At an unusual Sunday afternoon emergency meeting of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee, the committee voted unanimously to offer the district’s superintendent job to Chelmsford Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Kristan Rodriguez. If she accepts, the offer will conclude two years of searching for a new permanent leader for the school system, an educator to succeed Tony Bent, Interim Superintendent for the last two school years.
The last minute scheduling was the latest twist in the district’s search for a new superintendent. A job posting last fall yielded 35 resumes, from which four applicants were interviewed. The selection committee narrowed that further, down to two finalists, Sutton Superintendent Theodore Friend and Rodriguez. Each was interviewed for a day last week by staff and community members. With the evaluations from the daylong series of meetings in hand, the committee had intended to eliminate one candidate at its regularly scheduled meeting this coming Wednesday.
Things began to accelerate on Friday.
Committee Chair Alison Manugian got a phone call from Rodriguez, who said she had another job offer on the table and that competing district required an answer on Monday, January 21. Committee members and Human Resources Director Jeanne Mitchell spent Saturday gathering more information and checking additional references on Rodriguez. To beat Rodriguez’s deadline, Manugian called the emergency meeting for the next day, Sunday, January 20th, to discuss the two developments.
Just before the Sunday meeting, Manugian received a phone call from Friend … who withdraw his application for the post, based on his feeling that he wasn’t a good fit for the district, she said.
So instead of just one development, Manugian had two abrupt changes in the evaluation and hiring process to put before the committee Sunday afternoon. And just one candidate to mull over.
With the information gathered during the Saturday reference checking sprint on top of a well-received interview last week, the committee was confident enough in Rodriguez’s ability and qualifications to vote unanimously to offer her the job.
School committee member Jim Frey, who served on the search committee, praised the search process and said “It was remarkable how well and easily we came to a consensus about our beliefs and our commitment to finding a truly excellent superintendent.”
A search committee convened in 2012-13 failed to find viable candidates, which prompted the school committee to suspend the search at that time and reopen it last fall.Kristan Rodriguez has been an assistant superintendent in Chelmsford since 2011 and served as director of curriculum at Georgetown Public Schools from 2008-11. She held principal posts in Tewksbury and Georgetown. Her teaching experience includes three years teaching high school English at Georgetown. She has been an adjunct professor at the Merrimack Leadership Academy at Fitchburg State College, where she taught classes on school organization, leadership and community relations. According to her resume and the search committee summary, Rodriguez’s current responsibilities in Chelmsford include “leading all areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment, staff development and programmatic use of data that supports effective teaching and learning” in the district. Rodriguez also facilitates a group of assistant superintendents that share ideas on current topics in education.
During her public interview on Wednesday, Rodriguez was enthusiastic and expansive in answering the committee’s questions. She spoke knowledgeably about curriculum challenges, collective bargaining issues and made a point of saying she “has gone through the [G-DRSD] budget line by line” and has developed a detailed list of questions she wants answered if she becomes superintendent.
At the interview and today’s meeting school committee members addressed Rodriguez’s lack of significant budget and leadership experience in a regional school district. While it was clear that there would be a learning curve for her in the budget area, the committee emphasized that the current budget crisis is resulting in stronger financial and budget protocols. Most of the work on the 2015 FY budget will be performed by Bent and his staff before Rodriguez officially starts work on July 1. Rodriguez also promised in her interview that she would be willing and able to begin learning about the job immediately.
During Sunday’s emergency meeting, school committee members agreed that Budget and Finance Director Jared Stanton and his staff have sufficient expertise and commitment to provide the support any superintendent would need to develop and implement a solid budget.
“Right now, we have a hands on, smart, do-it-right-the-first-time business and finance director who has a solid handle on things. We have the best understanding of our budget and revenue streams than we have ever had since I’ve been a school committee member. We need to focus on finding a leader who will lead us charging into 21st century education,” committee member John Giger said. “If we focus only on finance, it might be at the expense of other things that are truly important to the district. I’m confident that even though Dr. Rodriguez has never been a business and finance manager, she will set the right priorities in tending to her many responsibilities. … I think she is a dynamic leader and a perfect fit for this district moving forward.”
Budget and Finance Committee chair Jim Frey concurred, noting that in coming months Rodriguez “ … will have the opportunity to work with Dr. Bent, who is one of the most capable administrators we have ever had in my experiences here.” He reiterated the point that many of the toughest budget decisions will happen in the coming months when Bent is still in charge, saying “reparative efforts are well underway and will be there, regardless of who the superintendent is next year.”
Committee members and several citizens at the meting acknowledged that interim Superintendent Tony Bent set a high standard for superintendent leadership. Dr. Bent was not at the meeting but commented on the selection of Rodriguez via email, “I applaud the School Committee and its chair, Alison Manugian, for a very good choice, for responding to those who expressed an opinion about the candidates and for understanding the competitive nature of superintendent searches. Outstanding candidates are routinely courted by more than one community. Kristan has a strong academic background, is very talented in several areas, and will certainly be a great fit for the district. I pledge to provide all the assistance that she would like as the months unfold. I am happy for Groton-Dunstable, but know that I will miss the people here in a deep and personal way.”
Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery, who has participated in the assistant superintendent group facilitated by Rodriguez for the last several years, was pleased to see her get the nod. When asked if Rodriguez’s views on curriculum and professional development line up with GDRSD’s she answered “Yes, absolutely.”
Former School Committee member Jane Allen was present at the Sunday meeting and said she was glad that “both candidates were aware how important it is that we get someone who will stay in the position a long time.”