BILLERICA, MA — At its meeting on Tuesday night, the Shawsheen Tech School Committee selected Holliston Superintendent Brad Jackson, a longtime Wilmington resident, as its next Superintendent, pending successful contract negotiations.
Jackson was not one of the search’s original four finalists because he withdrew his name from consideration late in the process. Jackson, who is nearing the end of his professional career, explained that he felt could not offer the Tech the long-term commitment he thought they were looking for.
After the School Committee was unable to agree upon any of the four finalists, with several members saying they weren’t satisfied with them, Screening Committee Chair Patricia Meuse, of Tewksbury, reached out to Jackson and asked him if he was still interested in the position with an understanding that it would likely only be for 2 to 3 years. Jackson responded in the affirmative and a public interview, and potential vote, was scheduled for Tuesday night’s meeting.
“Dr. Jackson is currently Massachusetts’ ‘Superintendent of the Year.’ He has a lot of experience and leadership under his belt. That’s what I’m looking for,” said Meuse. “If we give him a 2 or 3-year contract we then have a lot of time to think about the next superintendent.”
“Dr. Jackson, in my mind, was the only candidate that really checked off all the boxes,” said Wilmington’s Jim Gillis, who served on the Screening Committee with Meuse and was looking for someone with experience. “He has more than 20 years experience. He’s the president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.”
“I wasn’t enthralled with the first search process. I think anyone involved in it would admit it had flaws. We all learn from our mistakes. But I’m 100% confident that if Dr. Jackson stayed in the first search, he would have been the recommended choice,” said Wilmington’s Robert Peterson.
Peterson, who noted he wasn’t a part of the 2020 screening committee, said he was a member of the screening committee back in 2015, and that Jackson would have been a sure-fire finalist then, but he again withdrew his name from consideration before finalists were announced.
Tewksbury’s Lisa Gallagher felt “blindsided” and “surprised” by the interview and potential vote.
“We have a process in place,” said Gallagher, who thought the search was going to start over based on discussion at the last School Committee Meeting. “To have this put on the agenda and receive it just a few days ago, I was pretty concerned…. I’ll listen to the interview, but I’m not happy how this process played out.”
Bedford’s Nancy Asbedian also felt uncomfortable.
“I’m coming in with an open mind, but I’m surprised at this process. This is not what I expected this meeting to be. Not at all,” said Asbedian.
Billerica’s Ron Fusco said his first thought was to reopen the search, but has since changed his mind.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I’d like to hear from Dr. Jackson before we go back to square one,” said Fusco. “This came at me from left field, but I’m open-minded tonight.”
After approximately 15 minutes of the Committee discussing the search process, and some of its shortcomings, the interview with Dr. Jackson began. Jackson had been on the call during that discussion.
“Wow, that’s quite an introduction to an interview,” joked Jackson.
About Brad Jackson
Dr. Jackson has served as the Superintendent of Schools for the Holliston Public Schools for the past 16 years, making him one of the longest serving Superintendents with the same district in the state. He was 26 years of Central Office experience and has served as Assistant Superintendent in the Northborough-Southborough Public Schools, Director of Administration and Finance in Wilmington, and Business Administrator in the Hudson and Litchfield New Hampshire Public Schools.
Dr. Jackson received his doctorate in educational leadership from Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. A native of Cohasset, Jackson lives in Wilmington with his wife, Patricia, a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner. Their four adult children have all chosen careers in public service.
Dr. Jackson was recently named the Massachusetts Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. Jackson also is currently serving as president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS).
“I’m not here to be divisive or controversial. I’m here to serve if the Committee finds that I can be useful to the Shawsheen Tech family. I’m very happy in Holliston. I have a great School Committee, but a not so great commute — 75 minutes both ways,” said Jackson. “I do have a desire to work closer to home and make an improvement in my own community. I saw this as an opportunity to do that.
“I’ve always been driven to serve locally…. I want to make my community better. Education is how I’ve chosen to do that,” added Jackson, who has lived in the Wilmington area for more than 35 years and previously served on the Wilmington School Committee and Wilmington Finance Committee.
Jackson answered nearly a dozen questions from committee members via Zoom, and then took a handful of phone call questions from the public.
“This is the strangest job interview I’ve ever done in my life,” he joked.
Jackson pointed out that he’s never been a classroom teacher.
“Some people see that as a weakness, but I see it as a strength. It makes me a collaborative problem solver,” said Jackson. “I don’t walk into a classroom thinking I know how to do a better job than the teacher.”
Jackson added the would like to use his time at Shawsheen to mentor its next leaders and help develop a succession plan, with the support of the School Committee, that would take the school forward for the next 16 years.
“I’m not going to be Superintendent of Shawsheen for the next 16 years,” said Jackson. “I see it as my responsibility to find and mentor leaders that can take Shawsheen into the next generation… I’m very good as mentoring less experienced administrators.”
Jackson said he recognizes that he would be coming into to the district following a flawed process.
“This process isn’t going to build community support. That is something I would have to address immediately,” said Jackson. “I can understand and recognize the challenges from this process that would need to be overcome.”
Jackson would outreach to a lot of constituents immediately.
“Some of the first Zoom calls I would make would be to the Interim Superintendent, High School Principal, and President of the STA, along with Zoom sessions for parents and teachers as a type of ‘meet and greet,'” said Jackson, who would welcome tough questions and recognize that some may be suspicious of him. “They’ll need to get to know me… I would begin to build those bridges and make connections before officially starting.”
At the end of the interview, Jackson excused himself from the rest of the meeting.
Screening Committee Chair Patricia Meuse immediately made a motion to hire Dr. Jackson as Superintendent pending successful contract negotiations. Jim Gillis seconded the motion. A brief discussion took place.
“I wish Dr. Jackson didn’t withdraw earlier. Shawsheen is in such turmoil right now. We need someone to come in and offer stability. He’s a comforting soul and an intelligent man. I feel confident he can do a great job. I support him,” responded Billerica’s Ron Fusco.
“Dr. Jackson said something tonight that resonate with me — a fresh set of eyes is a healthy thing. Truer words have never been spoken about this building right now. For that reason, I support Dr. Jackson,” said Wilmington’s Robert Peterson.
“I couldn’t have put it better myself,” concurred Burlington’s Robert Gallagher.
“I’m not crazy about the way we came to this place… but, with a lot of hope, I will support him,” said Bedford’s Nancy Asbedian.
“I, too, am not happy with how we came to this place, but I don’t want to travel to the next place, because it would be a long, arduous process,” responded Peterson. “I think we have a candidate that suits the needs of the building right now.”
The School Committee voted 9-0-1 to appoint Dr. Brad Jackson as the Superintendent, pending successful contract negotiations. To starting date was mentioned at the meeting, but July 1, 2020 was noted as previous meetings. Meuse agreed to contact Jackson after the meeting to schedule another meeting to discuss the contract.
Lisa Gallagher and Peterson thanked Interim Superintendent Melanie Hagman for her service. They said she didn’t seek out the position, that the School Committee asked her to take it. Peterson said the abuse she’s received recently on social media has been “reprehensible.”