McCandless to cast wide net in looking for new principals for Pittsfield schools


PITTSFIELD -- An overhaul of job posting protocols used in Pittsfield schools is underway after Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless won unanimous School Committee approval last week for the proposed changes.

Faced with conducting simultaneous searches to fill three principal openings at city schools, McCandless said the search process will provide not only a great challenge but an opportunity to update search practices to attract the widest and most diverse pool of candidates possible.

Presenting his plan to committee members, McCandless stressed that he believes "this is the most important thing I do as a superintendent."

The three openings, occurring as of July 1, are at Allendale and Conte elementary schools and Herberg Middle School. The two elementary schools now have interim principals.

In hiring principals, McCandless said he hopes to install energetic leaders who pursue high goals for their schools. He also urged the committee, staff members and the community to become involved with the searches, saying he wants to make it clear "I don't see your involvement as usurping my authority [to make appointments]."

The "biggest area in which I want to veer from the past," he said, "is in how we post and advertise these openings."

In addition to traditional ads in local and regional newspapers, McCandless said job ads are being considered on websites like,, state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education online resources,, and with the Massachusetts Partnership for Diversity in Education website.

The latter two resources reflect a commitment to reaching out to minority job candidates in the wake of criticism last summer from the local branch of the NAACP and others over the low number of people of color among school system and city department employees.

McCandless said the system has applied for membership in the Massachusetts Partnership for Diversity in Education, which provides affirmative action training and other resources, and he expects Pittsfield will be accepted soon.

Job postings can cost in the range of $800 to $1,000 each, he said, and he estimated the amount would be roughly equivalent to the cost of using print publications only. However, Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance, said she believes the cost overall could be slightly less.

McCandless also set a timetable for advertising and the interviewing process. Ads will be posted by Jan. 20 and the first-round review of the applications will begin by Feb. 10. Finalist interviews by a local interview group will begin in March, he said, with the goal of completing the process by April 17.

However, the searches -- which will be considered on a school-by-school basis -- won't end at that point unless "we have the right person," he said, adding that the process could be accelerated if that person is found earlier.

Interviews will include time for professional and social interactions and an opportunity for the candidates to get to know the community -- an aspect McCandless said he would like to expand from that of his own interview process last spring. He became superintendent in July.

Involved in a daylong school and district visit for finalists will be meetings with students, parents, faculty, other staff members, other principals and the administrative executive team, he said.

The actual interview committee will include the superintendent or a designee, two or more teachers, staff members and parents/community members and a current principal. McCandless said those numbers are the minimum he would like to see interview finalists.

"I am very happy that this is being updated," said committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon, adding that the new process should begin immediately and could be modified as it progresses.

McCandless also expressed enthusiasm for the "assessment center" approach for job candidates, which he said he had discussed with new committee member Anthony Riello, a retired police chief who served in both Falmouth and Pittsfield.

Riello, who said he experienced the assessment process twice a chief candidate and found it challenging and a great way for interviewers to "see people react in real life situations" through the use of simulated office or other work settings. There are firms that, in addition to setting up the mock situations also provide expert analysis of the candidates' reactions, he said.

McCandless said he hopes such a process can be worked into city school searches.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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On Twitter: @BE_therrien


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