PITTSFIELD — The principal of Pittsfield High School has been tapped to serve as interim deputy superintendent of the city’s school district, pending contract negotiations.
Henry Duval unanimously was appointed by the School Committee on Thursday to serve as the district’s interim second in command. Duval said Friday that his appointment won’t be official until he hashes out a contract with the district.
If all goes smoothly, approval of his contract is expected to happen at a School Committee meeting Wednesday. PHS Vice Principal Maggie Harrington-Esko was selected to step into the role of principal of the high school, interim schools Superintendent Joseph Curtis told the School Committee.
Curtis selected Duval fill in his old job, left vacant after former superintendent Jason “Jake” McCandless departed the district for the Mount Greylock Regional School District, and Curtis was elevated to fill McCandless’ post on an interim basis while the School Committee embarks on a broad search for the district’s next permanent schools chief.
If the School Committee hires someone other than Curtis, Curtis would return to the deputy superintendency, and Duval would return to being principal of Pittsfield High, Curtis said.
Filling the deputy superintendent position is crucial, said Curtis, who is steering the district through the coronavirus pandemic and who said he is working nights and weekends to respond to the influx of 300 to 500 emails he said he receives from community members, family, staff and day care providers each day.
Duval’s experience will help assist with that important and ongoing task — promptly communicating with families and school staff, Curtis said.
Curtis said he selected Duval to serve as interim deputy superintendent because he thought it would minimize disruption to district operations. Duval “is part of the fabric of Pittsfield High School,” Curtis said, and he has built “a strong team that does not heavily rely on his constant direction and presence.”
“That’s, in my opinion, one of the true marks of a leader, that they empower people on their direct team to make decisions and make plans, form task lists, without his constant intervention,” Curtis said.
School Committee member Alison McGee said she was concerned with the lack of gender diversity at the top of the district’s roster, and Dennis Powell, her colleague on the committee, asked why Curtis did not select one of the district’s assistant superintendents to fill his old job in the interim.
Curtis said assistant superintendents Tammy Gage and Kristen Behnke already have their hands more than full in their current roles, and added that his goal putting forth a candidate for appointment was to minimize disruption to current district operations.
“There’s unfortunately not time for training or orientation, either; it has to be someone that can move right into the role,” Curtis said.
After a surge in coronavirus cases in Pittsfield, the district Friday shifted all students back to remote learning, just about two weeks after the final batch of students transitioned back to classrooms for hybrid learning.
Duval told The Eagle that students have proved their ability to follow the district’s safety protocols; the problem, he said, was community members outside of schools failing to abide by public health guidance.
“The kids have been great following all the protocols,” he said. “I think we’re all just disappointed, the teachers, the students and the administration.”