As a special-education group says Arlington is missing out because its search for a top administrator has failed, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie expressed frustration about the limited pool of candidates squeezed by 17 districts seeking heads of special ed.
"Regarding the recent search yielding no recommendation to hire from among the three finalists," Jerri Newman, who was speaking for SEPAC as its cochair, said during public participation Thursday, April 26, "we are disappointed and are concerned that there are flaws in the screening, search, and interview process which resulted in three finalists being selected and none found both suitable from the Superintendent's perspective, and willing to continue, from the finalist's perspective."
Newman asked the School Committee to appoint a neutral party to look into the process.
Bodie commented on a series of administrative positions that must be filled and three of the key searches that have not borne fruit but have had to be reopened.
As for the search for a director of special education, she said it began in December, initially drew few applications and was extended a month.
She noted that the three finalists had toured the schools in March and met the public. Their names have not been released.
Before deciding to reopen the search at a later time and have Kathleen Lockyer continue as interim director for another year, Bodie said a highly regarded applicant withdrew, a second had a contract renewed and the third was not made an offer.
Bodie said 17 districts in the region are seeking directors of special education.
Speaking about applicants for administrative jobs in general, Bodie said the "pool of people for these positions is not wide." She cited tightness in the market for school administrators that is expected to continue for the next five years.
Member Jeff Thielman asked whether a consultant may be need to aid in the current searches.
Bodie said one may be needed for the position of special-education director.
Committee members did not say whether they would follow up on Newman's suggestion for a neutral part to review school searches.
The full text of Newman's comments:
"Regarding the status of the search for the director of special education, we have seen improvements in special education administration and team dynamics under the interim leadership of Ms. Lockyer, and speaking for myself personally here, I am very grateful for her leadership of the department. At the same time, SEPAC would have liked to have been able to move forward with several initiatives, which have been postponed in light of the lack of a permanent director of special education.
"Most recently we forfeited the spot reserved for parent leaders and two special-ed administrators from our district, to participate in a workshop offered by the Federation for Children with Special Needs, with support from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, on learning and applying collaborative leadership skills. In addition, we have not acted on an offer made almost a year ago for mediation and guidance from the Harvard Negotiating Team.
"Both of these valuable opportunities were offered to SEPAC and or the district free of charge.
"Regarding the recent search yielding no recommendation to hire from among the three finalists, we are disappointed and are concerned that there are flaws in the screening, search, and interview process which resulted in three finalists being selected and none found both suitable from the Superintendent's perspective, and willing to continue, from the finalist's perspective.
"This is the second screening and hiring effort which has resulted in no candidate among finalists, after many hours expended by staff and parents, at a time when we can ill afford to spend time that is not productive. We appreciate the Superintendent's efforts to include all stakeholders, but believe that the failure of these searches warrants careful analysis of the process to produce recommendations for changes moving forward.
"We respectfully request that the School Committee appoint neutral a party or parties, to be directed to solicit feedback from participants in the search and the meet and greet sessions, including parents and staff, and to solicit feedback from the finalists on the interview process, to expose any problems with the process that might have cost our district so much effort without producing a suitable candidate whom the Superintendent could present to the Committee.
As for other searches, Bodie provided these updates:
-- AHS principal: Before calling off the search in February after it was extended a month and continuing Mary Villano as interim, she said the committee had no one it could recommend.
-- Stratton principal: Robert Spiegel, head of human resources, said 50 had applied. Among three finalists, Maureen Devlin, the top choice, was made an offer, which she considered and then said she had an offer from a private school in another state (here statements to parents is below). The search was reopened, and an ad was published in the Globe April 29. Bodie said she would appoint interim if this search is unsuccessful.
-- Assistant superintendent: The last of five finalists will meet the public April 30. A recommendation for one of those five is expected by May 4.
-- Director of math: Interviews of candidates continue.
-- Metco director: Steve Perreira is retiring in June after more than 30 years, and the School Committee voted, 6-0, in favor of a new job description.
Member Jud Pierce whether time after work hours could be arranged to meet candidates for any of these positions. Available times had been scheduled in the afternoon during work hours.
Spiegel called the request reasonable and said it is challenging to schedule times convenient for candidates and for the public.
"There are so few nights," Bodie said. "If interviews occurred at night, that would spread out the process." She expressed disappointment that few teachers had attended the sessions for assistant superintendent candidates.
In a statement to parents and guardians April 26, Bodie wrote:
"The result of the Stratton Elementary Principal search is that the position was offered to Maureen Devlin, whom we felt would be an excellent choice for Stratton. Unfortunately, Ms. Devlin has informed us that she has chosen to accept an offer from a private school in another state and I do not plan to offer the position to one of the other candidates.
"After much thought about what is in the best interest of Stratton, I have decided to re-open the search. My reason for re-opening the search is to be consistent with the way we conducted earlier searches this year, as well as to minimize administrative transitions. We extended the search time for another month both for the High School Principal and Director of Special Education. Unfortunately, the extra time did not result in a successful search, which may be the case for the reopened Stratton Principal search, though we hope for a different outcome. Should we not find the right candidate for the position in this new search, my plan will be to appoint an Interim Principal for next year.
"The reopened Stratton position will be advertised in The Globe and other venues. I hope that the members of the Search Committee will agree to continue their service on the Committee. Should there be any openings, I will invite applications to participate on the Search Committee.
"My goal, as well as your goal, is to find the best person to lead Stratton Elementary School in the years ahead."