Supt. Search Committee Taking Shape in Fitchburg
By Amanda Burke
FITCHBURG -- The selection process to name a permanent superintendent of Fitchburg Public Schools is moving along, with Mayor Stephen DiNatale announcing Monday that he has filled the first three appointments to the 11-member screening panel.
DiNatale said he is naming School Committee members Peter Stephens, Sally Cragin and Jean LaBelle-Pierce to serve on the applicant screening committee. Stephens is vice chairmain of the school board, which is chaired by the mayor,
DiNatale said he is still looking for one parent to serve on the screening committee, and expects to announce the remaining eight members at “some point this week.”
“We’re trying to be as representative as we can of the community so everything’s right out in the open, right out on the table,” he said. “We’re going to have a fair and impartial process in searching for the superintendent.”
In addition to the school board trio, the screening panel will include three parents of district students, two school administrators, two district teachers and one community member with an “educational background”, according to Stephens.
Stephens, who chairs the personnel subcommittee of the School Committee, said there are six district employees who possess the state certification to become a superintendent. They are: Fitchburg High School Principal Jeremy Roche; High School Assistant Principal Albert Mercado; Longsjo Middle School Principal Craig Chalifoux; Crocker Elementary School Principal Adam Renda; Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Title 1 Coordinator Paula Giaquinto; and acting Superintendent Robert Jokela.
The School Committee voted 6-1 to appoint then-Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Jokela interim superintendent on June 18.
Stephens said Jokela will serve in that role until June 30. If Jokela wants to be considered for the job on a permanent basis, he must submit an application for the position that was posted Friday. The job is open to applicants across the country, said Stephens.
The screening committee will interview applicants employed by the district, then decide whether they make the cut for a public interview by the School Committee, Stephens said.
“Any of those candidates from Fitchburg, we will interview,” he said. “That’s kind of given. If you work here we’re going to give you an interview, we’re going to give you that respect,” he said.
The screening committee will meet in closed sessions this fall. They will consider and interview “qualified” applicants, said Stephens. The panel will recommend between two and five finalists to the School Committee, who will conduct the final interviews. DiNatale said previously he hopes to complete the interview process in December.
Stephens said the permanent superintendent will be selected by majority vote of the seven-member School Committee -- also expected for December.
The next permanent superintendent will begin on July 1. The deadline to apply is Oct. 29.
The search process is beginning at a good time to hire candidates with experience as superintendent, and those looking to step up from a different role, according to Stephens.
“People who are looking to become a superintendent for the first time -- or people who are looking to move to a new district -- they have to finish out their school year wherever they are, so if you want to get the best person, people are usually appointing a superintendent at the end of December, January or February,” he said.
Former Superintendent Andre Ravenelle reported to work for the district for the last time Friday, 13 years after he was hired as Fitchburg schools chief. He was earning $190,000. Jokela’s salary as the interim superintendent is $170,000, according to Stephens.
The public is invited to ask questions and comment on the search process at a public forum Oct. 17 at Memorial Middle School, said Stephens.