Joining Forces : Community Weighs in on Superintendent Search at First Public Meeting June 25

On Tuesday, June 25, around 40 people gathered at the Parlin Library for the first public meeting on the process of finding a new superintendent for Everett Public Schools. 

The Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) and the Everett School Committee are joining forces in its search to replace Interim Supt. Janice Gauthier. Gauthier took over in 2018 for Fred Foresteire, who resigned suddenly last December following claims of sexual harassment during his 30-year tenure. 

Leading the meeting were MASC Field Director Kathleen Kelly, MASC Executive Director Glenn Koocher and School Committee Chair Thomas Abruzzese. Translators were provided by the Everett Public Schools.

Those in attendance included Senator Sal DiDomenico; School Committee members Marcony Almeida Barros, David Ela and Frank Parker; City Councilors Fred Capone, Rosa DiFlorio and Michael McLaughlin; members of the Everett Education Coalition; parents of children in the Everett Public Schools; current and former educators in the district; and other concerned citizens.

Participants were asked to share their views about what priorities and characteristics they are seeking in the next superintendent, as well as what they perceived to be the strengths and weaknesses of the school district.

•Strengths

Participants commented that teachers and students were what made Everett schools great, highlighting the resiliency and diversity of the student body. They also cited that the high school is open until 10 p.m., giving the students a safe place to hang out away from the city streets.

Councilor McLaughlin mentioned the many programs and sports teams available to students.

“So much happens that isn’t about math and history,” he said. “There are so many opportunities for children to advance.”

•Weaknesses

The collective sigh came when the crowd was asked to identify areas for improvement. It was apparent that the community was still reeling from the events of the past year. They alluded to a system that supported sexual harassment for decades, but also one permeated by a “pervasive culture of fear.”

This has left some feeling distrustful and wary of any potential repeats of the mistakes of the past.

“It’s a damaged culture,” offered one educator and resident. “There’s a lot of distrust. I was [there] for 31 years. I left to save myself. But a lot of people in this room knew what was going on and did nothing about it. I have a big issue with that. It’s a trust issue.” 

In addition to rebuilding trust with the community, other potential ideas for growth included improving teacher retention, bringing community resources to the awareness of parents and families, hiring more educators of color, allowing the potential for more collaboration among elementary school classes, making after-school programs more affordable, and emphasizing restorative justice not just at the high school level, but across the district.

•The Ideal Candidate

Traits the community listed for their ideal candidate were community-oriented, bilingual, open to feedback, professional, communicative, compassionate and independent. They are seeking a delegator, a bridge builder, a strong advocate for teachers; someone who values diversity, is committed to transparency, and who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. Ideally this person would be capable of earning the respect of the teachers as well as the students.

“Someone who has authority without being authoritarian,” added Everett Education Coalition member Jessica Haralson. “There is a way to be the boss and be supportive.”

School Committee member Ela echoed that sentiment, saying, “We need someone who will take over and lead the schools, not run the schools.”

Sen. DiDomenico was adamant that the new superintendent have the intention of staying on. 

“I don’t want someone who’s going to be here as a stepping stone,” he said. “I have seen other communities that have that problem where every three years they start from scratch. We need a commitment from them that they’re not here so they can gain experience and go on to a bigger community.”

The reverse argument was also made, with one resident saying he didn’t want to see another 30-year superintendent.

“They lose perspective and there’s too much corruption,” he said. “When it’s time for them to leave, they gotta’ leave.”

If there was one point that every participant agreed on, it was that the new superintendent should be a career educator with classroom experience. In a show of hands, nearly all present expressed that it would be a deal-breaker if he or she did not have experience in the classroom.

Abruzzese concurred, likening a superintendent who had never been a teacher to a judge who had never been a lawyer.

“It would be difficult to accept criticism from someone who’s never done what I’m doing,” he allowed.

The community was also mostly aligned in their desire to hire someone from within the community, rather than an out-of-town or out-of-state hire. There are currently 14 employees in the district who fit the prerequisites for the position of superintendent.

“Everyone in the community knows everyone,” said Sen. DiDomenico. “We need someone entrenched in this community.”

Participants expressed that a candidate from the outside would not have an understanding of or appreciation for just how diverse and energized the community is.

“It’s a big universe in a small city,” said one participant, mentioning diversity not just of race and ethnicity, but of language, religion and socioeconomic status.

Abruzzese, on the other hand, says he’s heard from others who want a candidate who can’t locate Everett on a map.

“There are strong feelings both ways,” he said. “It’s vital for someone to come in with a fresh outlook to everything. We’ll be getting applications from out of state.

“It’s going to take a very special person,” he concluded. “But I think that person’s out there.”

•Next Steps

Abruzzese said the School Committee was dedicated to realizing a fully transparent process in their search for a new superintendent, with a robust public input period. He also mentioned that all evaluation documents of superintendents are public record and that the School Committee has the authority to dismiss a superintendent that does not live up to their expectations.

The Search Committee will be conducting focus groups in the fall as well as producing an online survey in multiple languages. It will also be hosting several other community meetings to solicit public input and hope to select a viable replacement before the winter holiday.

The Everett Education Coalition was to have had a second community meeting on the superintendent search on Monday night, July 1, which came beyond Independent deadlines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.