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EDITORIAL: Make Search for New Superintendent Open and Inclusive

September 18, 2018

Mayor Stephen DiNatale is on the right track in launching Fitchburg’s search for a new superintendent of schools.

His aim is to conduct an open search of all qualified candidates from inside and outside the district.

We have confidence in Mayor DiNatale and the Fitchburg School Committee to follow through on their word to conduct a comprehensive search for Superintendent Andre Ravenelle’s successor -- a search that looks for the best and brightest school leader who can enhance the city’s public school system for years to come.

At last week’s School Committee meeting, the board unanimously approved the mayor’s request to appoint a search committee to formally begin the search process.

In all likelihood, this means the city will not engage with an independent consultant to lead the search. At least one member thought it best to save the cost of hiring a consultant, believing an appointed search committee made up of local people who know the community will better serve the process.

With that settled, DiNatale asked members to make recommendations to him of people who should be considered to participate on the search committee. That’s fine. However, to safeguard the integrity of this search, the mayor must now make sure this panel does not become an extension of anyone’s political agenda. He should establish a set number of the people to sit on the panel and identify what community sectors should be represented. For instance, parents’ group member should be recruited as well as someone from the minority community.

The mayor has an obligation to the public and taxpayers to appoint people who will put the interests of Fitchburg’s students and school system first. Members should be open-minded and have a strong interest in public education. Above all, they should take very seriously their responsibility to serve in this capacity.

We encourage Mayor DiNatale to allow Fitchburg residents to apply for a spot on the search committee -- separate from any recommendations made by the school board.

While it’s known that DiNatale favors the work done by acting Superintendent Robert Jokela, a transparent search will only strengthen Jokela’s case to become the permanent leader if he applies and bests a field of bonafide candidates.

Jokela has finance qualifications that might prove essential to Fitchburg Public Schools, especially in the present climate where local and state funding resources are limited. He’s been the system’s Assistant Superintendent of Finance under Ravenelle and possesses the required state certification to become superintendent.

According to Administrator of Human Resources Rick Zeena, there are a total of six employees in the school district licensed to serve as a superintendent or assistant superintendent. That’s a pretty good pool, but the search should not be limited to just district employees. Ravenelle, who’s held the top post for 13 years, was the product of a broad candidate search, and the same should be true for selecting his successor.

With Ravenelle’s departure scheduled for October, Mayor DiNatale and the School Committee should establish an official timetable as to when they hope to complete the search process and name a new superintendent. This will secure the motivation to get the task done in an orderly fashion.

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