After superintendent resigns, Lenox picks interim schools chief
LENOX — A well-known area school administrator begins a new assignment in Lenox this month, filling a gap after School Superintendent Kimberly Merrick's recent resignation for personal reasons.
William J. "Bill" Cameron Jr., superintendent of the Central Berkshire Regional School District from 2011 to 2014 and current chairman of the Berkshire County Education Task Force, was named the interim superintendent by a 6-0 vote of the Lenox School Committee at a Friday evening meeting.
Cameron, 72, a Pittsfield resident who also is a candidate for reelection to the city's School Committee and a former assistant superintendent for personnel and negotiations in the Pittsfield school system, will start in Lenox on Oct. 21. He will work three days a week through June 30 on a per-diem rate totaling $1,530 per week, said Robert Vaughan, chairman of the Lenox School Committee.
"The Lenox public school district is looked on by a lot of people as, in a sense, the preeminent district in terms of student performance in Berkshire County," Cameron said. "I think Lenox is held in very high regard and is fortunate to have more financial resources than some other districts, and it seems you put those to very good use in programming and the ability to attract high-quality teachers."
He also acknowledged that "people in Pittsfield, I won't say are resentful, but are discouraged by the out-migration of students from the Pittsfield Public Schools into Lenox and a few other districts, but that's a problem Pittsfield has. Lenox is a magnet for a lot of students and seems to be doing its job very well."
About one-third of the student population in Lenox is from Pittsfield. Overall school-choice enrollment is 40 percent out of 751 students in kindergarten through Grade 12.
A search for a long-term superintendent will be launched in January or February, Vaughan said, describing it as the ideal time to find a deep pool of qualified applicants.
Vaughan told committee members that he had an idea Sept. 24 that Merrick was about to resign as superintendent, 15 months into her three-year contract.
Having received an extensive list of potential interim candidates from Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, Vaughan explained that Cameron emerged as a "very strong choice for us, moving forward with integrity and all the characteristics that go with doing a good job."
As a result, Vaughan added, in order to expedite a quick transition, he did not post the position, "so there was not an opportunity to have other candidates surface. We're in a hurry-up mode, rather than formally advertising for candidates."
Meeting with Cameron last Tuesday, Vaughan discussed the just-announced vacancy. He conceded that some School Committee members might have concerns about Cameron's role on the task force, which has advocated consolidation of school districts countywide because of declining enrollment, as well as his membership on the Pittsfield School Committee.
"Bill's a man of integrity," Vaughan said, "and we will not at all be disappointed." He cited Cameron's extensive resume, which also included a four-year stint as Superintendent of Schools in Salem from 2007 to 2011 and, more recently, an eight-month interim superintendency at Shaker Mountain School Union 70, which encompasses Richmond, Hancock and New Ashford.
"I feel we've got an experienced educator coming in who could not only cover the important things like union negotiations coming up, the hiring of a director of special needs and an elementary principal in the springtime, but also perhaps guiding us in our search for a permanent superintendent," Vaughan said.
Cameron, who also is an attorney, pointed out that he saw no conflict of interest between his new role in Lenox and his School Committee membership in Pittsfield, with one exception: "If the job entails a PR campaign to try to recruit choice students, then I couldn't, in good faith, do that. I have a fiduciary responsibility in Pittsfield as a member of the School Committee."
But he perceived no other "points of intersection" between his upcoming responsibilities in Lenox and his work on the Pittsfield committee.
"I retired originally because I didn't want to do full-time superintendency into the unforeseeable future," Cameron told the School Committee members. "But assuming that you think I would fit here, this looks like a good fit for me also in terms of my ability to use my time constructively here and use what experience I've acquired in other positions."
Cameron emphasized that the temporary assignment in Lenox is especially attractive because the new assistant superintendent for business and operations, Melissa Janes Falkowski, was his close associate in the Central Berkshire school district while he was superintendent and she served as business administrator and as the current assistant superintendent.
Falkowski starts work in Lenox on Nov. 8, when Henry "Hank" Maimin, the current business administrator, retires after 21 years in the district.
"She is outstanding," Cameron said, "so I have every confidence that's going to be a smooth transition. She's very, very competent and a great person to work with."
In response to concerns raised by School Committee member Christine Mauro about a relatively abrupt transition after Merrick's resignation, Vaughan pointed that "we do anticipate a one-week overlap."
Addressing a question from committee member David Rimmler about the role of an interim superintendent, Vaughan described it as not only a holding pattern, but also following through on Merrick's announced goals for the school year, presented to the School Committee last month.
"We don't abandon the initiatives we've begun because Bill has a different agenda," Vaughan said. "Bill's not coming in with an agenda, he's coming in to help us bridge the gap and stay the course. He may have many suggestions for things we could do to continue improving."
"I'm looking forward to it," Cameron added.
Cameron, who grew up in Albany, N.Y., holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Toronto and earned his law degree from Western New England College's School of Law in Springfield.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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