West Springfield superintendent tapped to run Lee schools

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LEE — A schools superintendent looking for a smaller, more personable district to lead has found his niche in the Lee Public Schools.

Pending successful contract negotiations, Michael Richard will be hired as the first full-time superintendent in the K-12 school system in nearly seven years.

The Lee-Tyringham Union 29 School Committee on Wednesday night selected the Longmeadow resident from a group of five finalists to succeed Howard "Jake" Eberwein III, who resigned last month after serving two years as part-time, interim superintendent. His salary is pending, but Eberwein had been earning $101,000 in the post.

Richard currently earns $161,262 as superintendent of the West Springfield Public Schools.

In his interview with the committee, Richard said after nearly six years at the helm of such a large district, he was ready to downsize.

The West Springfield district has close to 4,100 students in nine buildings, and a budget approaching $50 million; Lee currently spends about $10 million to educate some 700 students enrolled in two schools.

"I'm looking to get back to forming personal relationships with students and staff," he said, reflecting back on the nine years he worked at Belchertown High School prior to his tenure in West Springfield.

Richard added he's ready to bring long-term success to Lee and Tyringham.

"I will pay immediate dividends," he said.

Richard will be Lee's first full-time superintendent since Jason McCandless left in July 2013 to become Pittsfield's school superintendent.

Lee hired Eberwein on a part-time basis after two failed attempts to hire a full-timer to succeed McCandless, and an unsuccessful effort to share a superintendent with either the Berkshire Hills Regional or Lenox school districts.

David Hastings, former superintendent of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, is currently serving as interim superintendent in Lee.

The six-person committee — consisting of all three Tyringham School Committee members and three of the seven from Lee — initially voted 4-2 in favor of Richard as the top candidate.

Three of the four other Lee committee members also backed Richard; their block vote counted as one toward final approval.

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Two Union 29 members favored Martin McEvoy, who is principal at Herberg Middle School in Pittsfield and a former English teacher in the Lee Public Schools from 2007-13.

In a second poll at the urging of Union 29 Vice Chairwoman Andrea Wadsworth, all six members voted to offer the job to Richard.

"I don't think we should hire a superintendent unless it's unanimous," said Wadsworth, who also chairs the Lee School Committee.

Richard said he was humbled Union 29 chose him over four other strong candidates.

"I'm glad the message I delivered resonated with the committee members," he told The Eagle on Thursday.

The three other finalists interviewed this week were: Aaron Osborne, superintendent of the Hampshire Regional School District; Portia Bonner, former superintendent in East Haven, Conn., and an education consultant; and Tara Brandt, director of mathematics in the Holyoke Public Schools.

The last of the five finalists interviewed, Richard apparently made a good impression; he was the first or second choice of every school board member from Lee and Tyringham, 10 in all.

Several made it clear they wanted a forward-looking superintendent.

"I know we're doing well, but I want someone to come in to give us a push to do great," said Tyringham's Maureen Lenti.

"I want someone to do the heavy lifting to find alternatives for our students," added Lee member Christine Lucy.

Richard vowed to ensure Lee students not only do well in English, math and other core courses, but are problem solvers both in class and outside of school.

"We need to teach them how to navigate challenges," he told the committee.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.

This story has been modified to  clarify the breakdown of the committee's vote.


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