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Superintendent’s exit a blow to Holbrook schools

Now that Norton has hired away Holbrook’s superintendent of schools, Holbrook officials are getting ready to replace Joseph Baeta, praised by Norton School Committee chairman Andrew Mackie as “the whole package” for his people skills, improvement of student achievement, and understanding of the budget.

“It’s a huge loss for the district,” said Holbrook School Committee chairwoman Barbara Davis. “He’s moved the district forward in so many ways.”

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Under Baeta, she said, the schools have improved their achievement scores, and the district has resolved all threats to its accreditation except for the physical condition of the junior-senior high school.

Baeta’s move comes at a time when Holbrook is planning to build a new school and debating what grades the school should serve. The town has applied for state funding, but has not settled on whether to replace its junior-senior high, build a school that would serve the entire district from prekindergarten through Grade 12, or build a K-through-8 school.

At the same time, the Board of Selectmen is exploring the idea of regionalizing with Avon. The two issues are deeply connected because, with the poor condition of the junior-senior high, constructing a school that stopped at Grade 8 would suggest the town would push for a regional high school or pay tuition to send students elsewhere.

The selectmen’s pursuit of a regionalization study grant, for which it filed an application without consulting the School Committee, was roundly criticized by the committee.

Asked whether Holbrook would have trouble finding superintendent candidates willing to wade into those issues, Davis said, “Possibly . . . but, much as when we hired Joe, there’s always somebody that’s ready to take on a challenge.”

Baeta said he is looking forward to the opportunity to work in Norton, a district he said is “really being progressive” on the needs of its buildings. A $34 million addition and renovation at Norton High School is on schedule and expected to be finished in December.

Baeta said Norton is “in a different place” from Holbrook, both in terms of its facilities and its higher test scores.

Yet the Holbrook job would be exciting for a new superintendent if voters approve a new school, he said. The town hasn’t opened a new school since 1964, and the high school opened a decade earlier.

“The next superintendent in Holbrook has a tremendous opportunity,” said Baeta, who came to Holbrook as high school principal in 2008, became interim superintendent in 2009, and was named superintendent in 2010.  

Alex Mann, a parent who has advocated building a K-through-12 school, said Holbrook offers much to a new superintendent. Although the town is small, he said, it gives someone a chance to make a name for himself or herself by capitalizing on the momentum created by Baeta and the School Committee.  

“What I think is going to be difficult is finding somebody who’s willing to connect with the community the way that Joe did,” he said. He lauded Baeta for attending sports games and parent-teacher conferences and hosting “Superintendent’s Corner,” a television show on local cable.

“Norton got a great pick,” he said.

Asked whether the school construction project would suffer, Mann said the project is bigger than one person, with such broad community support “that it goes beyond the School Committee and the battling of Town Hall.”  

Likewise, School Committee vice chairwoman Ann Poppenga praised the superintendent’s “flawless method of transparency” but said losing him would not prevent the district from pursuing its construction project. Holbrook has selected a project manager, and the Permanent School Building Committee is responsible for communicating with the state’s funding agency, the Massachusetts School Building Authority, she said.

The School Committee has not yet posted the superintendent’s position.

In a new superintendent, she said, she hopes to find someone who understands the mission of the schools, puts students first, and can work with people of diverse opinions as Holbrook continues to debate the configuration of the schools.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at jennettebarnes@yahoo.com.
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