North Adams search committee narrows field to two finalists — both current superintendents

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NORTH ADAMS — A search committee has narrowed the list of potential superintendents to two candidates, both of whom already are serving in that role in other districts.

Stephen Donovan has served as the superintendent of Acushnet Public Schools for nearly a decade, and spoke of "safe learner-centered environments where students thrive academically and emotionally" in his interview with the search committee.

Barbara Malkas, who has been superintendent at Webster Public Schools since 2012 and who has professional roots in the Berkshires, spoke to the committee about "the belief that all students are capable of intellectual growth," according to search committee Chairman Jake Eberwein, dean of graduate and continuing education Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and former superintendent of the Pittsfield Public Schools.

"We're very excited to bring such high-quality individuals to the table," Eberwein said.

The superintendent search — which some in the community have criticized as being too brief and not casting a wide enough net — began in January when current Superintendent James Montepare announced his impending retirement. Though Montepare has agreed to stay on as the interim superintendent as needed, the committee hopes to have a new superintendent in place by July.

The search process has been overseen by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) at the local School Committee's request. The MASC received about 10 qualified applications for the positions, of which it estimated a few were solid, formidable candidates for the final position.

Five of those 10 candidates were interviewed this month behind closed doors by the School Committee's special 11-member search committee, which includes representatives from the education system and community at large.

The search committee narrowed the pool of candidates to the two finalists, which were named publicly to the School Committee on Tuesday.

Both superintendents are currently overseeing districts with some similarities to North Adams. Though the Acushnet district has fewer students than North Adams and is only kindergarten through eighth grade, a full one-third of its student population is "high-needs."

Malkas, who has previously served as the deputy superintendent in Pittsfield, oversees a district with 230 employees and 1,800 students, more than half of which are "high-needs."

The School Committee is expected to begin the interview process of the finalists in the coming weeks, first with visits to each candidate's district and then a candidate visit and final interview in North Adams.

According to a schedule approved Tuesday, the committee intends to vote and approve a new superintendent on April 12.

Eberwein told the committee that the district is in a unique position to have such highly qualified candidates before them, and that the search committee was "unanimously and very strongly in support of the two finalists." Of the previous seven superintendent searches in the Berkshires, Eberwein said, none resulted in winning candidates that were current superintendents.

"I'm very excited about this going forward," said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright.

Eberwein said the pool of qualified professionals for a position like superintendent in North Adams is "not particularly deep."

Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger asked how many of the applicants were local, but Eberwein declined to answer, citing the confidentiality of the selection process.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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