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In The Arena

In the Arena: Let the search begin

I’m not sure many people were all that surprised by this week’s announcement of Greenfield School Superintendent Susan Hollins’ retirement. But the question now is, who will replace her?

“It won’t be easy, that is for sure,” Greenfield School Committee member John Lunt said. “Susan has done a tremendous job for us and the district is in a much more stable position than it was when she got here, so that makes zeroing in the on the right person a little bit easier.”

Lunt and the current School Committee chairman, Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin, both agree that a superintendent with strong fiscal management skills is what is needed moving forward — which Lunt says is only possible because of the work the Good Doctor has done to right Greenfield’s ship.

“When she came here, four out of five of our principals had left, 80 percent of the central office staff had left, we had just laid off 100-plus teachers, and we had just voted to close Green River School,” Lunt said. “And the budget she had to work with was completely disorganized.”

“She had to address most of these issues in the space of about 21∕2 months,” Lunt added. “It got so bad that I was hearing from the state every day because they weren’t sure it could be turned around.”

But turn around it did, to the point where Lunt says the district has recouped close to $10 million previously lost to School Choice.

“I don’t know where we would be without those funds, especially considering some of the moves the state has made,” Lunt said.

Hollins has recently been on the receiving end of a lot of public criticism, that, given past history, is not uncommon for Greenfield superintendents who have been on the turf for a while. Just ask Eileen Turock and Buzz Nembirkow, who came in as conquering heroes only to leave under somewhat different circumstances six or seven years later.

What will be interesting this time is how the people who have been Hollins’ loudest critics handle finding her replacement, which Lunt believes will create a very intriguing dynamic politically.

“We have plenty of people who like to criticize, but you never see their plan to make things better,” Lunt said. “All we hear most of the time is what’s wrong; tell me how you are going to make it better.”

Lunt also believes that willingness to curse the darkness rather than light a candle is going to be among Greenfield’s biggest impediments to finding a new superintendent.

“Superintendents aren’t going to come to a district where they feel like people are more interested in pointing fingers than working together,” Lunt said. “Like it or not, the town’s reputation matters and there needs to be a little more common sense and purpose than I’ve seen over the last few years if we are going to get the right person.”

That’s assuming said person exists and is willing to come here for the somewhat short money Greenfield will be able to offer.

All together now?

I guess that Isaac Mass/Greenfield Planning Board appointment wasn’t such a “no-brainer” after all.

The Greenfield Town Council Appointments and Ordinances Committee this week voted 5-0 not to recommend that the full council vote approve Mayor Martin’s appointment of Mass to a vacant seat.

Ordinarily, I might be inclined to chalk this up as another example of a council willing to dump an obviously qualified appointee based purely on ideology, but there may be more to it than that.

In the past three weeks, two different town council subcommittees, with little to no real debate, have unanimously shot down two separate mayoral initiatives — the Mass appointment and Martin’s proposal to remove the police and fire chief’s positions out of Civil Service.

To my knowledge, that’s the first time that’s happened since the advent of the mayoral charter and, while it may just be a coincidence, I believe it also may signal a new solidarity among members of the council’s progressive supermajority — one that could force Martin to the bargaining table on any number of issues, especially policy board appointments.

“If it is the will of the council to stick together, then we will have the votes on issues where we share a collective vision,” Precinct 5 Councilor David Singer said. “And if we have that vision, the mayor has to honor that and instead of saying ‘just vote up or down,’ how about if we have a conversation about it?”

“I’d rather communicate than just say ‘no,’ because what’s happening right now is really counterproductive, and it doesn’t need to be,” Singer added.

I’m guessing the guy in the corner office may not necessarily share that view, but I’m sure we’ll find out that out soon enough.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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