Final pick for Amherst regional superintendent, from Virgin Islands, aims to ‘lead with love’

Ericilda Xiomara Herman interviewed for the superintendent position of the Amherst, Pelham, and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools on Thursday.

Ericilda Xiomara Herman interviewed for the superintendent position of the Amherst, Pelham, and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools on Thursday. Amherst Media

Ericilda Xiomara Herman interviewed for the superintendent position of the Amherst, Pelham, and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools on Thursday.

Ericilda Xiomara Herman interviewed for the superintendent position of the Amherst, Pelham, and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools on Thursday. Amherst Media

Ericilda Xiomara Herman interviewed for the superintendent position of the Amherst, Pelham, and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools on Thursday.

Ericilda Xiomara Herman interviewed for the superintendent position of the Amherst, Pelham, and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools on Thursday. Amherst Media

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-26-2024 4:34 PM

Editor’s note: The third of three finalists for the job of superintendent was interviewed Thursday. A decision could be made as soon as Monday.

AMHERST — Collaboration, empathy and communication are being emphasized as traits Ericilda Xiomara Herman, insular (island) superintendent in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, would bring if hired as the next superintendent for the Amherst, Pelham, and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools.

“My passion, purpose and just cause is ensuring that I work within a system where students are experiencing educational lessons where they can be the best versions of themselves,” Herman said during an interview at a joint meeting Thursday of the Regional and Union 26 school committees.

Herman, who has 17 years of experience in education, including as a paraeducator, classroom teacher, district director and deputy superintendent, drafted a 100-day entry plan in which she would lead in an open and transparent manner and examine the district with both qualitative and quantitative measures.

During her visit, Herman said she saw educators with passion and drive, and throughout the schools an undertone of healing, unity and togetherness.

“Providing that opportunity to collaborate, to work together, to lead with love, to listen, learn, engage articulate and deliver, but more so we should do more collaborating to move Amherst forward,” Herman said about her bid to replace Superintendent Michael Morris, who resigned last August. Morris had been under fire from some in the community over his handling of reported mistreatment of LGBTQ students at the middle school and allegations that gender-based bullying was not being stopped.

Herman was the last of three candidates to interview for the position, following Joanne Menard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Holliston, and Susan Gilson, assistant superintendent and middle school principal in the King Philip Regional School District in Wrentham.

A decision on which of the three could be selected as the next superintendent could come as soon as Monday, when a joint meeting of the committees in charge of hiring begins at 5:30 p.m. at the high school library.

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Responding to the ongoing budget challenges facing the school districts, Herman said she understands the need to make trade-offs, describing herself as a “very data-driven individual” who would examine academic and socioemotional data.

Herman said she aims to educate the whole child and provide the wraparound services that some need to succeed. She discussed a process in her current school district in which new curriculum standards were introduced for students and the methods she used to ensure they had exposure to them.

“Every group, every subject, every child ... we have to determine what’s the best fit for that child,” Herman said.

In hiring to fill the open assistant superintendent position, Herman said she would look for a student-centered person who puts children at the forefront of decisions and would bring empathy.

Diversity, equity and inclusion would be prioritized, but Herman said how the district defines equity is important.

In the Virgin Islands, she said, the schools are a melting pot that brings together families from around the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic, Antigua, and Puerto Rico, as well as the continental United States, noting her own family is from Aruba and her father is from Curacao.

In a situation where incorrect pronouns were used with a student, an issue that occurred at the middle school, Herman said this would lead to an investigation and immediate disciplinary process, though she would also want to determine intent and explain to a family about the investigation process. Sensititivity training would also be appropriate to ensure guidelines and laws are being followed.

Herman drew a parallel to how a policy related to children’s school uniforms was recently amended, allowing for gender neutrality and offering students a choice of identity in wearing a skirt or pants.

In confronting a crisis, Herman discussed the need for communication and deep conversation, learning this from a heat wave in which air conditioners and fans were not available. When she moved to change the hours of the school day, teachers intended to strike, or sick out, instead of accepting the change in work conditions.

Such deep conversation, she said, prevailed as the educators eventually acceded to the change for the sake of the students.

Unlike the others vying for the job, Herman is not from Massachusetts and would have to get up to speed on state protocols, but she said that can be done through basic research and training. She is already in the midst of getting the necessary licenses.

Herman said she is committed to becoming part of the town, building relations and putting schools in a great position for innovation and growth, which is her driving force.

“For there to be success, for there to be growth, I have to ebb and flow with Amherst,” Herman said.

In a similar comment to what other finalists offered, Herman cited a problem in getting the message out about the positive things happening in the schools.

“I think we need to work on building our narrative,” Herman said. “Amherst is filled with riches, but no one knows, or at least if they know they’re not telling everyone else in the broader community.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.