LENOX -- The principal of Morris Elementary School may be stepping up the career ladder to superintendent of the Northampton public school district.
Timothy Lee is among three finalists for the post. He and the other candidates will be in Northampton on Wednesday for interviews, visits to the city's schools, and meetings with parents, other residents, students, teachers and district staff members.
Northampton Public Schools, serving 2,700 students from the Pioneer Valley city as well as Florence and Leeds, includes four elementary schools, a middle school and a high school.
Lee, 49, emerged as a top-tier candidate among 16 applicants. According to Interim Superintendent Regina Nash, the city's School Committee will meet Wednesday night to consider the three finalists and likely make a decision.
Now in his sixth year at Morris, Lee told The Eagle on Tuesday that he applied for the opening in late spring after Northampton Superintendent Brian Salzer resigned after less than two years in the post to take a job in Germany.
Salzer had been earning $133,471, according to the city's website. The statewide average for school superintendents last year was $152,568, according to the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
Since 2000, Northampton has had six superintendents.
"I thought I had been passed over," Lee said, after he heard nothing for months. But in September, he learned that the search had been reactivated following a summertime hiatus.
"I've been thinking for a couple of years about my next career move," he said. "I've always seen it as a professional challenge to try and effect more change on a wider level. Being superintendent of a larger district represents an enticing challenge."
Lee, a resident of Great Barrington, said he was unfazed by the high turnover at the top in the Northampton school district -- "It doesn't dissuade me that much," he said. "It's a given that people come and go. But it takes a lot of time to make lasting changes. The School Committee needs somebody who'll be there for a while."
With 24 years' experience in education, including principal positions in three states, Lee said he was intrigued by the diversity of the Northampton student body.
"If it doesn't work out, I remain committed to my work here," he said, adding that he loves the Morris School, its faculty, students and students' families. "It's a great place to work and I wouldn't choose another elementary school," he said
Lenox Schools Superintendent Edward W. Costa II said he was interviewed by Northampton's search firm by phone for a half hour. "It's certainly bittersweet," he said. "I recognize Tim as an up-and-coming administrative leader and there's a natural ascendancy from principal to superintendent. I told him I'd help him in any way I possibly could. He would make a great superintendent."
Costa added that he told Lee that he would also like to keep him in Lenox and that he has "room to grow.
"I'd hate to lose him from our community," he said.
"He's a wonderful administrator with a great depth of knowledge and understanding about students, curriculum and working with staff," Costa said. "It's easy to understand why another district would want him, and part of my obligation is to grow administrators."
Among others in Lenox contacted during the search was Marybeth Mitts, who served on the town's School Committee from 2003 to 2012. "Tim has always been a great resource, very professional and a wonderful manager," she said. "I applaud the fact that he's a finalist and wish him the best."
Mitts acknowledged that it would be "very tough for Lenox to have to replace a terrific professional, but people have moved on to bigger and better things before." She praised Lee as "very thoughtful, very methodical in the way he approached any changes in teaching in the elementary school. He always presented goals in a positive way."
"Tim leads quietly, but make no mistake, he is a firm leader," Mitts wrote in her letter of reference to the search firm, describing his support of full-day kindergarten in Lenox as well as of Spanish as the Morris School's world language.
"Net gains in teaching and learning were realized," she said.
The other two finalists in Northampton are Laurie Bell Farkas, the district's director of student services since last year, and John W. Johnson, communications director in Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction.
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