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Greenfield Public Schools

Greenfield school board considers backup plan in superintendent search

GREENFIELD — Worried that one of the two remaining school superintendent finalists may pull out of contention, the Greenfield School Committee will begin looking for an interim leader for next year in case it has to reopen its search.

School board members stressed Tuesday that they still hope either Jordana Harper-Ewert or James O’Shea will be the right fit to succeed retiring Superintendent Susan Hollins.

But after two superintendent finalists dropped out of consideration this month, board members were nervous that one or both of the remaining candidates could do the same. As a precaution, they asked Mayor William Martin to start talking with the board’s search consultant, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, about finding an interim superintendent.

If the committee did hire an interim leader next year, it would likely conduct another superintendent search in the fall.

Meanwhile, Harper-Ewert and O’Shea are still planning to visit Greenfield during the last week of April. Members Daryl Essensa and Francia Wisnewski, who led a search committee that nominated four finalists, told the school board they were very confident in the two remaining candidates.

They’ll each spend an entire day in Greenfield, visiting schools and meeting with faculty, staff and residents. The day will end with a 75-minute interview with the School Committee.

O’Shea, principal of a grade 6-12 school in Harvard, will visit Greenfield on April 29. Harper-Ewert, a chief schools officer in Springfield, will visit the following day. The school board has not yet set a date or time to select its next superintendent.

Last week, member Margaret Betts visited O’Shea’s district in Harvard to speak to staff at The Bromfield School. Administrators and teachers there described O’Shea as a well-loved principal who works collaboratively and transparently with his staff.

Betts said that O’Shea handles his school’s budget, but she is unsure how much experience Harvard administrators have with tight budgets — since the town is an affluent community with large parent-supported endowments.

Wisnewski visited Springfield last week to learn more about Harper-Ewert, a chief schools officer who oversees 16 schools. Administrators and teachers said she was a great communicator who learns quickly.

In her role of chief schools officer, which the Greenfield school board is interpreting as similar to an assistant superintendent, she has been part of teams that develop budgets and instructional lesson plans.

Member Maryelen Calderwood pointed out that the finalists provided all of the people who met with Wisnewski and Betts during their visits. She plans to conduct “informal reference” checks by randomly calling other people in the candidates’ host districts to hear their thoughts.

Search consultant Pat Correira said that the school board chose which positions they wanted to speak to (like superintendent or guidance councelor) and then she contacted the finalists, asking them to set up the interviews.

Debate over press coverage, site visit reports

The meeting, which took place in the Town Hall, started 10 minutes late because of a debate about Greenfield Community Television coverage.

Essensa, who did not want the “working session” videotaped, angrily told a television camera operator to leave the room. He stayed and filmed the meeting.

Search consultant Patricia Correira, from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said that the meeting was required by law to be held in open session. Anyone can film or record any open session of a public body, as long as they notify the board’s chairman.

Then, when the meeting did begin, the School Committee spent the first 13 minutes discussing what they could and couldn’t legally say about the candidates in an open session. Correira told the school board that they should refrain from talking about the candidates’ reputation, character, physical condition or mental health.

The committee was also concerned about Betts’ and Wisnewki’s site visit reports, which details the interviews they conducted with staff from the finalists’ host districts. Paper copies of the reports were handed out to all school board members at the meeting, then collected back over concerns about confidentiality and then returned again to members minutes later.

Even before the meeting began, the reports were circulated by email to the School Committee. This automatically makes them public records and available to anyone who requests them.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

(Editor's note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier edition)

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