Portsmouth appoints 11 to superintendent search committee

The Portsmouth School Committee voted unanimously tonight to appoint 11 community members to a search committee for a new superintendent of schools.

In a brief meeting that followed a lengthy executive session, the committee discussed the mandate for the search team, and appointed Emily Copeland, Mary Correia, Michael Daly, Jeff Goss, Jerry Hobbs, Al Honnen, Bob Kiley, Kathy Melvin, John Robitaille, Eric Spiegel, and Laurie Stone.

"I would like to thank the many community members who submitted letters," said chair Cynthia Perrotti, adding that she was impressed by the "depth of folks with experience."

The actual charter of the team will be worked out jointly with the school committee, Perrotti said, but there was agreement that the task would be to bring forward three candidates, in unspecified order, for the full committee to consider.

To speed up the process, which Perrotti said they aimed to have complete by July 1, the committee intends to engage an executive search firm to do the initial screening.

"And the search committee is not going to operate in a vacuum," Perrotti said, suggesting that they would seek input from town residents. "We want the community to be involved in order to help get the right criteria."


Here's who I know...

Al Honnen was on the town council and was been a school superintendent... Michael Daly just ran for school committee but I don't know what else his background is... John Robitaille ran a local small business communications company and just ran for Governor... Kathy Melvin just seems to show up for all the meetings.

Beyond that thin bit of knowledge, I don't know what qualifications those folks have to be on a search committee to hire the person who will administer the largest part of our town budget. I also never heard of any of the other folks named to the panel and I'm probably not the only one.

So, in the interests of not operating "in a vacuum", are the letters of interest of the appointed people available to the public? Can we know their qualifications to do this job? what about the other ~40 applicants... can we know who was turned down in favor of these people?

I know that people's applications to serve on town council subcommittees are public records. Are these public records too?

Should I want to know these things, or am I being too much of a skeptic? Maybe I should just trust the judgment of the school committee which, after all, voted unanimously?

Al Honnen was principal of Elmhurst school for many years and was also Assistant Supt. in Portsmouth. Kathy Melvin once served on the school committee. Jeff Goss is one of the current Assistant Principals at PHS and was a classroom teacher before that. I know a little about some of the others, but not enough to comment. Certainly a diverse group.

But what caught my eye and interest is the fact that although all we hear about is debt - the need to cut programs, raise class sizes (and 'someone' found 'research' that says kids learn better in larger classes), the fact that there is no money for a net increase in the current teacher contract negotiations, no interest in a multi-year contract forcing this weird dance every year, and the list goes on - there is money to hire an executive search company to do the preliminary screening. So we let an outside group narrow the field for us? Cede that sort of control AND pay what I am sure will be big bucks for it? I find that quite interesting.


Hi, English...
There actually were questions from members of the public about the availability of the entire docket of applicants (the committee said that would be available to the search committee, and, presumably, the public) and whether there was funding identified to pay for the exec search (answer: it's not presently in the budget, and one of the committee hazarded an order-of-magnitude guess of less than $20k)


Hi, Portsmouth Citizen...
That's a good question about letters of interest -- I'm sure if you dropped Ms. Perrotti a note she could tell you.

Personally, I'm satisfied with the group. I recognized enough names that it appears there was an effort at diverse representation. There are four parents and a couple of teachers. My aim in filing the Open Meetings complaint was to ensure that this didn't end up being a PCC-laden star chamber, and that is clearly not the case.


Just a quick note. I am very pleased with the Committee as a whole. One former superintendent, two current teachers (one of which is an administrator), one retired teacher, a PCC member, a PTA president, a very strong science leader, seven parents of children in the system, and someone 4pts away from Governor; I believe they will represent Portsmouth resident's well. It is a balanced Committee with both school and business knowledge.

As for the cost of an Education Consulting firm, this is the most important hire this community will make this year and for the next three years (average contract period). Hiring the right person to oversee the largest budget in town, during these most difficult times, is critical. The right candidate will pay back this investment in her/his first month.

Hi, Dave...
Thanks very much for the detail on the makeup of the committee; I'm even more reassured to hear that I undercounted parents. Over on Portsmouth Patch, I've been defending, in particular, the inclusion of Ms. Melvin from the PCC. I think the committee did an admirable job at achieving balance, and I thank you all for your work in the selection process.

Best Regards.