Superintendent search: Community needs assessment to be followed by (likely internal) search

Last night, Southborough School Committee’s Chair confirmed that the district has a “strong internal candidate” for the Superintendent position – Assistant Superintendent Gregory Martineau.

Some committee members seemed poised to launch an internal only search seemed geared towards the Assistant Super. In the end, they opted to hold off for a public needs assessment first.

The committee brought in experts from two non-profits to advise them on the process: The New England School Development Council and the Massachusetts Associations of School Committees. Answering pointed questions, both advised that searches should start internally if there is a strong candidate.

A NESDEC consultant explained that the state’s Open Meeting Laws make hiring for the position difficult. Potential candidates worry about repercussions at home if they don’t get the job. So, strong candidates won’t apply if they think the district is favoring an internal one. (Sound familiar? It sounds a lot like a recent discussion around replacing the Fire Chief.)

MASC’s Tracy Novick did tell the committee that our regional district is one that potential candidates keep an eye out for.

Both consultants also advised that feedback from the community in terms of the district’s needs is an important hiring step. Novick advised that they find out what the community thinks the District is doing really well that needs to be maintained. And they should learn what issues the public thinks need to be addressed or are coming down the road. They should also find out what is valued in terms of leadership.

Members initially danced around defining the internal candidate. But before deciding how to proceed, Regional member Dan Kolenda asked if anyone had a strong internal candidate to report. Southborough Chair Paul Desmond answered yes, Martineau intends to apply.

Martineau has been in his role for four years – the same number that Superintendent Christine Johnson held it before her promotion. Johnson was the only internal applicant for a job never opened to an external search.

As for the needs assessment, expect to hear from the schools about surveys, forums and focus groups. It’s essentially the same process they followed four years ago. Regional member Kathleen Harragan Polutchko reminded the room that worked out very well for them based on Johnson’s performance evaluations. 

Earlier, there was some talk about starting the internal search simultaneous to the feedback effort. Some members worried that was jumping the gun. The assessment might shape the job description. Others worried that waiting could cause timing issues if they need to run a subsequent search for an Assistant Superintendent. 

Having already agreed to hire MASC for help, they solicited Novick’s advice. She confirmed that the assessment should come first. She reassured that the process could be done before the holidays. Members projected posting in time for an application deadline in January.

Polutchko did advise room for improvement this time around. She said they need to strategize to increase forum turnout. She recalled that the last Southborough forum on the topic brought in two people and Northborough’s was zero. She said a third forum pulled in ten only because they timed it with an APTO meeting to snag those attendees.

Members acknowledged even if they stick with an internal only search, they might turn up other candidates. But whether or not Martineau gets the job, there may be changes to the responsibilities for the Assistant Superintendent role. And don’t expect that conversation to wait until Johnson’s replacement is named.

Northborough and Regional School Committee Vice Chair Joan Frank raised the concept of changing the Super’s support structure due to past concerns about it being understaffed. Johnson confirmed that a request to beef up the Central Office will be part of November’s budget presentations.

The search process wasn’t the only item covered in the meeting. So, stay tuned for more school news.

Updated (10/24/18 2:46 pm): I mistakenly referred to Kathleen Harragan Polutchko as Kathleen Harrington and Harrington. Not only was that a strange, unfortunate typo on my part – it was based on the members’ listing on the Town website as Harragan which led me to think that’s the last name she goes by. But based on school committee minutes last spring, it seems she has been going by the last, last name.

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3 years ago

This is funny: “Kathleen Harrington reminded the room that worked out very well for them based on Johnson’s performance evaluations”. Let’s look at how blind Polutchko is, the Superintendent’s office had a drug addicted employee who stole nearly half a million dollars in taxpayer money under HER watch. Her administrative team has turned over and over repeatedly losing some very long term employees, I think somebody mentioned 10+ people, she reportedly from her staff, bully them horribly and supposedly the school committee turned a blind eye when they were made aware of it. Polutchko is crazy if she thinks Johnson was a good pick. Perhaps fresh blood would do the schools some good. She spends money hand over fist, yours and mine too – BYOD at ARHS, and let’s add more employees. She is the most entitled employee I think we have ever seen in this town. Yes, she was a fantastic pick, Polutchko, and Martineau will follow in her footsteps, she has taught him everything she knows. Instead, let’s open the search and really get a good Superintendent, for our kids sake. What are you afraid of? I have kids in the system and will for a while, school committee should do what is best for the kids, that is why WE elected them after all.

3 years ago

I believe we absolutely need to open this search to to the public. I respectfully request that School Commitee do so and hope that others will encourage them to do the same.

Frank Crowell
3 years ago

There is not another open position in town that screams the need for new outside talent as much as this one. Just looking inside is an easy out for the school committees. If the consulting non-profits are advising only to look internally, it’s just another reason to look outside. Big money for this position, should be easy to attract many good candidates.

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