PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield School Committee has tapped Lee Public Schools Superintendent and city resident Jason "Jake" McCandless to fill the same post here -- acknowledging that his strong track record means he'll likely be missed in Lee.
The committee on Wednesday ended a search process that began early last year by voting to offer McCandless, who has children in local schools, the superintendency.
Chairman Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga, one of those offering enthusiastic praise for the candidate, said contract negotiations will now begin and could lead to an official appointment by the board on March 13.
The salary range for the post was set at $150,000 to $175,000.
"I am very honored to have been able to serve over the last 11 years in Lee, and doubly honored to now be able to do the same in Pittsfield," McCandless said when contacted by phone shortly after the board's decision.
"I'm excited and very grateful, and I think appropriately nervous about the challenges that come with this job," McCandless said.
He added that during his long tenure in Lee, "this is the only job I applied for," in part because he and his family are residents of Pittsfield with three children in city schools.
McCandless, 42, said during his interview before the school board that he believes the system needs a long-term commitment from its next superintendent and he would want to provide one.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, a member of the School Committee, said McCandless was "an excellent choice" and has proven an effective superintendent in the Lee schools. "I enthusiastically endorse him," Bianchi said.
Board member Daniel Elias said he was impressed by McCandless during the interview process, which included three finalist candidates visiting city schools and meeting with officials, staff members, students, parents and others in the community.
Elias said he also spoke with many people in Lee and elsewhere and all gave positive comments. "I actually feel bad for Lee. They really like him there," Elias said. "Everyone gave him very high marks."
The other finalists were William Hart, assistant superintendent at Pentucket Regional School District, and Ann Bradshaw, superintendent in Mashpee schools.
If McCandless is hired to lead the 6,000-student Pittsfield system, he would replace Howard "Jake" Eberwein III, who left in June 2012 to accept a position at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.
Gordon Noseworthy is now serving as interim superintendent for one year, through June. An earlier superintendent search ended unsuccessfully in May, and a second search -- utilizing a search consultant -- began last summer.
Barbalunga said he applied a management-related testing program to McCandless and found "he scored a 50 out of 51 points," adding, "that's how far off the charts he was."
The chairman said he wanted to go out on a limb and predict the School Committee will be remembered positively for the decision to hire McCandless, joking, "They will say we finally got something right."
The search found that "one group after another gave us positive feedback" about McCandless, Barbalunga said. "This is a big day for Pittsfield and we should be excited."
The 6-1 vote was not unanimous, with board member Terry Kinnas voting against. Kinnas did not specifically find fault with McCandless in his remarks but did fault the interview process, which was spread over three days for the finalists.
Citing some of his accomplishments in Lee, McCandless said during his prior interview with the board that school choice losses have been reversed during his tenure. He also cited a greatly expanded Advanced Placement program in Lee that more than quadrupled the number of students taking advanced courses, and early and constant intervention with at-risk students that has helped lower the amount of special education designations.
He also stressed communication between principals, administrators, teachers, staff members, parents and students.
Addressing Pittsfield's achievement gap compared to some other systems means closing the level of advantages between students with radically different home lives, McCandless has said. He advocated forming new partnerships with nonprofit groups, colleges, the United Way and other organizations to help better prepare every student.
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