Superintendent Succession Search Starts After Stormy Talks
Tuesday's School Committee talks were at times tense as speakers confronted unanswered questions and sought stability for the school system and its students.
The School Committee’s first motion at Tuesday’s meeting was to offer Swampscott High School Principal Layne Millington the Swampscott superintendent’s position effective January 2014.
The motion was later withdrawn by committee member Ted Delano.
The committee’s last motion Tuesday was to form a search panel of Swampscott administrators and two School Committee members. Under the proposal, assembled in part by committee member Rick Kraft, the search panel would review candidates for interim superintendent and report their recommendation to the School Committee on March 27.
The School Committee approved this motion.
In between the withdrawn motion and the approved motion, many of the 40-plus people in the room at Swampscott High weighed in, among them School Committee members, former School Committee members, parents and administrators.
A recurrent question that parents and others raised was what had led the School Committee to the point where they were willing to offer the high school principal the superintendent position, effective January 2014, without a formal search to explore other candidates?
Committee member Jaren Landen said she and others did not want to take a chance on losing the high school principal to another school district — and he is a candidate for positions elsewhere.
She said he had performed well as principal and was supported by many teachers at the high school.
“I feel we have someone who is real talented and I don’t want to lose him,” she said.
Should Millington be Superintendent?
Jaren Landen said that in follow-up conversations with school administrators about Millington becoming superintendent the response was mixed.
Assistant Superintendent Pamela Angelakis, the former Stanley School principal, said at Tuesday's meeting that she was uncomfortable with the Millington proposal.
She said she felt like a deal was made and she did not like it.
Business Manager Ed Cronin said the School Committee did not take into consideration what goes into being a central office employee. He felt insulted that it was assumed someone could become superintendent without central office experience.
For his part, the high school principal said he did have experience in financial matters, working for several years in the private sector before his years as a school administrator.
For her part, Lynne Celli advocated for Assistant Superintendent Pam Angelakis as a candidate for superintendent, saying she has central office experience and is ready to step into the head post.
In the end, Principal Millington said he wanted to move on with peace and dignity as he had planned to do last October.
It is not clear what happened in or before October that had led him to want to move on.
But he seemed to be saying, toward the end of Tuesday’s meeting, that he would not want to be Swampscott superintendent if it was offered to him.
“What I would like desperately — what I would like desperately — is to go back to the plan I had in October,” he said. “I would like ... and I’ve got to say from the bottom of my heart I love Swampscott. I love the school. I love the kids.
“But at this point in time there is a very strong dynamic here that makes it tough on administrators. I think people have to agree with that — people have to agree with that. That’s why there have been what 13 superintendents and principals in the last decade.
"At some point in time people have to take serious consideration for what that dynamic may be and begin to dismantle it and that is vital.
"What i would like is to move on with peace and dignity. That is what I would like.”
Tension and Peace
Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, some people in the room wanted to know what had led the committee to the place where they felt they needed a superintendent, especially since Lynne Celli had already been under contract as the full-time superintendent.
Committee member Landen said she had spoken with a majority of Swampscott administrators and everyone felt like they needed peace.
“The culture has been difficult the past two years,” Landen said.
School Committee Chairman Larry Beaupre also spoke with administrators. He said the upshot of what he heard was that the administrators were tired and had experienced enough drama.
The superintendent said that when she was approached by the School Committee, she willingly waived a year, 2014-15, of her contract and was agreeable to accepting a part-time position for the next school year.
Her part-time contract, starting on July 1, calls for her to focus on special projects including elementary school building needs, science, technology, engineering and math education and Chapter 70 funding — state education aid.
Search for Continuity and Stability
Committee members and audience members alike said what the school system needs is continuity and stability, though some of them disagreed about the best way to achieve stability.
Parent Kris Kennedy said she was dismayed to see the upheaval in two top positions, the superintendent post and high school principal.
Parents had based their choice on where to send their children to school presuming there was administrative stability, she said.
Middle School Principal Bob Murphy urged the committee to seek an interim superintendent to stabilize the district and mentor everyone.
Mona Blumstein, administrator of student support services, said she did not think that having Millington as principal for half the year and then superintendent for the remaining part of the school year was in the interest of stability, especially for students who need stability the most.
But Landen and some people in the room said the proposal to make Millington superintendent was in the best interest of district stability. She said the district had engaged in extensive searches in the past and, yet, here they were, faced with having to hire a new superintendent.
The superintendent — Lynne Celli remains full-time superintendent through June 30 — said search committees had conducted successful searches, among them the middle school principal and an assistant principal at the high school.
Parent Jeffrey Blonder said the move to make the high school principal superintendent showed leadership on Delano and Landen's parts.
Amy O’Connor, a parent and candidate for School Committee, said she did not feel that having an interim superintendent followed by Millington’s appointment as superintendent was in the best interest of stability.
The Original Motion
The first motion, proposed by Ted Delano and supported by Jaren Landen, called for Layne Millington to serve as high school principal for half the year, through Dec. 30, 2013, then become superintendent on Jan. 1, 2014.
The proposal drew protests.
Former School Committee member Glenn Paster said it was an illegal move and urged the board to think hard about going that route.
Later, former School Committee member Jackie Kinney said the district appeared to be like a runaway freight train.
She urged the group to step back and think through the choice of the next superintendent.
The Final Motion
Gargi Cooper, parent of a Hadley student, urged the committee to reach some kind of a consensus before they ended on Tuesday night.
She said it would not be healthy to leave the meeting without some sort of direction and to continue discussions with a new group of people at the next School Committee meeting.
Committee members seemed to take that recommendation to heart and they approved the motion to start the search for an interim superintendent. They agreed to advertise it immediately so the interim search committee could start its work reviewing candidates.
School Committee members started Tuesday's discussion by allowing members of the audience to take part.
Editor's note: In the orginal version we called Ed Cronin, Kevin. Sorry about that, Ed. Also, we added the year 2014-15 to the sentence on the superintendent's agreement to accept the part-time position, clarifying that she was waiving an earlier offer to extend her contract to the 2014-15 school year.