PITTSFIELD -- Ann Bradshaw, William Hart and Jason "Jake" McCandless have vowed a long-term commitment if selected as the city's next school superintendent.
On Wednesday, Feb. 27, the Pittsfield School Committee is scheduled to vote on whether to choose one of the three finalists for the job.
The candidates have each indicated they want to lead the Pittsfield Public Schools for up to 10 years -- maybe longer. Recent history indicates that won't happen and that concerns the public education community from the Berkshires to Boston.
For more than a decade, the city school system and school districts across Massachusetts have been in constant transition at the superintendent level.
Since 1998, four superintendents have each averaged almost four years as Pittsfield's top educator, a statistic that includes Gordon Noseworthy. He was hired as a one-year interim superintendent through June 30 until the committee found a successor for Howard "Jake" Eberwein III. Eberwein resigned in June after a four-year stint as superintendent, taking a job with the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.
Statewide, superintendents have an average stay of 512 years in any one school district, according to the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
The association's executive director, Thomas Scott, explained how the turnover rate has made it difficult keeping the state's 277 superintendent positions filled with 50 to 65 vacancies
"The pool of superintendent candidates has been shrinking," Scott said. "The pool has become a puddle and, in some cases, muddy."
Lynn Ashburn Helde, a Reid Middle School teacher and parent of a junior at Taconic High School, says Pittsfield needs to buck the turnover trend for the sake of its children's education.
"I believe that it takes at least three years [for a new superintendent] to establish a personality, a sense of style, goals that are truly attainable and trust from the community," Helde said. "I think we were beginning to see that in Eberwein and now we're beginning all over again. It's not a good feeling."
For Pittsfield to feel good about its next superintendent, he/she must be invested in and take a collaborative approach toward improving the school system, say local parents, teachers, and School Committee members.
The next Pittsfield school boss who subscribes to the aforementioned philosophy will likely stay longer than four to five years, according to Daniel C. Elias, a 15-year veteran of the School Committee.
"Stability is everything. Without that, it is hard to make adequate progress," said the school board's senior member. "The only possibility for a superintendent staying longer is if [the person] is local, has ties and is already invested in the community."
"He should also be approachable, not intimidating," added Merudjina Normil, a sophomore at Pittsfield High School.
William Travis, who rose through the ranks of the Pittsfield Public Schools to become superintendent from 1998 to 2005, feels the city's top educator must lead by example.
"It's one thing to manage a school system, another thing to be part of it," added former Pittsfield school superintendent William Travis. "If you can't send your children to the schools you manage, you shouldn't be in the position."
Local or outsider, the superintendent must also have a good working relationship with the school committee charged with hiring him or her, say education officials.
"If a school committee understands its role and develops a stable relationship with the superintendent, he or she will stay longer," said Scott.
Pittsfield School Committee member Kathleen A. Amuso added, "The relationship between the superintendent and committee chair should also be a collaborative effort."
Amuso, the school committee chairwoman under two superintendents, noted change in school leadership can be beneficial, as long as the district's vision for education remains constant.
Pittsfield High School junior Kirsi Leminen agreed, saying she would be "satisfied knowing that the person with much control over my education is looking to improve upon the [school] system, not simply change it."
In addition, superintendents must be innovative in carrying out current and future education goals. Kellie Meisl, parent of a freshman at Pittsfield high School, says those goals must go beyond meeting state-mandated student achievement benchmarks under MCAS.
"Students need to learn skills that involve critical thinking, have real world applications and involve positive, emotional connections to learning," said Meisl. Past, present, future
Past, present, future
The Pittsfield School Committee is on the verge of hiring the city's fifth school superintendent in 15 years. Here are the four most recent superintendents and their tenures:
William Travis: July 1,1998-June 30, 2005
Kathleen E. Darlington: July 1, 2005-June 30, 2008
Howard "Jake" Eberwein III: July 1, 2008-June 30, 2012
Gordon Noseworthy: July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013 (Noseworthy contracted as a one-year interim until permanent superintendent hired.)
The committee is expected to vote Feb. 27 on offering the job to one of the three final candidates seeking the position. They are:
Ann Bradshaw: Mashpee Public Schools superintendent, July 1, 2005-present. East Falmouth resident.
William I. Hart: Assistant superintendent in the West Newbury-based Pentucket Regional School District. Newburyport resident.
Jason "Jake" McCandless: Lee Public Schools superintendent July 1, 2005-present. Pittsfield resident.