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Lincoln-Sudbury extends interim superintendent’s contract

Facing stiff competition from nearly 30 school districts all looking for superintendents from a dwindling pool of candidates, Lincoln-Sudbury Regional officials recently decided to put off their search and instead extend the contract of the district’s interim leader, Bella Wong.

The move also allows Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School to retain some stability as new administrators settle in, and officials implement new state-mandated initiatives, said Radha Gargeya, the school board’s chairman.

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“There are several vacancies for superintendents and an expected shortage of good candidates,’’ Gargeya said.

He said the committee voted unanimously Tuesday to extend Wong’s contract through the 2014-15 academic year. Wong’s salary is $157,500 this year, and her new contract calls for a boost to $170,000 in her second year in the job. The regional district’s previous superintendent, Scott Carpenter, made $155,000 in 2012-13.

Wong, who started her interim role on July 1, was slated to serve a year as the regional district’s superintendent and the high school’s principal while the search for a permanent successor was conducted. Gargeya said the School Committee decided to delay starting the hiring process after consulting with Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

‘A lot of people don’t want to be superintendents anymore because they got into the business to educate kids.’

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With dozens of Massachusetts school systems, including Acton-Boxborough Regional and Belmont, seeking superintendents, and retirements depleting the ranks of experienced candidates, the association is encouraging district officials to evaluate internal candidates in order to retain stability in leadership wherever possible.

“When a district is looking for a superintendent, one of the first questions we ask them to think about is if there is a strong internal candidate,’’ Koocher said. “More districts are thinking about cultivating their faculties for leadership because it’s easier to groom your next generation of principals, department directors, and superintendents.’’

Koocher said the pool of candidates for top administrative roles has been dwindling over the years for several reasons. He said more superintendents are taking advantage of early retirement packages, fewer have been looking to change jobs during the recession, and out-of-state candidates are turned off by the state’s “onerous and daunting’’ regulatory requirements.

Koocher said Massachusetts superintendents have about 100 reporting requirements to state agencies each year.

“A lot of people don’t want to be superintendents anymore because they got into the business to educate kids and not become higher-order compliance officers,’’ Koocher said. “Nobody has a regulatory burden like Massachusetts. It can be challenging.’’

The Lincoln-Sudbury School Committee plans to reevaluate its strategy for hiring a permanent superintendent-principal at the end of the current academic year, Gargeya said.

He said the continuity will give Wong the ability to oversee the implementation of the new statewide educator evaluation process, and the evolving student assessment standards. He said she is also expected to play an important role in promoting student achievement, along with fiscal responsibility during collective bargaining negotiations scheduled to begin next year.

“She has worked very hard since arriving at Lincoln-Sudbury in July to understand the high school and its values, build strong relationships with veteran faculty and staff, and integrate new members of the school community effectively,’’ Gargeya said. “By extending her contract, we expect to reap the benefits of this work for the benefit of our students.”

Before taking the interim position, Wong served as superintendent of the Wellesley school system for five years, and was the district’s assistant superintendent for six years before that.

She resigned from her Wellesley post last year amid public concern over the running of the school system’s business office.

Wong began her career in education at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High, serving as a biology teacher, science department coordinator, and president of the teacher’s association.

Among other districts searching for a superintendent are Acton-Boxborough and Belmont. The application deadline for Belmont is Oct. 15, while Acton-Boxborough’s process is just getting underway.

Acton-Boxborough Regional’s search to replace Superintendent Stephen Mills, who is resigning next spring, will take place as the two towns fully regionalize their school systems. The transitional work is taking place under a timetable that would have students from prekindergarten through high school attending the new district for the 2014-2015 school year. Currently, the towns share schools for grades 7 through 12.

“The challenge is finding someone with the experience to help us in the first year of being a larger region,’’ said Maria Neyland, chairwoman of the Acton-Boxborough Regional School Committee. “There are so many searches going on in the state right now, we’re trying to get out there early and make a decision early.’’

Neyland said the committee is on an “aggressive timeline’’ and hopes to complete the search by January.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@ yahoo.com.

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