by Dakota Antelman
After reviewing community feedback from a series of focus groups and an online survey, the Hudson School Committee took a major step towards hiring a new superintendent on Tuesday by discussing publicly the qualities they would most like to see in a candidate.
The meeting came nearly two months to the day after current superintendent Jodi Fortuna announced her plans to leave the district at the end of this school year. In that meeting, on October 25, the committee thanked Fortuna for her work and began to schedule the search for her successor.
Tuesday’s meeting was perhaps the biggest milestone reached on that schedule so far as the committee spent nearly 20 minutes revising advertising materials for the position and discussing the information they received from the survey and the focus groups.
“What we’ve seen is that people want to see someone who is going to continue to push the district in the direction we’re going with curriculums and certain pieces of teacher development and staff development,” said committee chairperson Michele Tousignant Dufour of the community feedback.
Over the course of two weeks earlier this month, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, an outside group contracted by HPS to help run the early stages of the superintendent search, hosted eight focus groups for students, staff, parents and general citizens in conjunction with an online survey.
In the survey and at the focus group meetings, the MASC asked community members which aspects of HPS were strongest and which issues needed addressing under a new superintendent. The survey alone drew 150 responses, a response rate that is, according to Tousignant Dufour, at least 50 responses higher than is typical on these types of surveys.
Emerging from that data was an interest among citizens in improving the HPS special education programs as well as a hope to have the next superintendent come from outside of the district.
“The concept was now that we’ve had an internal [person], let’s look and try to have an outside evaluator type of person,” she said. “But we don’t want someone who will rip down everything we did, which would not be our hope.”
HHS physics teacher Reed Prior shares this interest. Prior to coming to Hudson last year, he taught in the Tahanto and Goffston, New Hampshire, school districts for three years.
“My input on the survey and my input when I went to the focus group for teachers was that I thought the environment I found when I came here was a very warm and encouraging one for students and for faculty, and I just hope it continues to be one,” Prior said.
The School Committee will continue to seek feedback from the community and provide students, parents, staff and general citizens with relevant information throughout the search process. This is intended to prevent a repeat of the controversy about lack of transparency that led Fortuna to ask that the School Committee reopen its search for a superintendent after they initially voted to grant her the job in March of 2014.
“I came on the board at the meeting right before we voted Jodi in, but I was watching from afar at how the situation was handled,” Tousignant Dufour said. “That is not something that I want to see replicated – the speed at which it happened and what I think was a very confusing time for many people, staff and administration involved.”
In the coming weeks and months, the School Committee is expected to form a search committee and begin collecting job applications for the position. MASC will also take the lead on advertising the position, with a posting in Education Week and a brochure, each scheduled to take place within the next three weeks.
“We had hoped to start this process a little sooner, but Jodi wasn’t able to tell us until the end of October so that forced us to push our timeline further,” Tousignant Dufour said. “Our goal is now to get this [advertising] done so that we can be a competitive district and be able to be interviewing candidates by the early spring, which puts us in a better position to get the better candidates.”