This site aims to inform and mobilize Beverly parents to take an active role in all issues related to the funding and operation of the city's schools. It was launched in the spring of 2008, when the city saw its first-ever override attempt fail, followed by the closure of a nearly-new elementary school. Subsequent years have seen further cuts that have led to larger class sizes across the district. While the opening of an impressive new high school and plans to replace the city's aging middle school give us reason to be optimistic, the school community must be ever vigilant in demanding appropriate school funding by city and state governments, and better community communications from the district and School Committee.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Former Somerville Super Picked for Interim Job

The School Committee voted  6-1 Friday evening to offer the job of assistant superintendent to retired Somerville superintendent Albert Argenziano. Committee members detailed overwhelmingly positive reports each had personally received from a variety of former colleagues who had worked with or observed Argenziano over the years. The list even included a U.S. Congressmen, former Somerville mayor Michael Capuano, who served as mayor during much of Argenziano's 12-year tenure.

Saturday's Salem News has further details on the appointment:

Without exception, the reports paint Argenziano in glowing terms, calling him an extremely effective leader, even "a superstar." Argenziano was so respected in Somerville, in fact, that he has a school named after him. 

After hearing the reviews, there seemed to be few reservations among those on the committee that Argenziano was well-qualified for the position, and would be an asset to the district in helping to select a new permanent superintendent, which appears to be the primary role at least some on the Committee see for this position.

But there was still quite a bit of discord on the committee over the manner by which Assistant Superintendent Duffy was passed over for the interim position, and whether the proper role of an interim superintendent should be to guide the search process, or to maintain continuity.  Annemarie Cesa, who has been the leading champion for Duffy, and had been pushing for her to be named the interim Super from the onset, again brought up the subject of Duffy before the committee could get to the business of discussing Argenziano.

Today's Salem News details the dispute this way:
The vote was not without controversy, however. Two committee members, Annemarie Cesa and Kris Silverstein, favored hiring Assistant Superintendent Maryellen Duffy as interim superintendent.

Duffy did not apply for the job, but Cesa said she should not have been required to go through the interview process. Several school administrators called her expressing support for Duffy, Cesa said.
“She can step into the job seamlessly,” Cesa said. “I think it’s being silly inviting someone we interviewed for three minutes when she’s been doing it for three years.”

Mayor Bill Scanlon, who is a member of the School Committee, said the committee wanted an interim superintendent who can help with the search for a permanent superintendent.

“It didn’t appear that (Duffy) could help us (in the search),” Scanlon said.
At a Committee of the Whole meeting last month [viewable on BevCam's streaming archive], Committee President Maria Decker maintained that Duffy would need to formally apply for the position and compete against the other outside interim candidates if she was interested in the position, a view supported by at least some of the other members.  While they agreed that she has performed well in her current role, they considered one of the primary responsibilities of an interim superintendent as helping to lead the search for a permanent leader. These were skills they didn't believe that Duffy brought to the table.

But Duffy never officially applied for the position, and the next week announced that she would also retire effective at the end of June.

Cesa said Duffy would maintain a sense of continuity while the district searched for a permanent leader, and viewed that as the most important role of an interim superintendent.  This view was echoed by several members of the district staff we have spoken with, and others with close contact to the day-to-day functioning of the schools. In fact, many seemed more concerned with the vacancy in the assistant's role that they were with the top job, especially since only the superintendent can legally hire a new assistant.  The assistant superintendent writes grants, and has more of a day-to-day direct interaction with administrators and teachers on curriculum issues across the district.

In this role, Duffy has strong support, and to those who see continuity in this area as the most important issue during this transition, keeping her in place and focusing on those duties while the School Committee managed the search process was preferable to hiring someone in the superintendent's role to guide the search.

Cesa said she was convinced that Duffy would have accepted the position if it were offered to her, and maintained that it is "fiscally irresponsible" to pay for a seasoned executive whose primary purpose is to conduct the search.

Member Matthew Kavanagh, submitted two motions that were intended to bridge the divide, and show the community that the district intends to maintain continuity during the transition by mandating that the new superintendent form a transition team, and consult with the current leadership, or possibly create some type of interim associate position as well, one that perhaps Duffy could fill. But most members felt the motions were unnecessary, since that type of continuity would be a normal part of any transfer of leadership.

In the end, members on both sides of the debate conceded that the process had gotten messier than it should have, and many in the community worry about what appears to be a fractured (some say "toxic") dynamic on the school committee, and what affect that may have had on the decision of the two top leaders to leave.

But in Dr. Argenziano, the district will for the first time in at least a dozen years, have an experienced leader from outside the district to assess where we are from a fresh perspective, and begin what committee member Paul Manzo called, "the next version of the Beverly Public Schools."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Committee Moves Toward Decision on Interim Super

The Beverly Citizen has posted a summary of Tuesday's interim superintendent interviews, and reports that retired Somerville superintendent Dr. Albert Argenziano has emerged as the leading contender. This view was confirmed by several community members who attended both the afternoon interviews and a meeting later in the evening at which the committee discussed the interviews.

The majority of the committee moved quickly past the other two candidates, and settled on Argenziano as the best choice of the three. Mayor Scanlon reportedly was so enthuthiastic in his for support for Argenziano that he initially made a motion to vote on his selection on the spot, pending a positive reference check. The motion was later tabled until the next meeting, which will be held on Friday evening.

But while it seemed to be the consensus that Argenziano was the strongest of the three, not all members were sold on whether he possessed all the skills they were looking for. According to the Citizen:
After the interviews were concluded, some members of the committee were not ready to make a choice on the three, the consensus among the committee being that Dr. Argenziano was the strongest candidate in leading the search for a permanent superintendent but not for taking care of the day-to-day operations of the district.
The fact that this person also needs to immediately hire an assistant superintendent is also a major consideration. 

Community members who attended Tuesday's meetings report some frustration with what they see as a hasty, and less than inclusive process into an important decision for the district. The three contenders were chosen in just over a week's time, and the first public report of their identity was in Tuesday's Salem News. They were interviewed in short half-hour sessions that were attended by principals and administrators, but only a handful of members of the public. There appear to be no plans to conduct a follow-up interview, or consider other candidates.

Some were also troubled that the later evening discussion meeting was not announced to the public or most staff at all, except at the joint School Committee/City Council meeting that preceded it, which itself was so poorly publicized that only four members of the community attended.

As it stands now, the committee is checking the references of Dr. Argenziano, looking into the possibility of retaining Assistant Superintendent Duffy on a per diem basis, and planning to meet again Friday at 5pm in the library of the high school.  It appears likely that they will take up Mayor Scanlon's motion to vote on the hiring of Argenziano, but it is unclear how the full committee will vote.

Given the importance of this decision to the continuing progress of the district, and the swiftness at which this process is moving, its important that interested members of the school community attend Friday's meeting, and pay close attention to the process by which this and other decisions within the district are being made.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Decker: "We’re not looking for a change agent”

Today's Salem News reports the identity of the three candidates for Interim Superintendent that will be interviewed today at the high school. The candidates, all retired former Supers from locals districts include former Somerville Superintendent Albert Argenziano, former Swampscott interim Superintendent Maureen Bingham and former Rockport Superintendent Joseph Lisi.

School Committee President Maria Decker, who, as evidenced at the recent State of the Schools presentation, is very bullish on the direction of the school district, tells the News that "We’re not looking for a change agent. We’re looking for someone who can stay the course as we move through this transition process.”

An advertisement for the position stated that the district was seeking a candidate with "extensive experience as a superintendent and building administrator, strong interpersonal and communication skills, familiarity with the new teacher evaluation process, and a history of successful team building."

The interviews will be held today at 4 pm in the library at Beverly High School, and the sessions are open to the public.

The News also confirms our report in the previous post that Assistant Superintendent Maryellen Duffy will also leave the district at the end of the school year.

There is also an unrelated joint City Council/School Committee meeting tonight at 7pm, in the high school auditorium. On the agenda for the school side is ROTC, city/schools consolidation committee, PILOT/SILOT and an update on the middle school statement of interest.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Duffy Out Too; Committee to Interview Interim Super Candidates

We have learned from multiple sources today that Assistant Superintendent Maryellen Duffy has announced her intention to retire when her contract is up this June. This announcement comes on the heals of Superintendent Galinski's announcement that she would also retire this June, a year before her contact is up, and leaves the district without its two top administrators.

The subject of a succession plan was debated at last week's Committee of the Whole meeting [which can be viewed on BevCam's streaming archive], and the committee decided to opt for an interim Superintendent.  The debate was somewhat contentious between the members, particularly on the subject of whether Duffy should be given the first opportunity to interview for the interim job.

At the meeting, which was held before Duffy announced her intentions, committee member Annemarie Cesa made a strong case for Duffy to be considered as an interim candidate, saying that she has strong support from administrators within the district. Cesa also pointed out that Duffy's contract expired this June also, and worried about the district being without its two top leaders if Duffy decided to leave also.
"My biggest concern is that we're going to end up on June 30th with two people gone from our administration, and have to hire two people who don't know our district...That scares the hell out of me." said Cesa.
Some members, especially Cesa,  also seemed annoyed that School Committee President Maria Decker had already reached out to potential interim candidates before discussing the process with the rest of the Committee.
"I'm a little concerned that you have called people, when we haven't even had a conversation about it."
The district has a long history of appointing new Superintendents from within the district, and there is a feeling by many within the community that it's time for an outside perspective.  That sentiment was summed up at the meeting by Mayor Scanlon, who stated:
"The community probably wants us to do a broad consideration, regardless of what we ultimately choose."
The School Committee plans to  interview several interim candidates on Tuesday at 4pm at the High School.  The meeting is a open to any interested members of the public.  There is also a joint School Committee/City Council meeting that evening at 7:00, also at the high school.