Easthampton picks 3 finalists for superintendent

  • Easthampton School Superintendent Nancy Follansbee, seated left, speaks during an Easthampton School Committee meeting Wednesday at the Municipal Building. Seated beside her is Committee member Sarah Hunter.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

EASTHAMPTON — The search for a new superintendent has narrowed down to three finalists to replace Nancy Follansbee, who is retiring this year.

Andrew Berrios, principal of Smith Academy in Hatfield; Allison LeClair, assistant superintendent of Agawam Public Schools; and Sergio Paez, human resources director for Leominster Public Schools, were picked from a pool of 19 applicants.

“The finalists have been contacted and are enthusiastic about continuing in the process,” Edward Zuchowski, chairman of the search committee, told the School Committee on Tuesday.

Paez was the superintendent of Holyoke Public Schools from 2013-15. He faced controversy in late 2015 when the Disability Law Center released a report on the Peck School in Holyoke, which found incidents of abuse and neglect regarding children in the school’s Therapeutic Intervention Program.

Paez has been the human resources director for the Leominster district for one year.

Berrios has served as principal of Smith Academy since 2012. From 2009-12, he was vice principal of Chicopee Fairview Veterans Memorial Middle School.

LeClair has served as assistant superintendent since 2012. She also served as director of curriculum of Agawam Public Schools for a year.

The new superintendent will be stepping in after a rocky year and will have to abide by requirements from the state attorney general’s office for tackling discipline disparities and bias-related incidents.

Last year, the attorney general’s office launched a civil rights investigation into Easthampton High School which found black and Hispanic students face more severe punishment than white students.

The district, in an agreement with the AG’s office, is required until 2021 to audit discipline records, conduct ongoing student and staff training on bullying and harassment, and provide a written report to the AG’s office on the racial climate at the high school, along with complaint and discipline records related to bullying and harassment.

The district is also looking at building a new consolidated school for pre-K through Grade 8, which goes to a public vote in May. The $109 million project, which was recently supported by the City Council through a resolution, would consolidate the district’s three aging elementary schools and middle school.

Follansbee said she planned to retire about two years ago, but decided to stay on longer when the building project got the green light from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which would pay for roughly half the costs if the design is approved.

Follansbee will retire on June 30 after eight years on the job. She’s been with the district for over two decades working in various positions, including reading specialist, reading recovery teacher, literacy coordinator, Title I director and grants manager.

For the superintendent search, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees was hired to facilitate the process. The association’s field director, Liz Lafond, said out of the 19 applicants, nine were invited to be interviewed by the search committee and three of the nine withdrew due to personal reasons prior to the interview.

The goal is to have someone hired by April 5 and start on July 1, she said. The salary range is $140,000 to $150,000.

The search for a new superintendent started in November with focus groups and surveys to gather information about what people want to see in the district’s new leader.

Later this month, School Committee members will conduct site visits at each of the finalists’ school districts, talking to teachers, students and staff. For Paez, the site visit will be in Holyoke.

The finalists will have a full day to visit Easthampton and will submit a “wish list” of those they would like to interview, Lafond said. Their interviews with the School Committee will be on April 2, 3 and 4, and will be open to the public, Lafond said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.