Brian Sullivan: Superintendent "Jake" McCandless chief ready to roll in year two

This column has been amended to clarify that schools have already opened.


Bad, bad Leroy Brown may live on the South Side of Chicago in the baddest part of town -- but he doesn't live here, and he doesn't send his kids to our schools.

"I do chuckle sometimes when our school district gets referred to as urban," said city schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless.

Join the club.

But, like any community during these troubled times, we all need to remain vigilant. McCandless will saddle up for year two of his contracted five-year agreement with the city when the new school year begins Tuesday.

Said the school leader, "We might be about the 20th largest school district in the state, and while we do have some issues similar to that of other city districts, we are a lot more like the districts which are our neighbors here in Berkshire Country.

"We have about 6,000 students in our district," he said, "while Springfield has 20,000 and Boston about 100,000 students."

That said, McCandless, the former Lee school chief, shouldn't be portrayed as a guy who spent the summer sitting comfortably on the passenger side of the car enjoying the view. It was a busy summer on the job, and he spent a good deal of time behind the wheel. Scenery? What scenery?

Two new elementary school principals, a new middle school principal and an interim leader at the other middle school were on his plate, while other top-level administrative changes were also made.

Matt Bishop will return to Pittsfield High after a successful rookie campaign, and that leaves the still young and proficient John Vosburgh at Taconic as the graybeard of our secondary school principals. Toss in the kitchen sink that is the school building project on Valentine Road at Taconic High, and you come away with an understanding that there were plenty of balls to keep in the air during the summer months.

"I'll tell you this," McCandless said. "We have a nice core group of elementary school principals who are passionate about their work and do a great job mentoring."


Last year, McCandless said, "I didn't know what I didn't know. This year has been easier, but now it's a matter of finding the time to deal with what I do know."

If McCandless sounds a bit like New York Jets second-year quarterback Gino Smith, well, it's because the two do have much in common. The playbook's easier to read in year two, but the expectations also rise.

"There's always room to get better," McCandless said.

Gino, are you listening?

The storyline that ultimately will be a new Taconic High School, he said, has taken and will continue to absorb huge chunks of his time.

"When the state calls you have to jump," he said. "I would say Taconic issues on average have tied me up about one day a week, but there were times when it would involve days at a time or even weeks at a time."

So, where are we in the process? Are we close?

"Think of it as a 100-meter race," McCandless said. "We're about 20 meters in. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but those first 20 meters involves quite a few things. The remaining 80 should go much quicker."

McCandless, however, cautioned not to consider him the Usain Bolt of school superintendents. He, nor the Taconic project, will move like the well-known world-class sprinter.

"Anyone who has ever seen me move would never suggest that," he added.

Kidding aside, the school boss hopes to see the Taconic project completed before his initial five-year term expires.


Time waits for no man, or any child, for that matter. This fall will be the first for the McCandless family where one of the three children won't be in a Pittsfield elementary school.

"We'll have two in middle school and one high-schooler," McCandless said.

They will be taught, he believes, by some of the best professionals in the state. And he agreed that while the teachers have been given many tools for success the tweaking of the respective school staffs and their instructional agendas can only deliver a certain amount of the goods.

At some point, McCandless said, help has to come from the home. If the district is truly to succeed, he said, "that will be essential."

So, with classroom doors about to swing open. "Get ready because here we come," McCandless exclaimed.

Perhaps not Bolt-like, but coming nonetheless. And with sleeves rolled up, the boss seems ready to lead the charge.

Brian Sullivan can be reached at


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