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Turnout light for first school superintendent search meeting in Belchertown

Superintendent of Schools Judith Houle is leaving when her contract expires in June.

Pat Correira, field director for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, which is organizing the search for Houle’s replacement, explained the process to the seven community members who attended the session in the high school cafeteria. She then opened the forum to a broad discussion of attributes people want to see in a new superintendent.

Mona Griffin, a parent who hopes to be on the screening committee, said she wants a good communicator “who will continue moving in the direction we are already going.” Marianne Chumbley came with a list of qualities which include being able to work with different groups of people, getting them to work together and getting them to understand different points of view.

School Committee member Rick Fritsch said he noted 12 items that attendees brought up during the two-hour discussion, including that the next superintendent should be good at creative finance and “have knowledge about special education kids.”

Correira shared the time line she will present to the School Committee for approval at its next session. She will prepare a report by December based on what she hears in focus groups, with separate sessions for senior citizens, students, town hall employees, administrators, teachers, staff, custodians, central office personnel and the Board of Selectmen.

The public is also encouraged to fill out an online survey posted at www.belchertownps.org. A schedule of focus group meetings is also posted there. Asked how many people usually fill out the online surveys her organization has been using in such searches for the last five years, Correira said that based on Belchertown’s population “I would be in seventh heaven” with 200 respondents. Community input, she said, will guide how the position is advertised and the questions applicants will be asked. Fritsch said he was pleased with the “open dialogue,” though he would have liked to see more people attending. “I beg the community to please come to these,” he said.

The position will be advertised in January, according to Correira. She expects to attract 25 to 30 applicants, eight to 10 of whom she will present to the screening committee as semi-finalists. Those interviews are tentatively scheduled for March and will be held in executive session. The screening committee will forward three to five finalists, whose names will be made public, to the School Committee. The goal is to have a new superintendent appointed by mid April so that he or she can begin work on July 1, 2014.

Correira, a former Springfield School Committee member, has 18 years experience consulting on such searches. The town is paying her organization $12,000 for its services.

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