Finalists chosen in regional superintendent search

  • Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/6/2020 10:22:13 PM
Modified: 2/6/2020 10:22:02 PM

ORANGE — The next superintendent in town will be responsible for the education of around 1,300 students, taking the helm of three school districts.

With Superintendent Tari N. Thomas set to retire at the end of the school year, a search committee has been interviewing candidates for the job, and has selected four finalists who will be interviewed in public later this month.

The finalists are Jannell Pearson, assistant director of special education at Waltham Public Schools; Mary Jane Rickson, interim superintendent at Maynard Public Schools; Phillip Saisa, most recently principal of Overlook Middle School in the Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District; and Elizabeth Zielinski, superintendent at Oxford Public Schools.

They will be interviewed at the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School on Tuesday, Feb. 25, and Thursday, Feb. 27, after which the school committees will make their joint selection. The interviews will be posted as official school committee meetings and will likely be at 6 p.m.

Whoever is hired will run the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, Orange Elementary Schools District and Petersham School District.

Jannell Pearson

Pearson holds an education doctorate from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, a master’s degree in education from the University of Massachusetts Boston, a bachelor’s degree from Florida A&M University and a certificate of advanced graduate study from Bridgewater State University. She has been in education since 2002, starting as a special education math teacher in Boston, then serving as principal at schools in Hanover and New Bedford before taking her current role in Waltham in 2015.

“One of my accomplishments in Waltham has been the creation of an equity-driven system that supports the identification and placement of students in special education,” Pearson wrote in a statement of interest. “Waltham has a large number of English language learners who are identified as students with disabilities. … I created a process for IEP meetings that prioritized both English language development and special education services.”

Mary Jane Rickson

Rickson has a master’s degree in education from American International College and a bachelor’s degree from Western New England University, and has had various roles in education since 1990, including as a teacher and assistant principal, a dean of students, an assistant superintendent and, in the Athol-Royalston Regional School District, a director of curriculum and instruction. She has been interim superintendent in Maynard for the last year.

“The western part of the state has been my home personally and professionally for most of my life, and I’m anxious to return to my roots,” Rickson said. “To this position I bring 27 years of proven instructional and educational leadership.”

Phillip Saisa

Saisa has a master’s degree in education from Endicott College and a bachelor’s degree from Fitchburg State University, and was a teacher at Mahar from 2001 to 2004, following which he was an assistant principal in the Athol-Royalston Regional School District and then the Quabbin Regional School District. Saisa became principal at Overlook Middle School in Ashburnham in 2008, but resigned that position Jan. 30, according to the Gardner News.

“During my time at Overlook I have participated in budgeting, strategic planning, contractual negotiations, technology integration and curriculum development,” he said.

“In difficult financial times, it is important that school administrators be creative in their approach to budgeting and facilities management,” Saisa continued, adding he was able to “creatively fund” program development, co-curricular events and building renovations in Ashburnham.

Elizabeth Zielinksi

Zielinski holds an education doctorate from Boston College, a master’s degree in education from Lesley University, a post-graduate certificate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a bachelor’s degree from Elms College. She has held various roles in education since 1990, including teacher, assistant principal, principal, school support specialist and assistant superintendent, and has been the superintendent for the King Philip Regional School District in Wrentham, and superintendent in Oxford since 2018.

Zielinski said that, in her 10 years as a superintendent, she has demonstrated leadership in budgeting, academics, special education, professional development, technology, safety and after-school activities and events.

“Fifty-three percent of our students in Oxford are low income and are supported by a budget of $18 million,” she said. “During my tenure, I have accomplished much, but none of it would have been possible without the support of the educational community, the School Committee and the dedicated families of our students.”

Narrowing the field

Thomas announced her retirement last year after eight years on the job, and after 37 years in education, saying she knew “that time has arrived” to retire and she is “optimistic about the next phase.”

The Superintendent Search Committee consists of members of each of the relevant districts’ school committees, school faculty, town officials, a student and a parent. They began meeting in January and reviewed 11 confidential applications for the superintendent position. Six semifinalists were interviewed in private last week, after which the search committee chose the final four.

Mahar consists of a middle school and high school, for grades seven through 12, and serves students from Orange, New Salem, Wendell and Petersham. It had 628 total enrolled students this school year, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Orange has two elementary schools, Fisher Hill Elementary School and Dexter Park Innovation School, and 534 students — with plans to consolidate students in an expanded Fisher Hill and demolish Dexter Park, if voters accept the construction project this summer.

Petersham Center School is an elementary school with 131 students.

During her time, Thomas has run all three school districts from a central office at Mahar.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.


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