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Search begins for technical school superintendent

The committee that will govern the future Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical High School has begun the search for a superintendent amid concerns from some panel members the process is moving too quickly.

Set to open in the fall of 2014, the new school is being formed from the merger of the North Shore Technical High School  in Middleton and the Essex Agricultural and Technical High School on the Danvers-Middleton line, with the addition of part of the Peabody Veterans Memorial High School’s vocational program.

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With construction of the $133.8 million school in full swing on Essex Agricultural’s existing campus, the committee’s Personnel Policy Subcommittee advertised the superintendent’s position about two weeks ago and set Friday as the deadline to apply.

Dean R. Porteous of Beverly, the subcommittee chairman, expects his group will begin interviewing candidates in the next month. The full board has voted to set a goal of having the new superintendent in place by July 1. 

Over the past month, the pace of the selection and whether the process is sufficiently open has been aired within the full committee, according to Malcolm L. Patterson of Rowley, the committee vice chairman.

The committee comprises a representative from each of the 16 communities of the old North Shore district and from Peabody, and three agricultural representatives: two from Essex Agricultural’s board of trustees and one appointed by the governor. Porteous is from the North Shore committee while Patterson is an Essex Agricultural trustee.

Patterson said the concerns arose when the Personnel Policy Subcommittee on Dec. 13 reported to the full committee that it “wanted to proceed in haste to find and hire a new superintendent.”

He said the subcommittee proposed an expedited search process in which the only candidates interviewed and considered would be the two existing superintendents – Daniel O’Connell from North Shore, and Roger Bourgeois from Essex Agricultural.

“The committee was caught by surprise with the urgency being communicated around hiring a superintendent, which really wasn’t on the radar because the school is not opening for another year and a half,” said Patterson, who is a professor of education and associate dean of graduate education at Endicott College.  

But Porteous said the subcommittee always intended to consider other candidates. He said its initial proposal was only that it interview the existing superintendents first.

“The personnel subcommittee came to the full committee and said in the interest of time, why not start by interviewing the two in-house candidates, and from there move outside,” he said. As a result of the concerns, he said his panel dropped that idea in favor of advertising the position and conducting all interviews at the same time.

Porteous said the school board needs to move quickly to select a superintendent because there is considerable work to be done to prepare for the new school, including hiring staff, developing a curriculum, and crafting a fiscal 2014 budget to fund those and other costs.

He said selecting a superintendent by early spring would be ideal because many of the district’s communities will need to take up the budget at town meetings held about the same time.

George R. Harvey of Essex, chairman of the board for the new school, agreed that there is a need to move expeditiously to choose a superintendent.

“If you are putting together a budget for an educational district, you should have an educational leader guiding you,” said Harvey, who is also chairman of North Shore’s School Committee. He said the superintendent is also needed to hire staff, develop an admissions policy, and oversee the purchase of equipment, among other tasks.

Patterson said he voted for the July 1 hiring deadline because his main objective had been an open search, and he wanted to keep the process moving forward. But he remains unconvinced that the new superintendent needs to be hired so soon, and said the committee might opt to revisit the timeline.

Meanwhile, Patterson said that at the time the Personnel Policy Subcommittee was planning to interview only the two existing superintendents, Bourgeois, currently the superintendent at Essex Agricultural, notified the full board in a letter that he would not participate in the process.

“He had recommended the two superintendents continue to work together . . . and that the appropriate time for selecting a superintendent seemed more closely aligned with the opening of the school,” Patterson said.

Porteous said the municipal leaders from the district have told the committee they would rather work with a single superintendent as key decisions are made over the future operation of the school.

Patterson said Bourgeois may also have perceived he was not likely to be chosen given the process then being discussed and that 16 of the 20 School Committee members are from the North Shore group.

Reached earlier this week, Bourgeois declined comment, while O’Connell confirmed he is a candidate.

The school will be open to students from Beverly, Boxford, Danvers, Essex, Gloucester, Hamilton, Lynnfield, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Marblehead, Middleton, Nahant, Rockport, Salem, Swampscott, Topsfield, and Wenham. Those entering 10th grade who do not live in one of those communities can apply through the School Choice program and will be accepted as space allows, while other students from outside the district may enroll in its agricultural courses.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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