With the second superintendent search in as many years in its final stages, members of the Hopkinton School Committee are hearing one overriding message from the community.
“They want us to get it right,” said Scott Aghababian, the committee vice chairman.
They thought they got it right in Hopkinton with the last hire. But Jonathan Landman, announced his resignation before his first year was over. So the need to find someone who is the right fit has more meaning than in most places.
The school system is not only looking for its third superintendent since 2010, it is also hiring a new high school principal, after the resignation earlier this school year of Alyson Geary, and a new leader at the Center Elementary School, where principal Christopher Kennedy’s last day was Friday.
With the superintendent’s office and two of five school principal’s positions filled with interim leaders, the community is looking for stability.
“We are looking for someone who is willing to stay,” said Molly Myers, who has a 12-year-old daughter in the school system. “We want someone invested in our town.”
Hopkinton Parent Teacher Organization president Beth D’Alleva agreed.
“We need someone who is here for the long run, who is a good communicator and can strike the right balance between asking for opinions from the community and being able to make a decision,” she said.
Public interviews have been held with three finalists: interim Hopkinton Superintendent Dr. Steven Hiersche, who formerly led the Framingham and Watertown publics schools; Cathy MacLeod, assistant superintendent in Easton; and Dr. Andrew Keough, principal at Wellesley High School and a former assistant principal of Hopkinton High School.
A fourth finalist, Joseph Baeta, superintendent in Holbrook, withdrew his name from consideration after accepting the job as superintendent in Norton two weeks ago.
Parents who have sat through the School Committee interviews or asked their own questions at the community interview sessions say they are confident the right candidate is in the mix.
“I think we’ve got three good candidates,” said D’Alleva, who has children in grades 2, 3, and 5. “We’re going to end up with a good superintendent, and that makes me feel relieved and excited.”
Whoever gets the job will be charged with finding the balance of maintaining the strength of the system while working within a challenging economy. The new superintendent will also need to come up with a workable solution for replacing or remodeling the aging Center School — one that can get enough support from voters if taxes need to be increased.
With the public interviews complete, School Committee members and a team of administrators are now conducting site visits. They visited MacLeod’s district in Easton last Wednesday, according to School Committee chairwoman Nancy Alvarez Burdick, with a visit to Wellesley and Hopkinton schools this week to get a feel for the candidates’ management styles.
“We will be looking to verify impressions, learn about the candidate’s management style, and look for other descriptive characteristics that will make a good match,” she said via e-mail.
The site visits are the biggest difference between the last search and this one, according to Burdick.
During the last search, Burdick said, the committee amended its search schedule in an effort to compete for candidates being interviewed by other towns. This time it decided those adjustments will not be made.
“We are committed to providing community forum opportunities for each finalist and conducting site visits in each candidate’s district.” she said.
From there, the process will continue with “our due diligence process,” which will include verifying credentials and checking candidates’ references, according to Kim Pulnik, director of public relations for the Hopkinton schools.
While the committee appears ahead of its original schedule, which set the hiring date for late February or March, Burdick said the panel will take the time needed to make the right choice.
That choice will be a person “who can wrestle with the not-very-sexy issues,” according to parent Muriel Kramer, who has six children, three of whom are still in the system.
“They’ll obviously have to communicate well, and be able to support, motivate, and attract the very best teachers with something other than more money,” she said.
“I think the School Committee has a very tough choice,” she said. “There are a couple of people who could do a great job. It’ll just depend of what strengths they want to give the most weight to.”