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."

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