Superintendent search begins for Orange, Petersham, Mahar

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Staff Writer
Published: 12/3/2019 10:41:38 PM

ORANGE — The search for a new superintendent has begun, with Tari N. Thomas having announced her retirement earlier this year after eight years on the job. Her retirement will become official after the end of the current school year.

Thomas is the superintendent of three school districts, those of the Orange Elementary Schools, Petersham Center School and Ralph C. Mahar Regional School, and runs all three districts from a central office at Mahar, which offers middle and high school to students from Orange, Petersham, New Salem and Wendell.

According to a statement from Orange School Committee Chair Stephanie Conrod, all three district school committees voted at their November meetings to “conduct a joint superintendency search with the assistance of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) to find a successor (of Thomas).”

“The districts will be working with a consultant at the MASC to guide them in the process and provide valuable guidance, technical assistance and resources,” she added.

The goal is to advertise the job opening toward the end of December, prior to the schools’ holiday break. The search committee will then review applications at the end of January, “with the goal of recommending final candidates to the three school committees in February.”

Final interviews will be done at a joint, three-school committee meeting in public in February, Conrod said.

In the meantime, the three school committees will be soliciting members to be appointed to the search committee, with a deadline of Dec. 12.

“There is a rigorous two-month time commitment with at least (five to six) meetings lasting up to two hours each,” Conrod said.

The search committee could include up to 15 members, including a member from each of the Orange, Petersham and Mahar school committees; two or three administrative members from the consolidated central office; one faculty or staff member from each of the Orange, Petersham and Mahar districts; one official from each of the four towns Orange, Petersham, New Salem and Wendell; one Mahar student and one parent.

The first meeting of the search committee will be shortly after Dec. 15. To submit a letter or email of interest, address correspondences to Michelle Tontodonato, 507 South Main St., Orange, MA 01364 or mtontodonato@rcmahar.org.

Thomas first announced her retirement in April, sending out a letter explaining her decision. Thomas has been superintendent of the three neighboring — and overlapping — districts since July 2011.

“It has been said that, when it is time to make the decision to retire, you will know it,” Thomas said. “For me, that time has arrived.”

It is Thomas’ 37th and final year as an educator, having started as a second-grade teacher in rural Maine in the 1980s, then teaching in Lenox before becoming principal of Shutesbury Elementary School and then Clifford M. Granger School in Agawam.

“This is a bittersweet moment for me, as I am saddened to leave colleagues and friends, yet excited and optimistic about the next phase of my life,” Thomas said.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve as your superintendent for the past eight years with one more to go. Together, we have fought many battles on behalf of our students, overcome many obstacles and experienced many successes,” she said.

Thomas was the lead administrator in the education of around 1,500 students, and oversaw an increasingly synchronized relationships between the three school districts. She has been a staunch advocate of further state funding for rural schools, which face high costs in areas like transportation compared to their urban counterparts.

An upcoming development for the Orange schools, which will likely take place under a future superintendent, is the construction of a single school for all of Orange’s elementary school students. This year, the Orange School Building Committee has worked with architects, school and town officials, including Thomas, to create a plan to renovate Fisher Hill Elementary School, build a three-story addition onto the school and demolish Dexter Park Innovation School.

The project will not become a reality until it is accepted by voters at the Orange Annual Town Meeting in June 2020. Recent estimates put construction of the project at a cost of around $68.4 million, with the state reimbursing Orange up to 80 percent for the cost. Construction would take place over two years, after Thomas has already retired.

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




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