Photo Gallery | Morris Elementray School Principal Timothy Lee


LENOX -- In an unanimous decision, the seven-member School Committee has voted to hire Morris Elementary School Principal Timothy Lee as a one-year interim superintendent, effective July 1.

After a brief discussion late Monday, the group decided to offer him the position after separate. one-hour interviews with the three finalists, including two veteran educators from eastern Massachusetts and northern Vermont.

Because the strategic study group exploring the district's future still has months to go before issuing recommendations, the committee had decided to name a one-year interim superintendent rather than a longer-term successor to Edward W. Costa II. He retires on June 30 after four years in the post.

Although he acknowledged that it would be bittersweet to leave Morris, Lee told The Eagle on Tuesday that he will remain very involved with the school. "It's a highly skilled staff," he said. "I've made some friends here and I'll certainly miss the kids, families and everybody I've worked with here."

As interim superintendent, Lee said he would aim to "make some inroads on connecting the programs more between the two school buildings. A coherent sequence of instruction from kindergarten through 12th grade, rather than two programs, K-5 and 6-12, makes a lot of sense, especially in a small district."

In view of declining enrollment, he pointed to "some realities we have to deal with. We're a very small [district]; in the upper grades students who want to be in a bigger pond look at other options, and that makes us even smaller. We have to look at doing something, either re-scaling our expectations or collaborating and sharing services."

On the future of school choice, Lee asserted that "we get a lot of great kids and families that come into our system, and that also allows us to be the size of school that gives us a certain vibrancy. My perspective is that we have to be careful not to overlook the very real benefits that choice awards us, and the revenue coming into the district."

Among his first priorities will be seeking a new principal for Morris -- "the timing will make things kind of challenging, we want to identify someone who can take the reins and get everything started for the school year. We don't want to rush the process, so it's a bit of a puzzle, but we'll sort it out."

A possibility would be an interim appointment, he added, if the pool of candidates is shallow at this time of year.

School Committee Chairman Don W. Fitzgerald said he had mixed feelings on the move.

"Although I hate to lose Tim at Morris," he said after Monday night's vote, "it would be extremely beneficial to the district to have him still here, helping us move forward. ... We want the interim to do what's best for the district and the kids, even if he's falling on his sword at the end of the year. Not only does the guy have to run the school district for a year, and learn the job, he's also going to learn how to be a strategic planning guru."

"I think continuity in our particular situation would be extremely helpful," committee member Jo Anne Magee said. "Tim has done a good job bringing Morris along, academically. I think he would be very helpful to us in a transitional role."

"Tim is a great administrator, he has a lot of great thoughts about curriculum," the committee's vice chairwoman Veronica Fenton said. "With Tim, there's no learning curve and our input has been loud and clear about the need for [school] culture and communication. I've received enthusiastic support from some people for Tim about those traits."

Fenton added that she was "really pleased at how strongly confident Tim spoke about the staff at Morris and how much he believed in their ability to move things forward, and he certainly made that loud and clear."

"I've been supportive of Tim all along," committee member Jennifer Reinholt said. "It gives him a good opportunity to take the next step, which he's really looking to do and if it's not here, quite frankly, it will be somewhere else. I think we all know that."

"I think a one year [appointment] gives all of us an opportunity to see where it might, or might not, go," she added. "It gives us time to figure out where we're going with the strategic plan and financial stewardship. It seems like a great fit, a natural step for right now."

"I was super-impressed with how he presented himself," Michael Moran declared. "I thought he did an exceptional job and his track record has been very good. I feel really comfortable with him."

The runners-up were Phyllis Dubina of Ipswich, an assistant superintendent in Beverly, and Elaine F. Laine of Stowe, Vt., a former curriculum director in the Barre, Vt., district.

Contract negotiations with Lee are expected to be scheduled promptly.


In their own words ...

Some highlights from Monday night's Lenox School Committee interview with Morris Elementary School Principal Timothy Lee, followed by a unanimous vote to hire him as the district's interim superintendent:

On his future:

"I would hope that after a year in this position, if the superintendency remains open and I've done a proficient job leading the district, then perhaps my role could continue and if not, then I hope I could at least serve well in the year that I'm here. ... My commitment would be, if there's a job for me, I would stay and if there's some role in the district in which I could serve, I would gladly remain." -- Timothy Lee.

***

On his recent efforts to gain a superintendent's post elsewhere: "As I've gone through the process and come to know different school districts and different places, it's really caused me to appreciate more what we have in this town and this district. My perspective on looking elsewhere and leaving the district, should a superintendent's role work out here or not work out here, is not the same as it was before. I don't have that same interest that I used to." -- Timothy Lee.

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On the role and responsibilities of an interim compared to a longer-term superintendent: "Can I tell you, bluntly, there are no differences. What we're looking for is someone to everything that a long-term superintendent would do, with an eye on the prize, an eye on the future, how to move the district forward and how to make those hard decisions and to do all of it within a year, not even knowing if you're going to be part of the package in the second year. That's a huge commitment, yet we recognize that the right person will help us move in the right direction and hopefully, the right direction has room for that person." -- School Committee Chairman Don W. Fitzgerald.

To contact Clarence Fanto:

cfanto@yahoo.com

or (413) 637-2551.

On Twitter: @BE_cfanto