WILMINGTON, MA — At its Wednesday night meeting, the Wilmington School Committee unanimously voted to delay the search for its permanent superintendent in order to focus on filling the interim superintendent position.
The news comes less than 12 hours after the School Committee announced that Interim Superintendent Joanne benton tendered her resignation, citing medical issues. Benton will stay on with the district through the end of March and has offered to provide support and guidance to her replacement.
“I think we need to shelve the permanent search at this moment and concentrate on the interim search,” said Vice Chair Steve Bjork, beginning the discussion amongst members.
“I agree we need to focus on getting an interim superintendent replacement right now,” added member Ginny Bonish. “[The need to find an interim superintendent] has trumped the permanent search.”
“Logically speaking and logistically speaking, by putting the breaks on the Superintendent search, it will allow the committee the time to more effectively and carefully look for a permanent leader,” remarked member M.J. Byrnes, who raised the prospects of appointing an interim superintendent who could potentially lead the district during the 2017-2018 school year.
“Running an interim search and a permanent search at the same time would be doing a disservice to the searches,” said member Manny Mulas, who categorized the original search timeline of naming a permanent superintendent by the end of April as “very aggressive.” “It’s difficult to do both searches with the time we have. Let’s fill the interim position as soon as possible. Once we have that filled, we can get that conversation going again on a finding a permanent superintendent.”
“We’re really looking out for the best interest of the town and our students,” noted member Peggy Kane. “I hope the town backs us, instead of criticizing us.”
Kane, who cannot participate fully in the process due to having a relative who is employed by the district, focused much of her comments on the performance of Interim Superintendent Joanne Benton during her brief return.
“Residents have no idea what Joanne did for us. She gave us so much. She wasn’t even being paid for much of the work she did. And, no, she was not paid for any sick days she took,” said Kane, who also praised her colleagues for their commitment.
“We recognize the enormity of this decision. We’re really concerned about making the best possible decision for our students & staff,” assured Chair Julie Broussard. “We received a pretty good response to our posting of the permanent position, but we’re now in a different place than we were 2 weeks ago.”
School Committee candidate Jenn Bryson asked the committee if they were worried about potentially losing strong candidates by delaying the search.
Broussard, Byrnes and Mulas all acknowledged that was a possibility, but the need to find an interim superintendent is of a higher priority. Members also noted that a differently timed search, one when not so many school districts are engaged in competing searches, could benefit Wilmington.
School Committee candidate Amy Largenton asked the committee if they were considering a scenario where the interim superintendent could eventually become the permanent superintendent.
Mulas responded that it’s an option and has been an option in the past as well.
The School Committee has an Executive Session Meeting scheduled for Monday, March 28 at 7pm in the Wilmington High School Library. Members will be discussing the Interim Superintendent Search. There is no timeline for the committee’s decision. The Committee’s next regularly scheduled meeting is on Wednesday, April 12 at 7pm in the WHS Large Instruction Room.
Potential internal interim candidates may include longtime Director of Finance & Administration Paul Ruggiero, who has been with the district since 2008, and Assistant Superintendent Sean Gallagher, who has been with the district for less than a year. Ruggiero has filled in for Benton at the past two School Committee meetings. It’s unclear if either man would be interested in the position.
For potential external interim candidates, it would make sense to look to the Committee’s Interim Superintendent Search conducted in October 2016. Again, it’s unclear if either of those runners-up, both of whom impressed the committee, would be interested in the position.
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