Northampton superintendent choice says yes
NORTHAMPTON — John A. Provost of Easthampton said he consulted with “many, many advisers” before accepting Northampton’s offer to become the city’s new school superintendent July 1.
Provost was also offered the schools chief job in Belchertown this week.
“In the end it came down to picking the district that best aligned with the strengths I have to offer and the needs of the district,” said Provost. “There was a better alignment in Northampton.”
Mayor David J. Narkewicz said he received a call from Provost Friday morning with the news that Provost, superintendent of the North Brookfield public schools since 2011, would take the job in Northampton.
“I am very pleased and excited about that,” Narkewicz said. “He is the right person to be leading our school district at this time.”
The city will begin salary negotiations early next week with Provost. The Northampton schools chief job was advertised at an annual salary between $140,000 and $150,000.
Reached at his home on Friday, Provost, 42, said he went through the interview process in both communities to be sure about his decision.
“I wanted to feel in my heart that this was the right decision,” he said. “The hope for me is that I want to be able to commit for the long term.”
Provost also said a phone conversation with Narkewicz Wednesday was a factor in his decision.
“The mayor and I have a similar set of values, which will allow us to be great partners,” Provost said. “The relationship between a superintendent and the chair of the school committee is key.”
Provost said he was also pleasantly surprised by a letter that principals and other key school administrators in Northampton sent to the city school board supporting his candidacy for schools chief. “That was certainly important in my decision,” he said.
When asked about comments made by some Northampton school board members that some teachers in the district appeared to favor other superintendent finalists, Provost said, “That was a factor in my considerations and is on my radar screen now. One of the things I’ll be doing is going directly to the faculty to understand what some of the concerns were.”
Provost said his first priority, once contract negotiations are completed, will be to work with interim Superintendent Regina Nash and other administrators to ensure a smooth transition. He said he will also focus on learning as much as he can about individual schools as part of creating an “entry plan” for the district. Provost said one of the specific ways his skills and interests “align” with Northampton is a desire to improve elementary education. “That’s been a passion of mine for a long time,” he said.
Provost’s professional experience includes stints as a classroom teacher and as special education director for the Holyoke and Agawam public schools.
A married father of a teenage son, he holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Westfield State University and both master’s and doctoral degrees in education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The School Committee voted 8-2 Tuesday to offer the superintendent position to Provost over two other finalists chosen by a search panel from a pool of 22 applicants. Two days later, the Belchertown school board offered Provost the superintendent’s job there. The pay in Belchertown was listed as between $120,000 and $135,000.
Belchertown school officials said Friday they are reviewing their options in light of Provost’s decision.
“We need to now move to our next step,” said School Committee Chairwoman Linda Tsoumas. She said the would consult with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to determine what that is.
Tsoumas said the school board will take up the superintendent search at its meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Swift River Elementary School.
“One would expect not to be happy with a decision of this nature,” she said. “We are still gathering information, trying to figure out what’s next.”
Tsoumas said the board likely would not offer the job to one of the other two finalists in the search. “That routinely is not a practice in superintendent searches,” she said.
Belchertown school board member Richard Fritsch said he was not surprised by Provost’s decision to take the job in Northampton. “I feel he telegraphed it in his statements to the press,” Fritsch said.
Jackson Street School Principal Gwen Agna, a member of the superintendent search panel and the district’s administrative leadership team, said Provost’s “big picture view of what a district needs in a leader” made him the right fit for city schools chief.
“All three candidates were outstanding,” she said. “But he really conveyed to us that he’s a collaborative leader and the right person for Northampton.”
JFK Middle School parent Becky Olander said Provost’s experience as a “sitting superintendent” will be good for the district.
“Also, because he is local and his family situation is the way it is, it seems he has a good shot at staying with us for some time — perhaps the best shot of the three candidates,” Olander said.
The search that led to Provost’s hire was Northampton’s third in three years. Brian Salzer, who was hired as schools chief in 2011, left after less than two years for a job overseas.
A search in October was reopened after the School Committee rejected three finalists identified in that round.
A new search panel began meeting in February and identified three finalists for superintendent: Provost, 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.
Harper-Ewert is also a finalist for superintendent in Greenfield.
Gazette contributing writer Eric Goldscheider contributed to this report.