5 offer insight on Board of Ed search

NASHUA – Two parents, a local business leader, a track coach and a member of the Board of Aldermen.

These were the five members of the community who took advantage of the opportunity to provide their insight on the superintendent search to members of the Board of Education on Monday night.

About 10 people showed up at the meeting, but only five people got up and spoke. Parent Judy Blachek was one of those who stepped up to the podium.

She praised the openness of the process that the board is using, but said she was concerned about possibly lowering the superintendent’s salary, having just lost Superintendent Christopher Hottel to a higher-paying district.

“We did lose a superintendent over salary, and I wonder if there was some process in place to look at that salary again,” she said.

Hottel is leaving July 1 to take over the North Andover, Mass. school district. He will be earning $165,000 there; he is earning $150,000 in Nashua.

The board has established a salary range of $135,000 to $150,000, but some members have already said they want to see the next superintendent take a pay cut, given the economic climate.

Hottel has said the higher salary was not the reason he left; he wanted to finish his career in Massachusetts.

Blachek also said that she wants to see the next superintendent “have the guts to redistrict.” She said that is one of the ways that the city can save some money in the budget.

The board has been moving forward with its search since Hottel announced in January that he would be leaving. They have placed advertisements in newspapers, education magazine and on Web sites.

The deadline for applications is March 31. Board member Charlie Katsohis, chairman of the ad hoc search committee, said that as of last week, the district has received 11 applications.

The board has opted to do the search on its own, not hiring a search firm.

After all applications have been submitted, the board will narrow them down to eight to 10 candidates, who will then be interviewed by a 16-member committee.

The makeup of the committee will be: one central office representative, two principals, three teachers, two members of city government, one PTO president, one student and four community members.

There will be also two members of the business community. Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, told board members he is working on getting volunteers for the committee.

The decision of who will fill those seats on the committee, including the community members, hasn’t been made yet. Those interested should contact central office, Katsohis said.

After the interview committee has recommended the three finalists and the board has approved them, the names will be made public and there will be forums for members of the community to meet them and ask questions.

There will also be criminal and financial backgrounds checks of the finalists, in addition to site visits by the board. May 26 is the date set by the board to have a new superintendent named.

In 2005, the board hired Julia Earl to replace longtime Superintendent Joe Giuliano. Unlike the process being used now, there were no finalists named in that search.

Less than a year after she was hired, Earl was placed on paid administrative leave as the board conducted an investigation into her use of taxpayer money for trips.

Police and state officials also conducted separate investigations.

In February 2007, the board settled with Earl, paying her $250,000 and terminating her contract with the city. At that point, Hottel, serving as acting superintendent, was named the permanent superintendent.

Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom said the new superintendent should focus on why schools are failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress.

He said it’s because high school students aren’t taking the test seriously. By that time, they have learned that the test doesn’t mean anything to them, he said.

That’s why the new superintendent has to make sure students are held accountable for the results, he said.

“Nobody in New Hampshire is, but they certainly are in Massachusetts,” Teeboom said.

Dan Hogan, a track coach at the high schools and a former candidate for the Board of Education, said it’s important to make sure candidates can make a commitment to the area.

“If we want to keep someone for a long time, we’ve got to have people who really want to be in Nashua,” he said.

Brian Erickson, a parent of four, offered his assistance as a professional recruiter, telling board members that it’s important to sell the area to the final candidates.

Tom Vaughan, president of the Board of Education, said he was hoping for a higher turnout but said those who spoke provided valuable insight.

He said those who couldn’t make it could still fill out a leadership profile survey, which is available at the district Web site or at the school district office. The surveys are due March 23.

The survey results and input gathered Monday night would be used to help develop questions for the candidates and for members of the interview committee to know what qualities are important.

Guli Maira, a special education teacher at Nashua High School North, did not speak at the meeting but did fill out a survey. She said the next superintendent “has to be inspirational.”