Southborough to search for two principals: Finn and Woodward

by beth on January 23, 2017

Post image for Southborough to search for two principals: Finn and Woodward

Above: Principal Randell’s retirement is opening two new positions in the Southborough schools administration. (photo left via

The Southborough School district apparently considers retiring Principal James Randell’s shoes too big to fill with one person. Instead, the schools will conduct two hire searches, one per school.

James Randell has been the principal of both Woodward and Finn schools since 2010. Prior to that the schools were independently run. Randell had already been the Woodward boss for five years. He took over Finn as an additional responsibility when Principal Mary Ryan retired.

I reached out to Superintendent Christine Johnson on her plans for replacing him. She indicated that they will be going back to the original model with one principal for each school.

Johnson plans to issue a statement to parents on the search process this week. It will explain that a search committee will be formed for both schools inviting internal and external candidates:

Consistent with our search committee process, we will invite administration, teachers, staff and parents to participate in this very important step seeking candidates who are the most qualified and best match for our school community.

1 Frank Crowell January 27, 2017 at 9:37 AM

I don’t suppose the action would be taken by the superintendent and the K-8 school committee to review current classroom usage across all four schools and see if changes could be made…………………like close one school………………..needing one new principal.

Or how about a review on how one principal for two schools worked out for more five years. Overworked? Parents and students underserved?

2 Resident January 27, 2017 at 2:50 PM

Close one school? That makes no sense. Class sizes for a town our size are already on the large side.

Beth – one edit: “Principal James Randell’s shoes *TOO* big to fill . . . “

3 beth January 27, 2017 at 6:17 PM

Yep. That was clearly a typo!

4 Al Hamilton January 28, 2017 at 9:07 AM

Resident –

We are not classroom constrained. Our K-8 school population in 2003 was 1614 students. In that year we operated in a 3 school format with a, if I recall, 2 “Portables”. This year our school population is 1295 down 319 from 2003. Our school populations have been declining for over a decade and will continue to decline as we graduate 8th grade classes in the 150-160 student range and replace them with k-1 classes in the 115 to 135 range. This trend has been well understood, but not acted on,for a long time.

Our student teacher ratio’s are budget constrained not space constrained. If we closed a school (really turned it back to the municipal side of government) that would free up significant school budget dollars which in turn could be use to hire teachers.

We should be cognizant that our student/teacher ratios are already well below the state average at 11.9:1 vs a state average of 13.2:1. (Note I am using the states method of calculating which includes sped, gym, and librarians because it is a consistent way of measuring)

A wealth of data on school populations can be found here:

5 beth January 28, 2017 at 12:07 PM

Curious, what does portables mean?

6 Al Hamilton January 28, 2017 at 4:50 PM

A portable classroom is a temporary classroom that is brought in on a trailer often 2 trailers to a classroom. It is a temporary solution that is sometime used during construction. This is a common practice. The same solutions are often use in other peak loading or as temporary structures in other scenarios.

7 Resident February 1, 2017 at 4:37 PM

There is a massive apartment complex moving in on Park Central which will certainly bring in families. Plus GE Healthcare is coming to Marlborough which will bring in families, I assume. We are not “classroom constrained”. But part of the draw to town is to have small classes. Just because they’re not constrained doesn’t mean the size is less desirable.

And would closing an *entire* school not lead to constrained classes? This is my point. Whether the classes are constrained now or not, closing an entire school will certainly not help. Kids moving up to Algonquin doesn’t negate the fact that kids are still being born an going to elementary eventually!

8 Al Hamilton February 2, 2017 at 9:19 AM


“Kids moving up to Algonquin doesn’t negate the fact that kids are still being born an going to elementary eventually!” Actually that is my point exactly, we are graduating 8th grade classes in the 150-160 range and replacing them with K-1 classes in the 115-130 range so every year the system is loosing on the order of 30 kids which equates to 2-3 new empty classrooms per year. This has been going on for quite some time which in turn has lead to steadily decreasing enrollments.

I did a study a few years ago and discovered this trend. It turns out that the Superintendents office did an almost identical study and came to the same conclusion. (You will be surprised to find it was not well publicized). Within a few years our system could have less than 1100 students. This is driven by 3 drivers:

1. The Baby Boomlet – The children of the baby boom are now finishing passing through the school system. In effect we are now in a “Baby Bust”. If you are old enough to remember the furious pace of school building in the 60’s only to see those schools empty in the late 70’s you will recognize the echo of that phenomena.

2. Lack of large single family home developments in town – New single family homes in town do attract families with children. Once settled, those homes turn over at a slower rate and begin to look like the long term picture where only about 1/3 of the single family homes in town have school age children.

3. The growth of Apartments/Condo’s – When I did my study I asked the town planners about the impact of new apartments and condo’s. The response I got was that these forms of housing generated far fewer students per housing unit than single family homes.

The K-8 school committee recognized this trend a few years ago and gave some lip service to possibly closing a school (Probably Neary) in 2016. That of course has come and gone.

If we were to close a school (Woodward would probably be the best candidate by the way). I would advocate that we do nothing that would prevent it from returning to school service should enrollments ever begin to rise. In the interim we could readily use the facility on the Municipal side of government to consolidate a number of facilities which could then be sold off. Closing a school would also free up significant funds in the school budget that could be better used for instruction.

At a minimum this topic should be actively considered and debated, which is not happening at present.

9 Jack February 2, 2017 at 3:34 PM

Al – interesting analysis – thanks for sharing your findings and rationale.

Curious if you considered additions to enrollment between K and 8, or are you assuming the same population of students all along the way from K to 8? I’m biased, but I would assume that more families move to Southborough during those years than move out and pull their kids out of Southborough during those years.

If my assumption is correct, that could close the gap between the 130 student K and 150 student Grade 8 classes, just not sure if that’s true and by how much. Perhaps Grade 8s are always around 150 students, Grade 4 ~140 students, and K ~130 students due to changes in residency.

Again, thanks for sharing the data you found!

10 Al Hamilton February 2, 2017 at 4:43 PM


I wondered about that as well. If you look back you can see the bulge move through our system. In 2002 you can see the lower grades greatly exceeding the upper grades.

By 2009 you can see the bulge working its way through with graduating classes in the 170-180 range and entering classes in the 160-170 range.

By 2013 you start to see a substantial drop off of entering classes while etill graduating classes in the 170-185 range and the bulge works its way through

That bulge is now tapering off and the size of our graduating classes and entering classes is dropping off.

The long and short of it is that I suspect that there is some pressure from new families moving to town with older children that skews the distribution but the secular trend for the total population has been steadily downward for a decade.

The great recession of 2007 probably also impacted the number as well as the completion of the Algonquin renovation. Both probably moved children particularly in grades 7 and 8 from private school to our system.

11 Jack February 8, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Very interesting links – I didn’t realize that data was publicly published. The ’01-’02 data, which wasn’t the peak, still shows 1,514 students enrolled in the three schools (including 521 at Neary), as compared to the 1,295 across four schools now (only 298 at Neary).

The Neary operating costs must be high enough to warrant at least discussing realigning the schools and considering other use of the land/building. Al, if you see this, I’m curious if you have ideas on alternate plans if we were to go back to three K-8 schools?

12 Al Hamilton February 8, 2017 at 8:19 AM

Jack –

The smallest school in the system is also the newest, Woodward. It is the other obvious candidate.

13 southsider January 28, 2017 at 10:48 AM

I no longer have kids in the system but assume the decision to revert to the principal per grammar school model WAS the result of a review by the administration and may also reflect what might be a growing population of school kids as more apartments and condos get built and occupied by families seeking high quality public education.
None of us enjoy paying taxes, but we love the price we get for our homes when we sell them… a price we would not get if the quality of the town’s education system slipped.
By the way, hasn’t the ARHS principal also announced his retirement?

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