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Northampton mayor to form committee to search for new city schools chief

— School officials are divided over whether to hire an interim superintendent or dive into a search to replace a schools chief who stayed less than two years.

The Northampton School Committee has authorized Mayor David J. Narkewicz to appoint a panel and begin outlining a search process for a superintendent to replace Brian Salzer. He is resigning in July to take a job as a high school principal in Germany.

The board voted Thursday to ask the mayor to consult with Committee Vice Chair Edward Zuchowski and the city Human Resources Department about the search process and report back to the full School Committee at a special meeting to be scheduled next week.

In an interview Friday, Zuchowski said there are still “a lot of questions coming up and opinions” among board members about the search for a new schools chief.

“There continues to be some division as to whether we should do an interim superintendent,” he said. “Everyone wants the district to move forward as it has under Brian Salzer.”

Cost is also a concern, Zuchowski said, which is the reason Narkewicz offered the services of the city Human Resources Department.

The search that resulted in Salzer’s hiring in 2011 cost the school department $25,000, Zuchowski said. The New England School Development Council handled that process, which involved two national search rounds after it was discovered a finalist in the first round was no longer working at the school listed on his resume.

At Thursday’s board meeting, member Downey Meyer argued that because Salzer was hired so recently, much of the groundwork for a new superintendent search has been done.

He urged the board not to delay hiring a replacement for Salzer. “It’s important to get the person who’s going to lead the district here,” Meyer said.

Others favored hiring an interim schools chief, particularly in light of the fact that three city school principals plan to leave the district this summer. Northampton High School Principal Nancy Athas and R.K. Finn Ryan Road School Principal Margaret Riddle are retiring and Leeds School Principal Joseph Smith is resigning effective June 30.

“Do we want to hire a new superintendent before or after we’ve identified our new administrative team?” member Stephanie Pick asked Thursday. “Given the news we’ve had this week, it will be really important to hear from the people who are staying.”

Pick cast one of two votes against a motion to authorize the mayor to outline a search for a permanent superintendent. Committee member Lisa Minnick also opposed the motion, which passed by a vote of 7-2.

When asked by board members for his view of the field, Salzer said Northampton is most likely to attract “someone looking for their first superintendency and this is a good time for that.”

“We’re looking at that because of the amount we can pay?” asked committee member Alden Bourne.

“Yes,” replied Salzer, whose annual salary is now $131,070. The statewide average is $152,568, according to the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

When asked Friday whether the leadership turnover is related to the city’s grim budget picture, Zuchowski described the situation as “a perfect storm.”

“I don’t think the budget is a factor,” he said. “It’s just happened to come all at once.”

Legacy Comments1

Northampton Public Schools need someone with experience- not someone who is looking for experience. I urge those actively involved in the hiring process to please consider hiring someone who has deep roots in Northampton and is familiar with our city's children and our history. We can't afford to be someone's stepping stone again. It's too bad the idea of having city principals work together to fill the position was denied. It's a fantastic idea, as they are the ones who know the school's needs best.

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