to his resume. Prior to that, he worked two years as a high school assistant principal in Northampton and taught social studies for 16 years at the middle school and elementary levels in Northampton and New Hampshire.

Sullivan has a background in accounting and worked from 1983 to 1986 in Boston, Washington D.C. and Panama as a program evaluator for the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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