Randolph’s school superintendent, facing difficult challenges in the district as well as ongoing friction with the School Committee, won’t be looking to renew his contract when it expires in June.
In a letter to the school board, Oscar Santos wrote, “It is clear that my priorities are not aligned with the priorities of the majority of the Randolph School Committee.”
“I love the work; that’s not the issue,” he said in an interview Monday. “The issue is we’re not working well together, so I’ll be moving on.”
Santos, who lives in town and has two children enrolled in the local school system, took over as superintendent in August 2010. The then 38-year-old had no administrative background beyond that of a high school headmaster.
School Committee chairman Andrew Azer, describing himself as a strong supporter of the young superintendent, said Santos’s lack of experience has proved to be a problem.
“We hired Dr. Santos knowing he didn’t have any experience at the administrative level,” Azer said. “Obviously, there’s a learning curve going from principal to superintendent. I don’t think we provided him with the support and follow-up he needed.”
Randolph’s schools have challenges different from most suburban systems. According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, English is not the first language for 38 percent of Randolph’s students, compared with 16 percent statewide. The racial mix of the students is 52.5 percent African-American, 16.7 percent Asian, 8.9 percent Hispanic, and 18.3 percent white. About 54 percent are classified as from low-income families.
The district teetered on the brink of state receivership in 2008, due to poor test scores and lack of community support. Voters then approved a $5.5 million tax increase for the schools, and the turnaround began.
“We have made tremendous progress with Dr. Santos,” Azer said.
Santos, who listed his accomplishments in his Nov. 7 letter to the School Committee, noted he and his administration have initiated teacher-training programs, extended the elementary school day and time on learning at all levels, and initiated an alternative learning program in grades 7 through 12. Enrollment has been on the rise and test scores continue to improve.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Santos said Monday.
But committee members have not agreed with his leadership style. “The majority of the committee wanted decision-making to be more inclusive of his administrative team,” Azer said. “And sometimes when they had questions, they felt it would take prodding more than once to get answers.”
The school system came under fire during the last school year for a spate of violent incidents. A female teacher at the high school was taken to the hospital for injuries she received trying to stop a fight.
Students, parents, and staff brought concerns over safety at both the high school and middle school to the attention of the School Committee during a contentious meeting last March, and school administrators beefed up police presence and hired a security director.
“Obviously, schools always have challenges,” said Santos in the interview. But Azer said the violence issue probably played into a lackluster evaluation given to the superintendent in late summer.
“It was a significant event last year and one he was evaluated on,” Azer said. “Some School Committee members claimed they knew about incidents that had not been addressed beforehand.”
In Santos’s performance review, the committee categorized him as “needs improvement” in three of five categories, with low scores in his relationship with the panel, budget and general management, and personnel management.
Committee vice chairman Keith Wortzman described the superintendent as a “very energetic, vibrant young leader,” but was unwilling to make specific comments regarding Santos’s performance other than saying, “the one voice of the School Committee noted together there were areas that do need improvement.”
“But I certainly respect his energy level,” Wortzman said. “He put a lot of enthusiasm into his work in Randolph.”
Resident Robert Gass, a former member of the committee, said Santos is well liked in the community. “People liked Oscar a lot and they still like Oscar a lot,” he said. “The guy has worked extremely hard and has helped us make some significant gains.”
Gass said Santos’s troubled relationship with the school board is no secret.
“There has been some question about his ongoing relationship with the School Committee, and in some areas he has struggled as a beginning superintendent,” he said. “The community will move on and thank him for his contribution. Maybe someone with a little more experience is the next step, but that shouldn’t detract from the work he’s done.”
The committee plans to immediately begin its search for Santos’s replacement, hoping to have a new superintendent in place by June. Azer said the job description and salary range will be reviewed and tweaked where necessary.
Santos was hired at $150,000 annually and is earning about $152,500, Azer said.