School superintendent search begins with subcommittee in Amherst

  • Amherst Regional High School FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2023 11:37:13 AM
Modified: 9/21/2023 11:36:33 AM

AMHERST — A search for a new superintendent to lead the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools is beginning with the creation of a subcommittee, whose members are drawn from both Regional and Union 26 school committees, to oversee the process.

Over the course of a 90-minute joint meeting Tuesday, the committees agreed to create the subcommittee that will be charged with determining the make up of a search committee, figuring out whether a private consultant may be hired, and outlining how the subcommittee and search committee will interact to eventually make recommendations on candidates.

The search is getting underway after Superintendent Michael Morris resigned from his position at the end of August after leading the public school district since fall 2016. The school’s finance chief, Douglas Slaughter, is serving as temporary superintendent.

The subcommittee will include Jennifer Shiao of Amherst, William Sherr and Margaret Stancer of Pelham and Anna Heard of Shutesbury. Shiao, Sherr and Heard are three of the six current members of the Regional School Committee, while Sherr and Stancer are two of the four current members of the Union 26 School Committee There are currently three vacancies on the regional School Committee and two vacancies on the Union 26 committee due to the resignations of three Amherst representatives last month.

Shiao said she sees the subcommittee making decisions on the size and membership of the search committee, “I’m picturing a big, but manageable, screening committee, [and] one of the main jobs would be to review applicants ” Shiao said.

The subcommittee also can do various research and “legwork” and come back to both the Regional and Union 26 committees for decisions, Shiao said.

Regional Committee Chairwoman Sarahbess Kenney said she sees the subcommittee as providing updates on the work of the search committee, which should have members of the committee, as well as teachers, families and central office staff.

“I think it’s going to be important to make sure that all of the pieces our future superintendent will work with are going to be represented on that committee,” Kenney said.

The committees decided to make the subcommittee four members after initially rejecting a different plan that would have ensured each of the towns, including Leverett, is represented. The creation of the subcommittee was complicated by making sure it doesn’t represent a majority of either the Region or Union 26.

The formation of the subcommittee was approved by a 6-0 vote by the Regional committee and a 3-1 vote by the Union 26 committee, with Pelham representative Tom Fanning the lone dissenter.

Fanning said his preference is to dispense with the subcommittee, which is not needed to identify the next superintendent.

“That’s an issue that doesn’t have to be in the process,” Fanning said.

During public comment, high school English teacher Keith McFarland said the committees should consider codifying the search process so the next time a system will already in place.

Jena Schwartz, a parent, said the search process needs to be transparent and equitable, with diverse perspectives.

“Be expansive in making space for more voices, not less, because that’s where the trust will be,” said Ali Wicks-Lim, a parent.

Georgia Malcolm, assistant to the athletic director, said engaging staff and getting their expertise is needed during the search.

“It’s important to have diversity, it’s important to have representation,” Malcolm said. .

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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