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Newton superintendent search committee adds four members — but no designated teachers union representative

Lija Kurens worked with her second-grade students at Newton's Ward Elementary School.NEWTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Newton’s superintendent search committee has added four new members — including a second educator — after listening to community feedback, according to leaders of the search process.

But the 17-member committee won’t include a designated representative of the teachers union, unlike the city’s previous search for a superintendent.

The search process is seeking a successor for Newton’s interim superintendent, Kathleen Smith, who took charge after the departure of former schools leader David Fleishman earlier this year.

The search panel is expected to present the School Committee with three or four finalists for superintendent. The goal is to have a new leader in place by July 1, 2023.

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The expansion of the search committee was announced more than a week after it began work to review candidates to lead Newton’s public schools, which has about 12,000 students and about 2,500 employees.

“Over the past week, we have listened carefully to feedback and have decided to make a modest expansion in order to provide important additional representation on the Search Committee,” according to an Oct. 27 memo from Tamika Olszewski and Emily Prenner, the School Committee members who serve as the cochairs of the search committee.

The original 13-member search panel included school administrators, parents, a school custodian, an 11th-grade student, and School Committee member Rajeev Parlikar, alongside Olszewski and Prenner. That group also included a high school special education reading specialist.

“Our guiding principles in reviewing the submissions were that we strived to assemble a cross-section of stakeholders that honored different perspectives, preserved balance across the different schools and levels within our district, and welcomed new voices to the table who had not previously served in this type of district-wide effort,” the memo said.

The expansion adds a high school teacher and three parents, including a Boston resident who is involved in the Newton schools through the METCO program.

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“We needed balance between community and staff voices,” Olszewski and Prenner wrote. They noted that the expansion is the “final change to the makeup of the Search Committee.”

Michael Zilles, the president of the Newton Teachers Association, praised the addition of a second educator to the committee, and said he was confident in the ability of the two union members to serve on the panel. He said both educators also have the support of the NTA.

But the appointments came after Olszewski, who doubles as the School Committee chairwoman, declined to set aside a spot on the search committee for a representative selected by the union itself, according to Zilles.

“They lose some credibility because of this. They didn’t, from the get-go, recognize the NTA as an essential partner in finding a superintendent,” Zilles said in an interview. “It raises skepticism, it doesn’t build trust.”

Olszewski, in an e-mail, said the search committee was a “totally open process” that welcomed parents, guardians, residents, faculty, and staff to volunteer, and no group was asked to designate a representative.

“I acknowledged [to Zilles] that this was a different process than used in the past and I asked Mike to encourage his members to volunteer because educators are such [a] crucial voice for this search,” Olszewski said.

The last time Newton searched for a full-time superintendent was in 2009, when then-superintendent Jeff Young left Newton to lead Cambridge’s schools.

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During that process, then-Newton Teachers Association president Cheryl Turgel served on a search committee that included School Committee members, parents, students, school administrators, city officials, and other community members. That process ultimately led to Fleishman’s hiring.

“I felt heard, I felt that the union was being listened to [about] what we needed in the superintendent,” Turgel said of the 2009 search. “The teachers need to be able to go to the superintendent, and be comfortable with that person.”

Turgel, who is now retired after working for more than 20 years as an educator, criticized the decision to not include an official union representative on Newton’s 2022 search committee.

“You can’t just bypass the teachers and pick who you want. I believe it sets up an adversarial situation from the get-go,” Turgel said.

Olszewski said officials welcomed the union’s assistance and that volunteers were needed for the search committee.

“I am proud that this process held the door widely open for any NPS employee to volunteer to help find our next superintendent,” she said.

She said that members of the union will also be able to “share their voices” during an upcoming community engagement phase that will offer members of the union participation in focus groups and surveys.

Those efforts will help develop the leadership profile of the next superintendent, she said.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.