SPRINGFIELD — For the first time in over a decade, Springfield Public Schools will be in need of new leadership.

Mayor Domenic Sarno and Superintendent of Schools Daniel Warwick summoned the media, family, city officials and educators to City Hall on Jan. 29 to announce that the head of one of New England’s largest school districts was ready to call it a career.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd, Warwick, at times through an emotional, shaky voice, reflected on a nearly 50-year journey with the Springfield Public Schools and his decision to bring his professional service to a close at the end of the 2023-24 school year.

Warwick told those gathered he had been in conversation with his family about stepping away and determined that the timing was right to make a move. He expressed his love for the work and admiration of the administrators and staff with which he works, saying, “It’s never been a job and I love this city.”

Following the announcement, he further explained to Reminder Publishing, “My wife and I have been talking about it — and my kids — and 48 years is a long time. We want to take some time to do some things while we’re healthy enough to do those things. So it was the right time for my family and I. We have some trips we want to take and some things we want to do.”

He added, “This is an all-consuming job, so on days like today, you’re up at 4 in the morning. It’s a very, very taxing job, so it’s time to turn over the reigns.”

Warwick, a Springfield native who attended city schools, took over as superintendent in 2012, succeeding Alan Ingram, who led the School Department for four years. Prior to that, Warwick had served in deputy superintendent and assistant superintendent capacities after a 13-year stint as principal at Glenwood Elementary School in the city’s Liberty Heights neighborhood. He started his career as a substitute teacher before growing into more substantial roles including stints as a classroom teacher as well as a special education teacher and supervisor. Warwick said shortly after he was appointed superintendent, Sarno informed him that he was the only head of the department in the city’s history to have been “promoted all the way up through the ranks.”

Springfield Public Schools and Warwick himself have received notoriety over his tenure, including Title 1 Distinguished School awards, a Commonwealth Compass award, and the Blue-Ribbon Award. Individually, Warwick most recently was recognized by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents with its President’s Award in 2023.

Calling Warwick “humble and genuine,” Sarno listed several accomplishments, including an increase in the graduation rate from an “unacceptable” 56.4% to 84.6%, a reduction in the dropout rate from over 10% to 3.9%, a 1-to-1 student-to-laptop ratio, nearly $1 billion in capital investments including eight new school buildings, and the implementation of the state’s first universal free pre-K program.

Warwick recently received an “exemplary” performance review, backed strongly by Sarno, and was awarded an additional 2% performance increase in addition to a scheduled 2% cost of living adjustment to bring his annual salary to $319,089. Warwick is the city’s highest-paid municipal employee, outpacing No. 2, Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood, by more than $100,000.

Rare longevity

Sarno noted before introducing Warwick that he was the state’s longest-serving urban superintendent and remarked that the longevity at that position is rare for this area. To put Sarno’s observation in perspective, numerous shifts in leadership have occurred at the top of many school departments and districts in Reminder Publishing’s coverage area over the past several years.

Having gone through four superintendents in four years, West Springfield recently hired former Springfield Public Schools administrator Stefiania Rashilla to its top post in the School Department last year.

In Chicopee, former Superintendent Lynn Clark was arrested on charges of making false statements to federal investigators in 2022. Alvin Morton served as the interim superintendent for the remainder of the school year, but was beat out for the permanent job by Marcus Ware, who began his tenure as head of Chicopee schools in July 2023. Morton went on to become the new executive director of the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative.

Easthampton has been operating with an interim superintendent since Alison LeClair retired at the end of the 2022-23 school year. The Easthampton School Committee initially voted to hire former West Springfield school administrator Vito Perrone, but that offer was later rescinded when committee members took exception to his use of the word “ladies” in his greeting in a letter as well contractual requests made by Perrone. Easthampton’s second choice, Ludlow Director of Curriculum and Instruction Erica Faginski-Stark, withdrew herself from consideration after students discovered she had posted anti-LGBTQ+ content on her personal social media account.

Former Amherst Superintendent Michael Morris resigned and other department leadership turned over following a Title IV investigation into anti-LGBTQ+ behavior at the middle school. Morris is now working for the Westfield School Department in an administrative role.

Hampshire Regional School District Superintendent Diana Bonneville announced she would not pursue a renewal of her contract when it expires in 2024 after teachers issued a vote of no confidence. Bonneville became the superintendent at Hampshire Regional in 2021 after former Superintendent Aaron Osborne left mid-year to accept a finance position in the central office for Hampden-Wilbraham Regional Public Schools.

Prior to Hampshire Regional, Bonneville had served as interim superintendent for South Hadley schools after their superintendent abruptly resigned in 2019. Bonneville was not selected for the permanent position, which went to Jahmal Mosely. Mosely resigned mysteriously in 2022 after the School Department confirmed he was “out of the office” earlier in the year and South Hadley has been operating with an interim superintendent ever since.

Former Chicopee administrator Matthew Francis took over as head of the Palmer Public Schools this year following the mid-year resignation of Patricia Gardner amid complaints regarding morale and work environment. Francis noted to Reminder Publishing in an interview the department had “gone through a rough patch” and sought stability.

Ware also has a new superintendent this year after the School Committee opted not to renew the contract of former Superintendent Marlene DiLeo. DiLeo, who had served in the role for nine years, told Reminder Publishing she was made aware her contract would not be renewed after she was a finalist for the Wachusett Regional School District superintendency.

Hiring process begins

Regarding Springfield’s upcoming vacancy, Sarno, who also chairs the School Committee, established an ad hoc committee under the leadership of School Committee Vice Chair Joesiah Gonzalez and School Committee members Barbara Gresham and Chris Collins.

While the process has to play out and the School Committee at large has the final say in who is selected, Sarno expressed a level of hope that a homegrown candidate would emerge.

“I’ve always been old school. If everything’s equal, you try to stay local, and if you can say internal, that’s great because it sends a hell of a message to the hierarchy and to the rank and file, saying that if you work hard, you’ll have the opportunity to move up,” he said. “But we have to see what the application process is going to put forward. I just want the best superintendent that our Springfield students and families deserve, which they had in Dan Warwick.”

More turnover

Warwick’s announcement is one of multiple recent cases of high-level turnover for the city of Springfield.

While the school superintendent will be taking nearly five decades’ worth of institutional knowledge with him, the city will also soon be replacing other key members of leadership.

Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood, who has has been a Springfield police officer since 1981 and has been leading the Police Department since 2019, will retire at the end of April when her contract expires. Per state law, police officers are required to retire once they reach age 65, unless they are granted an extension through Home Rule legislation. Clapprood turns 65 in May.

Deputy Chief Lawrence Akers will replace Clapprood and boasts 38-years of experience with the department himself including overseeing the city’s Metro Unit; being a supervisor in the Special Victims Unit and being a member of the Traffic and Motorcycle Unit. He was the first supervisor for the Gaming Enforcement Unit. At 64 years old, he will pursue Home Rule legislation to extend his tenure.

“There will be continuity there and stability,” Sarno told Reminder Publishing. “Larry is very respectful and has worked very closely with Cheryl. She’s still the police superintendent, she is still in charge, and when that day will come, there will still be that institutional knowledge but he’ll also have his own vision moving forward.”

On the same day that Warwick announced his retirement, the city also made public Director of Veterans Services Tom Belton’s plans to retire. Belton has served in his role for nearly 13 years and previously served the city in other capacities.

Additionally, the city is in the midst of interviews for a new chief administrative and financial officer after TJ Plante left for the private sector last year. Plante had been in that role since 2013 and before that was the city’s finance director and had managed finances for the School Department.

On the schools’ side, Sarno and Warwick expressed confidence that whoever is chosen as the next leader of the schools will have a strong support system that has already been established within the department.

Citing Warwick’s “great lieutenants,” Sarno said, “There are big shoes to fill, but there’s a great foundation for the next superintendent, he or she, coming in.”

Warwick added, “We have a tremendous team of folks in Springfield. The leadership team is second to none anywhere in the country and to work with those folks, they’ll be well served.”