The Hopkinton School Committee chose Cathy MacLeod, the assistant superintendent in Easton, as the district’s next superintendent Wednesday night , taking a chance on a candidate who lacks experience as the head of a school system but who, members said, has the right combination of skills to become something special.
“There is not a task she can’t complete, she is tenacious,” chairwoman Nancy Alvarez Burdick said. “They are all great candidates, but to move several years out, I’d like to be able to say we took a chance and chose someone who will be outstanding. . . I don’t want to miss out on her.”
MacLeod was one of three finalists for the job, along with the district’s interim superintendent, Steven Hiersche, and Wellesley High School principal Andrew Keough. They went through a rigorous screening, including private and public interviews, site visits, and background and reference checks.
Burdick was the deciding vote on the five-member panel, which initially was split between MacLeod and Hiersche, who had the backing of vice chairman Scott Aghababian and Rebecca Robak.
Aghababian and Robak spoke in favor of staying with Hiersche to maintain a level of consistency in an administration that has seen three superintendents in as many years, and cited his experience as a superintendent who has formulated budgets and overseen building projects.
“He has the experience, he is a proven leader,” Robak said of Hiersche. “I was looking for a vision and he has one. Of the three, he inspired me the most.”
The other committee members said that what MacLeod lacks in superintendent experience is made up by her other skills, including being a thoughtful communicator, a gifted mentor, a taskmaster who knows how to shepherd ideas to implementation, and someone who has thoughtfully navigated her own career to get exactly where she wanted to be.
“She would have a steeper learning curve than Steve Hiersche, but I got caught up in her level of energy, and it would be exciting to see where she could take us,” board member Jonathan Graziano said.
The committee took two votes, first 4 to 1 in favor of entering into contract negotiations with MacLeod, with only Robak voting no. Immediately after the first vote, a second was taken to make it unanimous.
After the vote, Aghababian said he is completely satisfied with the choice, adding that the quality of the three candidates made it a very difficult decision.
MacLeod is working on her doctorate at the School of Education at Boston University, and holds a master’s degree in education from the College of New Jersey, and a master’s in applied child psychology from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Before becoming the assistant superintendent in Easton, she was an elementary school principal and the director of literacy in Pembroke, and a classroom teacher in the Montgomery Township school district in New Jersey.
Assuming successful contract negotiations, MacLeod will begin on July 1 and find a school system that has weathered an unsuccessful school superintendent choice two years ago, when Jonathan Landman resigned before the end of his first year. The district is launching searches for a new high school principal, after the recent resignation of Alyson Geary, and a new principal for Center Elementary School.
MacLeod, who has no experience leading a building project, also will be charged with overseeing plans to renovate or replace Center Elementary, and, then rallying the community to approve raising taxes through an override of Proposition 2½ to fund the work.
In making their case for MacLeod, Graziano and committee member Jean Bertschmann said she is a quick study with the skills to see projects through.“She is great at keeping calm through difficult decisions,” Bertschmann said.
Graziano also said there is enough building experience among the 16 members of the district’s committee formulating a plan for the elementary school to allow MacLeod time to learn on the job.
The decision was made in front of a handful of parents and members of the committee that oversaw the superintendent search process, and after the meeting they voiced their support for the decision.
“I’m extremely happy, I think she’ll be a great advocate. I think she has the people at the heart of everything she does,” said Allison Murphy, a search committee member who has children in grades 7, 4, and prekindergarten.
Selectman Brian Herr, also a parent and member of the search committee, agreed.
“We had three really good candidates and Cathy MacLeod is an excellent choice for Hopkinton,” he said. “She has a ton of energy and a strong desire to make her mark in a positive way for our district.”