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SPRINGFIELD — The School Committee approved the superintendent screening committee as recommended by the Ad Hoc Superintendent Selection Advisory Committee during a special meeting on March 20.

The selected committee includes 13 members across five groups of Springfield stakeholders. The groups were parents, business representatives, community representatives, administrators and teachers, according to the March 18 advisory committee meeting.

For administrators, Central High School Principal Thaddeus Tokarz and Kiley Academy Principal Imani Hines-Coombs were selected. During a brief presentation on March 18 to the AHSSA Committee, Hines-Coombs stated that she was a longtime resident and parent of a child at Springfield Public Schools. Tokarz did not present at the March 18 meeting.

For business representatives, Stefan Davis and B. John Dill were selected. In his presentation, Dill explained that he has been involved in other high-level searches, including the previous search committee that selected the current Springfield superintendent. He also stated that he was a resident of Springfield since 1975 who volunteers in the school system, a parent of Springfield graduates and a small business owner. Davis did not present on March 18.

In the community group, Gary Bernice, David Cruise and Joseph Griffin were chosen. Bernice is the director of bands for the Springfield High School of Science and Technology as well as a parent, resident, and a teacher liaison for the Springfield Public Schools visual and performing arts department, he said on March 18. In his presentation, Griffin explained that he is Springfield Public Schools graduate, parent and resident of more than 30 years. Cruise did not speak at the March 18 meeting.

Parents Mary Kate Plante, Edward Nuñez, Gloria Williams and Brightwood Elementary School Principal Danielle Delgado were also selected. Williams is an educational consultant, longtime Springfield resident and member of the Westfield State University Board of Trustees, she said on March 18. Williams also highlighted her experience on the search committee for the Westfield State’s president and her previous experience as a teacher and principal. Nuñez also spoke on March 18, stating that he was a longtime resident, Springfield Public Schools graduate and volunteer, parent and previous member of the Elms College Board of Trustees. Plante and Delgado did not speak at the March 18 meeting.

For teachers, Tracy Little-Sasanecki and Jennifer McQuade were selected. Little-Sasanecki explained on March 18 that she is the president of the Springfield Education Association and has experience as a school counselor for 27 years. McQuade is an assistant principal at the Springfield alternative schools as well as a lifelong Springfield resident and parent, she said on March 18. McQuade also stated that she is a member of the Springfield Park Commission and Planning Board.

Alternates included Rebecca M. Johnson School Principal Chris Sutton as well as community representatives Darwin Rivera and Rachel Barr. If a position on the committee became available, alternates would be chosen in this order, Collins stated on March 18. This was determined through a vote at the advisory committeeMarch 18 meeting.

One concern about the selected screening committee members that was raised during the March 20 School Committee meeting was the lack of student representation.

A sixth group for students was intended to be part of the committee. However, no students applied to be part of the committee, School Committee member and advisory committee Chair Christopher Collins stated. As a result, a fourth parent was accepted in the committee.

Collins highlighted that “all of us were shocked quite honestly that not one student [applied]” while Mayor Domenic Sarno questioned whether this was a result of the large time commitment to be a member.

The School Committee agreed that additional efforts to encourage students to participate in the process should be implemented, such as including the community meeting dates in schools’ announcements.
Another concern, raised by School Committee member Denise Hurst, was the minimal representation of Latino residents in the committee, due to the growing population within the district and city.

School Committee member Joesiah Gonzalez echoed this concern, stating that this occurred because the committee was focused on diverse affiliations. He stated that this was “a learning moment as a body.”

Attorney Mary Jo Kennedy later confirmed that the advisory committee followed all appropriate regulations, saying, “in the employment setting, you don’t select people based on their race. In the school setting, the same as well.”

In total, there were nearly 70 applicants for a position on the screening committee. For residents who were not selected as part of the committee, public meetings starting on March 26 and repeating each Tuesday for five weeks will allow the community to share its thoughts on the process, School Committee member Barbara Gresham said.

With the screening committee approved, members participated in orientation on March 21-22, as stated in the previously approved timeline. Following the deadline for superintendent applications on March 29, the screening committee will have between April 3 and May 8 to select 3-5 finalists to present to the advisory committee.

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