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Around Belchertown: Westfield State University professor, Robert Gazda, named interim school superintendent in Belchertown

The School Committee named Robert Gazda of Middlefield to serve as interim school superintendent while they continue to search for a permanent education leader.

Gazda has been an adjunct professor of education at Westfield State University since 2004 and is a former principal and superintendent of The Gilbert School in Winsted, Conn. Before that he was principal of Gateway Regional High School in Huntington from 1976 to 1992. He began his career in 1966 as a chemistry teacher in Ashburnham.

Gazda will serve until next January, according to Patricia Correira, a consultant from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. She has been guiding a search that was reopened after the committee’s choice for the position, John Provost, declined its offer. He chose instead to become the superintendent of the Northampton Schools.

Gazda holds a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts, a masters in the field from Trinity College in Connecticut and a bachelors degree in chemistry which he earned at American International College in 1965.

He will take over from Judith Houle, who announced last August that she would not seek to renew her contract when it ends on July 1.

Correira said the School Committee is still negotiating Gazda’s compensation, which will be in the form of a per diem with no benefits. The typical range for the job is between $350 and $450 a day, she said.

The school committee chose Gazda over two other candidates they interviewed last week. They are Linda Denault of Charlton and Janice Lachowetz of South Hadley.

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Honors bestowed

Conservation Commission Chairman David Haines was named Belchertown Citizen of the Year in a ceremony that preceded the annual Town Meeting Monday. A Vietnam veteran who served three tours of duty on a river patrol, he earned a masters degree in hydrogeology from the University of Massachusetts in 1981, according to chairman of the Select Board William Barnett, who presented the award. Haines has served on the Conservation Commission for 27 years.

The honor of Volunteer of the Year went to the chairman of the Finance Committee, Paul Silva. He has served on that board, which is appointed by the Town Moderator, for 15 years.

In another presentation, Terry Rothwell, secretary to the fire department, was named employee of the year. She is also treasurer of the Friends of the Clapp Memorial Library.

Barnett himself was the recipient of the William Gerry Whitlock Award for his service to the town. It is only the second time the award has been given. It is named for the town’s first paid manager, who had the title of Executive Secretary. Whitlock died in 1997, shortly after retiring.

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Endorsement

Outgoing Town Clerk William Barnett has endorsed his assistant, Colleen Toothill-Berte, who is in a two-way race to succeed him in next week’s elections. “Colleen knows and understands every aspect of the town clerk’s job requirements. For over a dozen years she has been a major factor in the efficiency of the clerk’s performance,” Barnett said in a written statement.

Toothill-Berte faces political newcomer James “Wilber” Quirk in the May 19 election. It will take place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Belchertown High School Gymnasium. Barnett, who also chairs the Select Board, is the longest serving Town Clerk in Belchertown history.

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