Search for Amherst-Pelham school chief postponed until fall

  • Amherst-Pelham Regional High School contributed photo

For The Recorder
Published: 3/22/2017 10:53:49 PM

AMHERST — To get the best possible candidates and not rush a process that was already on a tight schedule, the Amherst-Pelham Regional and Union 26 school committees are postponing the search for a new superintendent to the fall.

Committee members last week put the search on hold after learning from Human Resources Director Kathryn Mazur that the search company hired, Ray and Associates Executive Leadership Search, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had violated provisions of state law in asking candidates about their criminal background. At a joint meeting Tuesday, the committees unanimously agreed, by 9-0 and 5-0 votes, to abandon the current search.

“I think it’s not the world’s worst thing to put off the search to fall,” said Eric Nakajima, an Amherst representative and chairman of the regional committee for the district that includes Leverett and Shutesbury.

“One thing we know about our communities is they don’t like big decisions to be rushed,” said Phoebe Hazzard, an Amherst representative.

Amherst representative Katharine Appy said pushing the search back would honor the objective of having the largest qualified pool as possible, and bringing forward the best candidates.

“I think any rushed process is not going to be welcomed by the community,” Appy said.

This means that the search, based on a timeline presented by Mazur, won’t resume until mid-September, with a new superintendent to be chosen in December, and a start date likely sometime in 2018.

It’s uncertain what the postponement will mean for the district’s current leadership. Michael Morris, the acting superintendent since the departure of Maria Geryk in August, has already withdrawn consideration from being the next permanent superintendent, and other changes at the central office are coming, including the expected retirement of Mazur.

Tuesday’s decisions came after representatives from Ray and Associates, in a Monday conference call with Nakajima and Union 26 chairwoman and Amherst representative Anastasia Ordonez, pledged that they would take corrective action, continue the search in the fall and not charge Amherst any more than the $17,000 it bid for the services.

“They were willing to do pretty much anything we suggested,” Ordonez said.

The votes by the committees allow a new vendor to be selected if committee members are not satisfied with Ray and Associates explanations for how the problem occurred.

“They did not go through the sequence of events that got them to this mistake,” Nakajima said. “They did not directly describe what any organizational correctional action would be.”

Mazur warned that certain questions would violate state law, and compromise the integrity of the pool by removing some candidates who might have otherwise been in the field.

Mazur said it is still unknown why her advice wasn’t followed. “I think they simply ignored,” Mazur said.

Nakajima said Ray and Associates appears to want to make good on the contract and remediate the situation in a way that makes school district officials comfortable.

Pelham representative Cara Castenson, who serves on the Union 26 committee, said she could move forward with Ray and Associates, but has lost some confidence in the firm for the blatant disregard to Mazur’s advice.

Leverett representative Audra Goscenski asked for assurances that the company would comply with state law going forward.

Amherst representative Vira Douangmany Cage said the committees need to have better internal oversight and get copied on communications with the consultant so “we can spot trouble.”


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