PITTSFIELD — On Tuesday evening, two educators pitched themselves as the best choice for superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools, in the final night of interviews a day before the School Committee makes its decision.

Arthur Unobskey, superintendent of Wayland Public Schools, and Marisa Mendonsa, principal of Mohawk Trail Regional High School in Buckland, outlined their backgrounds and educational philosophies before the seven-member School Committee.

Unobskey, also a former principal in Boston Public Schools, and English language coordinator and assistant superintendent in Gloucester Public Schools, called Pittsfield a “dynamic city that has not only tremendous assets, [but also] tremendous potential for growth and a tremendous dedication to the children.”

A superintendent, he said, should work with the community to generate a “shared vision for how to put children first, and make sure that they have a place where they can engage deeply in learning and develop skills that will serve them for a lifetime.”

Responding to the question about how he would support diversity, equity and inclusion, Unobskey said the superintendent must take the lead communicating that “every student has that equal opportunity for success.”

“Making statements is important, but also then setting out clear objectives of how you’re going to address student achievement, how you’re going to address recruiting diverse staff and how you’re going to provide professional development for teachers,” he said.

Unobskey was asked about ensuring that all students are given an opportunity to succeed. He emphasized the need for a strong reading curriculum on the academic front, while also embracing the “other things that get kids excited about school,” such as the arts, and having strong social-emotional supports in place for students.

Asked how he would cultivate “a spirit of cooperation” in the schools and develop educational leaders, Unobskey said that in order for “students to have a connection to adults, teachers need to be in a position to take initiative.”

“So, you need to build structures where they can do that … when you make curriculum decisions, when you make scope and sequence decisions around teaching, when you make decisions about how social emotional services will be delivered, when you make decisions about how we’re going to impact students that might be falling into an opportunity gap, teachers, administrators and parents are at the table,” he said.

Marisa Mendonsa

Mendonsa, who also is a former principal in Springfield, is expected to complete her doctorate in education from American University in spring 2022. The Pittsfield Public Schools graduate, now principal in a rural district, said that, five years ago, she “set the goal of becoming a superintendent, and I knew that Pittsfield was where I wanted to do this work.”

“I have family here; my nephew and nieces attend your schools. I will work for them, for their peers, for this community equally in the relentless pursuit of educational excellence and social justice,” Mendonsa said.

Mendonsa said she is writing her dissertation about how white leaders can use their privilege to dismantle white supremacy in K-12 schools. She emphasized equity and inclusive practices for students and staff. She proposed partnering with community organizations to help attract educators to the city, and selecting curriculum that is relevant to children from different backgrounds.

“Can our students see themselves in the curriculum? And most importantly, does the curriculum engage them? ... Another piece of this is access, and you all are starting to make some of the right moves in thinking about pre-K, and expanding pre-K,” she said, referring to the recent proposal to place a prekindergarten classroom in each elementary school.

“That’s going to help break down some of those barriers and opportunity gaps that exist in many urban and small urban districts. But, we can’t stop there; we have to really think about, what are other barriers getting in the way of well-rounded students? And how can our community become more engaged in this?” she added.

Mendonsa described her experience working in Springfield, and her current position at Mohawk Trail Regional High School, as advantageous. She is the only candidate without experience as a superintendent, according to their resumes, but said she is involved in all central office decision-making in her small district.

“I’m engaged in the budgeting process, I’m sitting at the table for curriculum decisions, special education decisions, how we’re looking at out-of-[district] placements, specialized programs — anything that you can imagine at a district level, I’m sitting at that table,” she said.

After working outside the city, she said she views the system through a “fresh set of eyes,” and has the “expertise to move us forward.”

“I am prepared to lead the district and identify the actions and steps the district must take to become an anti-racist school system. But, to be clear, I understand the challenges ahead. Many students are attending schools that are being flagged for assistance by the state, and we must work to correct this. The experiences that I have acquired in both turnaround settings and reimagining schools will be an asset for your district,” she said.

The School Committee is expected to deliberate in public session Wednesday before voting to appoint the next superintendent from the field of four candidates. Current Pittsfield interim Superintendent Joseph Curtis and interim Bozrah, Conn., Superintendent Portia Bonner were interviewed Monday for the district’s top job, which has a salary range of $165,000 to $180,000 a year.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.

Cops and Courts Reporter

Amanda Burke is Cops and Courts Reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.