Pioneer School Committee talks superintendent search process in wake of resignation

  • The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee met in hybrid format for a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the superintendent search process. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee met in hybrid format for a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the superintendent search process. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2021 3:53:03 PM

NORTHFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee decided Tuesday it will advertise for the soon-to-be-vacated superintendent’s position in hopes of receiving applications for potential review ahead of the next regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 12.

Outgoing Superintendent Jonathan Scagel gave two weeks notice in a letter of resignation to the School Committee dated July 27, with his last day being Aug. 10. His letter states he was offered an opportunity on short notice “that more aligns with my professional interests.” He will take over as principal of the Fort Meadow Early Childhood Center, part of Westfield Public Schools, on Aug. 16.

Massachusetts Association of School Committees Executive Director Glenn Koocher joined the School Committee for its discussion Tuesday, as did Adam Dupere of Dupere Law Offices, who was sitting in as the school district’s legal counsel. Scagel did not attend the meeting, as School Committee Chair Julie Burke explained he was taking a previously scheduled day off.

The School Committee voted to post the job advertisement on Wednesday, Aug. 4, and close the posting after one week, on Aug. 10, after hearing there were already interested individuals looking to apply. The committee will continue discussion regarding the application and interview process during its next regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 12.

“Most districts in your position will be looking for an interim superintendent who may be able to cover you for a year, and keep things stable so you can either mount a superintendent search or, if you hire a one- or two-year interim, which is becoming more common, you may just elect to go with your interim superintendent,” Koocher said Tuesday.

He encouraged the School Committee to consider a two-year interim to provide added time to search for candidates. While it is up to the School Committee to decide on a full-time or part-time hire, he said a district of Pioneer’s size warrants a full-time superintendent. Koocher also told the committee he has been contacted by two individuals, including a former superintendent and a former assistant superintendent, who expressed interest in applying.

Given that some interested parties have reached out, he and Pioneer Valley Regional School Dean of Students Cathy Hawkins-Harrison encouraged the School Committee to post the job as soon as possible. Ultimately, the committee moved to work with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to conduct a search for a full-time interim superintendent with a one- or two-year contract.

During extended discussion Tuesday, committee members expressed frustration with the limited notice of Scagel’s resignation. Vice Chair Michael Townsley said “the community is disappointed,” and cited language in Scagel’s contract that states he was expected to give 90-days notice of leave. However, there is no clause in the contract that would hold him accountable for not abiding by this, and Dupere said anything beyond two weeks should be considered more of a professional courtesy.

School Committee member Jim Bell expressed less surprise over the sudden resignation than other members, saying the “School Committee needs to take a good, long look in the mirror.”

“For those of us who are capable of self-reflection, the question is — We lost a good man, how did that happen?” Bell asked. “Is there anything that we did? Is there anything we need to improve going forward in terms of supervising a superintendent? Because I’ve been at these meetings and if I worked for this School Committee, my resumes would be flying out. … I remember commenting on, three or four meetings ago, the tone toward Jon that was so disrespectful. ... Going forward, we need to look at ourselves.”

School Committee member Karen O’Neill, who had spoken with Scagel since his resignation was received, said he expressed willingness to work with a successor for up to 10 hours a week through September to aid in the transition. Speaking to the Greenfield Recorder on Wednesday, Scagel confirmed he is willing to assist with some transitional training in a volunteer capacity.

Members of the public and administrators, including Pioneer Principal Kevin Burke and Bernardston Elementary School Principal Kelly Carriere, asked who would be responsible for essential duties if the district can’t fill the superintendent vacancy in a timely manner. Special Education Director Christie Fontaine said, typically, the chain of command falls to the director of finance. However, the director of finance position is also vacant following Tanya Gaylord’s resignation, which took effect July 30. Next would be the facilities manager, who is out on medical leave, and then the technology director, another vacant position.

Carriere said Scagel had told principals he could meet with them, for one hour, on Monday, Aug. 9, the day before his resignation takes effect. School Committee members said they would request that Scagel meet with administrators before the weekend.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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