School committee searches for next superintendent, preparation begins

The+Westford+School+Committee+begins+the+search+for+a+new+Superintendent+with+Olsen%27s+retirement+on+the+horizon.+

Mehul Shrivastava

The Westford School Committee begins the search for a new Superintendent with Olsen’s retirement on the horizon.

Melanie Duronio, Features Editor

With Superintendent Bill Olsen’s approaching retirement at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, the Westford School Committee has begun the process for choosing the next superintendent, who will begin serving on July 1, 2021. The Committee is now in the preliminary stages of this process and has been focused on collecting data from the Westford community.

The data was gathered to guide the school committee in determining the best candidate for the superintendent position, much of it being from participation opportunities offered to Westford residents. One such opening was a series of focus groups, which allowed all possible members of the Westford community to express what they are looking for in the next superintendent. These focus groups were hosted virtually by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC), which collected each resident’s feedback for the committee.

A total of forty Westford residents applied for the focus groups overall.  The school committee grouped all applicants based on the stakeholders they represented, such as parents, teachers, principals, town and district leaders, and other residents of Westford.

A survey was also provided for all stakeholders to fill out, including parents, teachers, and staff.  Respondents were asked their opinions on the Westford Public School district’s strengths and weaknesses, the qualifications the new superintendent must possess, and what issues he or she should address once voted in. The survey remained open until December 11 and yielded over 300 community responses.

Alicia Mallon, Vice Chairman of the Westford School Committee, currently holds the additional position of the chair of the Superintendent Search Subcommittee.

“My role as a chair is to schedule meetings of the subcommittee to discuss steps in the process and keep us on track for meeting deadlines,” Mallon said.

The group’s overall purpose is to gather and organize all the information from MASC to aid the school committee when deciding the next superintendent in the near future. The subcommittee is also responsible for delivering participation opportunities to the public, such as the stakeholder survey.

The results of the survey, as well as the feedback from the focus groups, were compiled into a leadership profile by the subcommittee with aid from MASC, summarizing the community’s overall responses. It will be used by the school committee to refer back to while deciding the next superintendent.

Now, the School Committee’s next step is to form a preliminary screening committee, whose purpose will be to review all applicants for superintendent. Once the final candidates are narrowed down, they will be presented to the public.

Pre-COVID, public ‘visits’ would have been held in-person between these finalists and the community, with the intent of building a relationship between the two. However, due to the pandemic, these visits will be held virtually instead, allowing them to be more accessible for a wider array of groups than previous years.

“It was suggested that one of the ‘visits’ with the finalists could be dedicated to students. [I thought] that was a great idea […] We’ll want to hear from everyone what they think about the finalists,” Mallon said.

Finalist visits and interviews will take place throughout mid-March, before the school committee officially votes to appoint the new superintendent on March 18, 2021.

Overall, Mallon looks forward to what lies in store for the process ahead, specifically when it comes to choosing finalists and organizing their visits with community members. Additionally, she notes the MASC’s contributions throughout the process so far, believing that their collaboration has been vital.

“I am very confident that with the guidance of the MASC and the input from the community, we are on the right track to finding the right person for the job,” Mallon said.

This article is the first in a monthly series following the Superintendent-Search Process. Stay tuned for more!