Provost offered schools chief job
NORTHAMPTON — After two hours of debate, the School Committee voted 8-2 Tuesday to offer the job of city schools superintendent to John A. Provost of Easthampton, beginning July 1.
Provost, 42, who has been superintendent of the North Brookfield public schools in rural Worcester County since 2011, was the committee’s choice over two other finalists for the position: Laurie A. Casna, director of personnel and student services for the Pembroke public schools, and Jordana Harper-Ewert of Amherst, chief schools officer for the Springfield schools.
The job has been advertised at an annual salary of between $140,000 and $150,000.
Provost, who grew up in Palmer, is also a finalist for superintendent in Belchertown. His professional experience includes stints as a classroom teacher and director of special education for the Holyoke and Agawam public schools.
School Committee members cited Provost’s experience as a “sitting superintendent” and his “thoughtful” answers to questions about curriculum, budgets and other issues during interviews last week as reasons for choosing him to lead the city schools.
“I found his answers impressive and his background impressive,” said committee member Downey Meyer during the special board session at City Hall. “He maintains that intellectual curiosity.”
Board member Andrew Shelffo cited a saying by Robert Frost, “You have freedom when you’re easy in your harness,” to explain why he supported Provost as the choice for city schools chief.
“We are hamstrung like every other district in Massachusetts with budgets” and other challenges, Shelffo said. “We need someone who can move easily in harness.”
Several board members also cited a letter signed by all of the members of the district’s administrative leadership team that expressed “united and unfaltering” support for Provost as a factor in their decision to offer him the post. The letter was sent to the school board Monday.
“We have an extraordinarily talented and effective administrative leadership team,” said committee member Lisa Minnick. “I think the core of everything is that we need someone who can support and enable our alt-team to do what they do best.”
Committee member Blue DuVal, however, said she was concerned that teachers and other school staff had expressed preferences for other candidates in evaluation forms submitted after last week’s interviews with the finalists.
“It concerns me that we’re not giving proper weight to the faculty’s opinions,” DuVal said.
School Committee members who voted in favor of offering Provost the job of schools chief were Minnick, Meyer, Shelffo, Ann Hennessey, Howard Moore, Kari Nykorchuk, Vice Chairman Edward Zuchowski and Mayor David J. Narkewicz. Voting against were board members DuVal and Pam Hannah.
Hannah said she agreed with DuVal’s concerns about the staff’s opinions.
“What struck me was the stark difference between what the faculty and what the alt-team said,” Hannah said.
Zuchowski, who also led the superintendent search panel, said selecting Provost to be schools chief was “a difficult choice because of the qualifications of all three candidates.”
“I do believe it comes down to leadership style and the right match for the city,” Zuchowski said, before making the motion to offer Provost the superintendent’s position.
Provost tweeted his reaction shortly after the school board vote: “My thanks to the Northampton School Committee for its support this evening. I am truly honored and appreciative.”
Reached at his home in Easthampton, Provost said his visit to Northampton last week gave him “a very comfortable feel.”
“There was a great deal of shared educational philosophy,” he said. “In tours of the schools, I also saw some very good teaching going on. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more.”
Provost said he will meet Wednesday with Narkewicz to discuss “the scope of the job” of leading the city schools, though he stressed it will not be “a formal negotiation.”
When asked about being a finalist for superintendent in Belchertown, Provost said he intends to “honor the process” of that search. He is scheduled to be interviewed Thursday by the Belchertown School Committee.
Provost holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Westfield State College and both master’s and doctoral degrees in education policy from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
This is Northampton’s third superintendent search in the past three years. Brian Salzer, who was hired as schools chief in 2011, left after less than two years in the post.
The School Committee rejected all three finalists from the initial search last fall, and began the process anew.
Regina Nash, retired superintendent of the Frontier and Union 38 School District, is serving as interim schools chief through the end of the school year.