NORTHAMPTON — After three public talks and intensive discussion at a special meeting Thursday, the school board voted to hire Howard “Jake” Eberwein III to serve as acting superintendent of Northampton Public Schools for one year until a permanent superintendent be hired.
Eberwein, a Dalton resident, is an educational consultant, project leader and school committee member in Berkshire County, a former principal and also served as a trustee at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.
Ward 7 school committee member Kaia Goleman cast the only negative vote for hiring Eberwein, a former superintendent of Pittsfield and Lee, saying earlier in the meeting that she preferred candidate Jannell Pearson-Campbell, although she spoke highly of Eberwein’s “impressive” credentials, question-answering and inclusive leadership approach.
“I’m currently working on a project that involves a consortium of county districts in Berkshire and we’re exploring some of the challenges we’re facing in the area, including declining enrollment and difficult resources,” Eberwein said. “I like situations that I can get into, work with people, solve problems and manage projects, so I guess that’s what draws me to you.”
He said the “first task ahead” is to ensure the right staff and a strong management team are in place to complete the work that needs to be done before schools open in September.
“I’m a fairly easy-going guy to work with in terms of accessibility,” Eberwein said, “but I think people who work with me will tend to say they work really hard, and in some cases, they’ll even report that they’ve worked harder than they’ve ever worked before…. It’s kind of a love-tough approach.
It was not immediately clear when Eberwein will start in his new role. He said he would need at least a week to “button up” the consulting work he is involved in and has a family vacation planned for August.
The school board also voted to appoint Susan Wright, who served as the city’s chief financial officer from 2011 to 2021, as acting superintendent until Eberwein begins work. Wright is currently the school district’s acting business manager and will continue in both roles.
Former Northampton superintendent John Provost took over as head of the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District on July 1. A separate search is developing in order to find his permanent replacement.
School committee vice-chairman Gwen Agna said seven of the 11 candidates for acting superintendent “met the minimum qualifications, so we then selected some of the other elements of our assignment that we thought were important and found five candidates. that we decided we wanted. interview.”
Besides Eberwein, the other two finalists interviewed in public were Pearson-Campbell, former assistant superintendent of teaching and learning in the Old Rochester Regional School District in Plymouth County, and Marlene DiLeo, superintendent in Ware.
“If I went with my heart, I would definitely go with Dr. Pearson-Campbell” because of his goal of healing fractured relationships and building community, said Margaret Miller of Ward 6, “but I have to say I’m torn” because Eberwein has the skills, experience and creativity needed for the job.
Ward 1 member Margaret Robbins said Eberwein “ticks all the boxes” and she hopes Pearson-Campbell will keep Northampton “in mind” when the committee releases the permanent superintendent’s opening. She said DiLeo was “pretty impressive too, but I was discouraged that her start date” couldn’t be specified as she is still actively employed by another district.
The committee interviewed the candidates consecutively and asked about their management styles and approaches to diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as issues such as a high number of office vacancies. central and teachers, healing divisions in the community and maintaining lines of communication. open between different actors.
A former teacher, principal and assistant director of education, Pearson-Campbell said her philosophy focuses on college and career readiness for all students. She said she also had experience writing grants and leading professional development.
“I just want to say that I am a third-generation black American educator and my journey here has been a long one, but it has also prepared me for this opportunity,” Pearson-Campbell told the committee. “Why now? It’s because I can bring people together on behalf of the students.
Asked by the committee what she learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pearson-Campbell recounted a personal tragedy.
“In 2020 I lost my dad, and one of the things I learned was to take care of people,” she said. “Take care of people first and education will come. …As you hear by my voice, I try to speak soothingly because we don’t know what people have lost during this pandemic. It could be a member family, it could be a job, it could be their tradition.
DiLeo told the committee that she had worked at Ware Public Schools for 14 years, eight of them as a superintendent, and “I need you to know that I am a person who thinks outside the box.” She said hiring a full-time business manager is a top priority, along with quickly building relationships across the district.
“Once I come in, once you see what kind of leader I am, what kind of worker I am, what kind of ethic I bring to this job, you can say to me, ‘Hey, do you think do you want to stay another year or two?” DiLeo said. “I think it could be a win-win situation for both of us.”
She said the superintendent should spend time in school buildings observing staff-student interactions and ensuring students know their district leader, and her experience as a principal gives her the perspective to assist and coach administrators.
Asked about her commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, DiLeo said she takes the job “very personally.”
“I am married to a woman. I have been with my partner for 20 years, married for 16 years, raised two children. Twins, 26,” DiLeo said. “The world we live in is getting, really, a little crazy, and we need to make sure that children, students, staff clearly understand that… no one is better or worse than anyone else. .”
Brian Steele can be contacted at [email protected]