Northampton schools hire Pearson-Campbell as interim leader, ratify union contract


Staff Writer

Published: 07-16-2022 7:01 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The School Committee has hired Jannell Pearson-Campbell to serve as interim superintendent of Northampton Public Schools for up to one year while a search is underway for a permanent district leader.

Pearson-Campbell, a 22-year educator who most recently served as an assistant superintendent in Plymouth County, will start work next Tuesday.

On July 7, the committee voted to hire Howard “Jake” Eberwein, a former superintendent in Pittsfield and Lee, to serve in the interim role. Days later, Eberwein dropped out of contract negotiations and the committee offered the position to Pearson-Campbell, another finalist.

Until Pearson-Campbell starts, the district’s interim business manager Susan Wright is also serving as acting superintendent. Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said the city has received two applications that meet the minimum qualifications for the permanent business manager position.

“I am looking forward to meeting the Northampton community as we support all students,” Pearson-Campbell said on Friday, adding that she would set up meet-and-greets, build up staffing and work towards a “safe and nurturing school environment.”

Union contract approved

The School Committee also ratified a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the 547 members of the Northampton Association of School Employees (NASE) labor union, cementing significant raises for the lowest-paid workers in the district while eliminating certain holidays.

Under the new contract, paraprofessionals and cafeteria workers will get $2 per hour raises each year. The current starting pay is $16.40 per hour for a paraprofessional in the district and $14.25 per hour for a cafeteria worker.

Clerical and custodial workers will get yearly $1 per hour increases while teachers and licensed staff will get yearly 3% cost-of-living increases. Administrators in the union will get a 3% increase in the first year and 2.5% increases in the next two years of the contract.

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All raises are in addition to any step increases for which an employee qualifies.

Contract negotiations held up the release of the school calendar for the upcoming year, according to member Dina Levi of Ward 5.

Certain holidays that were observed last year will no longer be observed. Member Emily Serafy-Cox of Ward 3 said accommodations are available for those who need to take those days off, but the new union contract calls only for the observance of federal holidays.

“I hear the concerns from members of the community and echo them myself about, ‘What holidays are we observing?” Serafy-Cox said. “Going back to the federal holidays means that we’re not observing religious holidays except for Christmas, which falls during our winter break.”

Member Margaret Miller of Ward 6 said the committee should issue a public statement about the reason for the change and make it known that anyone who needs to take a holiday “for religious reasons clearly should not have to do homework during that time, and also be very specific that there will be no difficulties for that student for missing school.”

New subcommittees

Committee members voted to create two ad hoc subcommittees on Thursday: one to explore whether the School Committee should conduct exit interviews with staff who leave the district — Mayor Sciarra voted no because she said the public was not aware that such a vote was possible — and another to recommend a search firm to help find permanent superintendent candidates.

Member Meg Robbins of Ward 1 made the motion to create the exit interview subcommittee, saying that such voluntary discussions are “within our full authority once someone has left our employ.” She said departing staff have approached her looking for a chance to talk about their experiences and give feedback.

“Since this was not noticed on our agenda for, sort of, a discussion around creating that, I wouldn’t really feel comfortable having a motion on it,” Sciarra said.

Robbins and others defended the motion, saying it was related to the business manager’s report on employee separations and the issue has come up at numerous meetings for several months.

On Friday at 4 p.m., the School Committee’s ad  hoc COVID-19 advisory subcommittee met via Zoom. The sole item on the meeting agenda was a discussion of the “focus and parameters” of the group’s work.