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Lowell Superintendent Requirements Start to Take Shape

January 29, 2019

LOWELL -- Faced with a time crunch, members of the Lowell School Committee and community hammered out a proposed list of requirements for the district’s next superintendent, during a sparsely attended Personnel Subcommittee meeting Monday night.

The wish list includes a “demonstrated commitment” to family and community engagement, cultural competency and equitable access to education. Another amendment called for at least five years of classroom teaching experience, “preferred.” And -- in a nod to the district’s nearly vacant human resources department and difficulty attracting non-white teachers -- the candidate should have experience cultivating and maintaining an experienced diverse workforce, the subcommittee said.

The subcommittee unanimously approved these amendments to a 2011 job posting for the Lowell superintendent position, which includes more standard requirements like ten years of experience in education, proper licensures and strong communication skills. The group plan to bring this document and their changes to discussion at a meeting of the entire School Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 6.

However, some on the School Committee and in the community fear it might be a tall order to hire a superintendent for next school year.

“This is not a best, opportune time. ... Most of (the candidates) have been picked over at this point,” said School Committee member Andre Descoteaux.

While, in the past, districts have started superintendent searches around this time of year, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Tom Scott previously said competition has pushed the process earlier into the fall for many districts.

Mickie Dumont, an officer in United Teachers of Lowell and retired teacher, also expressed concern with the timing.

“I am really disappointed that it has taken this amount of time to get to this,” she said.

Though at least two members of three person subcommittee -- Robert Hoey Jr. and chair Connie Martin -- expressed reservations about the timeline, all said they need to move forward with a search.

“It’s so important that we can get stability,” said Jackie Doherty, the third member of the subcommittee.

Though the School Committee is the final hiring authority, the subcommittee discussed appointing a “blue ribbon committee” representing a cross section of the community.

In past searches, blue ribbon committees have sorted through applications that meet the requirements of the job posting, narrowing the pool of candidates to only a handful. Their duties have also included setting a criteria for evaluating candidates and talking to people who have worked with them.

Past processes have sometimes included hiring an organization like the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to facilitate the process, according to Martin.

Hoey said he believes a blue ribbon committee should be between seven and nine people. The group should reflect the city’s diversity, as Lowell “right now needs to stand up and stand up strong” on diversity, Hoey said.

“At least out of seven we need someone I believe from the Cambodian people,” he said. “We need someone from the Latinos and we need someone from the African group. And, obviously, we’re going to get someone from the white group.”

During past processes, Martin said the district has sought committee members from about 11 or 12 groups in the city to reach a broad range of stake-holders. Past committees have also included members of the community who are unaffiliated with this group, but have expressed interest.

Just shy of twenty people attended the Monday night meeting seeking public input. Attendees included parents, union representatives and members of the School Committee not on the subcommittee.

A parent of three young children, Ty Chum, echoed the comments of others, calling for strong communication, cultural competency and a history as a classroom teacher.

″(We need) someone who can really understand the underserved communities, what the need is, the curriculums, can talk about bullying, can talk about suicides,” he said. “All this kind of stuff. Violence, sexual violence, domestic violence.”

Paul Georges, president of the United Teachers of Lowell, listed a series of requests including “significant” teaching experience, a collaborative rather than top down approach, insistence on improving building conditions and agreement that the teacher’s union wants to benefit the district. He said, unlike past at least one past process, all applicants for the position should be submitted to the blue ribbon committee for consideration.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins

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