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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The motion was later withdrawn by committee member Ted Delano.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In between the withdrawn motion and the approved motion, many of the 40-plus people in the room at Swampscott High weighed in, among them School Committee members, former School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.

Millington Speaks

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.

Bqhatevwr February 20, 2013 at 03:05 PM
Sounds like a diss directed at the Superintendent to me. It's not necessarily the town, maybe the person running the school system. And maybe that's why she's getting kicked out.
Sounds like good, qualified superintendents can't wait to come here. We should just give the Marblehead superintendent another $80,000 per year to be our superintendent. Then, like a good leader, say that there is not enough time to address all of the issues in Swampscott, because they are also the superintendent of Marblehead.
a worker February 20, 2013 at 03:44 PM
For the love of GOD.... Someone PLEASE....take the superintendent we have (here in Utica Community Schools) located in Sterling Heights Michigan before it's too late for us. What once was a very sucessful district is now turning into just a memory of what once was. We have had enough of the UCS Board of Education as well as Dr Christine Johns. If you ever hear that name might I suggest..... RUNNING!!!
Myjanda February 20, 2013 at 04:03 PM
I'm so incredibly depressed by this article and by what apparently transpired (or didn't) last night. Mr. Millington has been terrific - respected by parents, teachers and students. I can understand, perhaps, having to go through a formal search for a permanent superintendent, but for an interim? Only to then repeat this for a permanent one, and all the while we have an asst super? Why can't the asst super run the show while a permanent person is found? As the parent of two high school students, and someone who knows, not much, but perhaps some of the details of the Watson 'incident', I've really been a cheerleader for our school system for both my out of town acquaintances looking to move to Swampscott, and for neighbors with younger children considering leaving our school system for private school. After following this story for a while now, I feel I can no longer do so. My kids will remain at the high school but I really can not recommend this system for others at this point. This is crazy, something is broken here and unfortunately somewhere someone has decided that for some reason the very people who need to fix it, the townspeople, can't be given the sorely needed information. Like so much here in this town, nothing will change, we will continue to do things the way they've been done, even if they don't work, and Swampscott will never be the town it really could be. Sad.
Lenny February 20, 2013 at 04:05 PM
I can't see what Delano and Landen suggested was wrong. To hell with these search committees. Put Millington in temporarily and in the meantime post the job internally and let the top teachers and admistrators in the town apply for the position, including Millington if he wants it. The comments from the MS principal Murphy, Lynne Celli, Pam Angelakis, and Mr Cronin nothwithstanding........a top educator or a sitting principal has enough experience......and "Central Office Experience" or lack thereof is a canard...simpy ridiculous. What has all the "Central Office Experience" done for the Town in the last decade? This isn't all that difficult to work out. The model for choosing superintendants that we have used for the past decade simply has not worked out, has it? Can anyone on this message board say that it has, and if so, how? Sometimes going back to the way things were done in the past is not a bad thing and does not mean we aren't "looking forward". It simply means we have learned our lesson; that maybe we can overcomplicate things unnecessarily.
Uncle Leo February 20, 2013 at 04:08 PM
Well done to Ted and Jaren. The town needs to hire from within. It's unfortunate it did not work out this time, but they had the right idea. PLEASE, no more national searches. Stay with game plan and develop talent internally. Again, kudos to Ted Delano and the other SC members for having the courage to propose this.
Uncle Leo February 20, 2013 at 04:10 PM
Learn from the Red Sox mistakes...no more high profile expensive free agent signings! Develop from within. We need more Dustin Pedroia's and fewer Carl Crawfords.
Gerrit Bradley February 20, 2013 at 04:48 PM
What is the timeline relative to Millington putting his hat in the ring for Peabody schools and the Superintendent issue? Feels to me Millington already had one foot out the door. Something is rotten in Denmark (or Swampscott Public Schools). We are a very demanding town for our size. I think we try to provide an education to our kids that frankly should only be possible towns having more than 30K residents.
Kevin Donaher February 20, 2013 at 08:10 PM
Dear Dr. Celli and Dr. Millington, It would be nice if one of you put an end to all the speculation simply by letting everyone know the real issues between the two of you and why something had to give and that's why the school system has been turned upside down. If this is the kind of educational leadership at the top the town wants then by all means give the job to Millington. Personally I think its an embarassment to have the school committee placed square in the middle of trying to justify differences between dysfunctional administrators. I think I'll threaten to quit my job so the board of directors will promote me to Executive Director.
A+ Schools February 20, 2013 at 08:26 PM
To the community: To Layne 'if I can't be Swampscott Superintendent I'll take my ball & leave' Millington: To Ms. Landen, Mr. Delano & Ms. Hartmann, aka The Three Muskateers, please read the following: #1 - From the Belmont Citizen-Herald, 7/2010, “My goal is to be a principal; being a principal was the end goal when I got into administration. I have no goals beyond that other than finishing my doctoral studies,” Millington told a July 8, session with residents, students and the public. “I like Swampscott; I’m looking for a small-town feel. I want to get settled someplace.” http://goo.gl/D1vKk 2 - “What I would like desperately is to go back to the plan I had in October,” he {MIllington} said in a final statement. “I love Swampscott, I love the school, I love the kids, but at this point in time … I’d like to move on in peace and dignity", http://www.itemlive.com/articles/2013/02/20/news/news04.txt --What happened last night is specifically why the Education Reform Laws in Massachusetts were passed in 1993. Backroom dealings cannot be alowed to happen. --Yesterday was my second ever school committee meeting and I found it embarrasing. The dynamic of the school board was uncomfortable. Ms. Landen & Mr. Delano were quite obviously in kahoots, along with Ms. Hartmann (the Middle School nurse and member of the Teacher's Union). Mr. Beaupre was livid about the actions that were occuring & Mr. Kraft was like a deer in headlights.
Kevin Donaher February 20, 2013 at 08:43 PM
"I love Swampscott, I love the school, I love the kids, but at this point in time … I’d like to move on in peace and dignity", Sorry Millington it's to late the horse is already out of the barn! Thanks for your dedication and leadership!
William R. DiMento February 20, 2013 at 09:00 PM
When will the public learn why the School Committee fired Dr Celli ?Why on earth they would beg anyone to be be Superintendent or stay on as high school principal is beyond me. Mr Millington leads a high school with 736 students.Big deal ! Why would Peabody hire a cry-baby to lead a 2000 student school? He may get a job somewhere but it won't be in Peabody.I hold the School Committee responsible for this mess. "there is a very strong dynamic here that makes it tough on administrators".Would someone translate that statement for me?Explain to me what a "strong dynamic" is. Where is Andrew Maylor when you need him? Just a few months ago they hired an Asst Superintendent,why? I don't like being kept in the dark without any explanation for the firing and knowing my tax money is being wasted. Who was the genius who wants to hire an interim at 85K ?
Anne Barrett February 20, 2013 at 09:23 PM
Mr. Millington is not and has not been the only person to express concerns about Celi since her first year. The school board has been aware of how difficult she is to work with or for. Mr. Millington brought cohesiveness to the high school and a sense of fairness and justice in all areas. He won't have a problem being hired at another school.
Whisky February 20, 2013 at 09:26 PM
"When will the public learn why the School Committee fired Dr Celli ?" When somebody's lawyer's check bounces.
Lenny February 20, 2013 at 09:33 PM
All good questions Mr DiMento. So far all we can do is read between the lines, but it looks like a classic case of factional fighting centering around an animosity that has built up between the Principal and the Superintendant. But it would only be a guess because for some reason, the SC and other school officials don't seem to be at liberty to talk. I don't think it is a matter of wanting to keep secrets, but rather, being obliged to do so.
William R. DiMento February 20, 2013 at 10:13 PM
Lenny: There is nothing preventing the SC from explaining their actions> They are cowering behind a claim of obligation that does not exist. Anne Barrett--If what you claim is accurate, why did the SC extend her contract?
Anne Barrett February 20, 2013 at 10:23 PM
A good question, William DiMento. I wonder if the evaluations or talks leading to that decision are available to the public?
Whisky February 20, 2013 at 10:43 PM
It was explained at the meeting that the contract renewed automatically due to no action at the renewal time - whether it was intended to renew at the time and later changed their mind(s), or whether the opportunity NOT to renew was missed was not made clear.
Anne Barrett February 20, 2013 at 10:50 PM
To add to my previous comment: How is the process of extending the super's contract conducted? And what are the specific criteria? Are weaknesses as well as strengths addressed? Are teachers or administrators or the community allowed input or given ample time to give comments to the school board before the contract is extended?
GP February 20, 2013 at 11:43 PM
To those defending Mr. Millington--are you serious? I don't know about you, but I don't respond well to ultimatums: fire Celli/promote me or I leave. He says he loves Swampscott. If that's true, then why is he leaving? Either because he's a "crybaby" or because he doesn't mean what he's saying. Plus, he hasn't actually been that great of a principal. I don't know what kids you're talking about, but I recently graduated SHS and the majority of people I knew did not like him whatsoever. Let's not forget about his (ineffective) drug policy and mandatory parent meetings either. Think what you like about Mr. Millington, but I say good riddance.
David Matela February 20, 2013 at 11:48 PM
Anne Barrett, those are great questions to ask when the candidates debate before the Women's League of Voters. I understand that we are heading towards a competitive election for the school committee.
A+ Schools February 21, 2013 at 12:18 AM
Repeat post. Anne and all - here are Ms. Celli's evalutions. To my eyes, they look mostly very positive, especially when compared to other superintendents in other towns. Celli's hIring notice - yes the Middle School nurse sat on the Hiring Committee, thank you: http://goo.gl/dsvWP School Committee evaluation 2011-2012 school year, http://goo.gl/r5nEZ School Committee evaluation 2010-2011 school year, http://goo.gl/rzaxQ Unless something monumental occurred since the end of 2012 school year, it appears to be a power play and personal issues with the School Committee. Regarding the ex-principal at SMS, he is out and if the Swampscott PD (Det. Delano) investigation found anything, he would he been charged. Also, for the people who say hire from within, it's not that simple. A superintendent needs to be certified and should have some experienced. Being a teacher or principal does not make a superintendent. Bottom line, there are two seats up for election in April, who's in?
powderpuff79 February 21, 2013 at 12:31 AM
if all her reviews are good and now we're firing her, SOMEBODY has an agenda. right? i mean really what other explanation passes the smell test.
David Matela February 21, 2013 at 12:40 AM
Nice job Allen! Three are running for two seats. I would suggest that anyone interested in the issues should call all of them and see where they stand. Then vote!
Voice for the Kids February 21, 2013 at 12:47 AM
Part 1: The Town of Swampscott has a beautiful High School plus a remarkable Principal. Sounds Great!! Here is the catch. What went on last night at the SC Meeting was a disgrace to a professional, well thought of Principal. He was berated and insulted; things were said about him like he was not in the room. One can disagree without being disagreeable. I personally never met him but I feel as a resident of the town I must offer my apology for the way he was treated. Just to mention a few people who seemed to be carried away with their importance. Mr. Murphy a new principal to Swampscott, was a principal in another community for years, yet new to Swampscott less than a year on the job, he seems to know quite a bit about the HS Principal. If he was doing “his” job, how do you know what kind of a job Mr. M is doing? If Mr. Murphy continues with this school system, we will have to raise the roof of the Middle School so his head will still fit. I wonder if he would have felt compelled to give his professional opinion if he was not less than a year in the district. It was hard to take his comments seriously because he looked so unprofessional.
Voice for the Kids February 21, 2013 at 12:48 AM
Part 2: Voice of the Kids Also Mr. Cronin, the Business Manager, had so much to say about “Central Office” and how it operates. After the principal states his working experience with large sums of money, Mr. Cronin shot him down. Mr. Cronin, Are you a tax payer or just beating your chest at how great you are at handling the school’s budget??? Not to forget the new Assistant Superintendent, Mrs. Angelakis, now that she has the job, everyone else hired should be found by a search committee. How soon we forget. And Lynn Celli should give a special thank you to her cheerleaders. They did a good job, not fair and balanced. Ms. Celli’s cheerleaders want us all to buy into the need for a new school. At this point what is the truth? Vote NO to the cheerleaders. For those people who may read this, when and if you are in the work force, did you pick your own boss? This is difficult for me to understand. It’s like inmates, running the prison. Our track record is not good. Changes were not acceptable and my hats off to the SC members who tried to make change possible. Let’s work together to make a change. Our kids are our best assets. Just remember it’s about the kids and not your own personal egos.
Anne Barrett February 21, 2013 at 04:46 AM
Allen: The link, "School Committee evaluation 2011-2012 school year, http://goo.gl/r5nEZ " says the article is not available.
A+ Schools February 22, 2013 at 03:19 AM
Here you go: http://www.itemlive.com/articles/2012/04/26/news/news08.txt
Whisky February 22, 2013 at 03:37 AM
But wait, there's more: http://www.wickedlocal.com/swampscott/newsnow/x766871220/Swampscott-Highs-Millington-a-finalist-for-Marblehead-job?zc_p=1#axzz2Lamezkf5
pam varone February 26, 2013 at 05:33 AM
kudos to the School Committee I think you're doing a phenomenal job it's not the same old same old school committee we're not focusing in on dog walking policies we focusing in on the kids the teenagers and the families of this town thank you for thinking outside the box I hope Millington stays in Swampscott

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