Superintendent Selection: Board’s Surprise Unanimous Vote Seen As Hopeful Step
By: Alex Scofield
The Sandwich School Committee was set to meet today in closed-door session to work on a draft of its contract with C. Richard Canfield, the man who was chosen last week to succeed Mary Ellen Johnson as the school district’s next superintendent.
Dr. Canfield was not scheduled to attend this meeting, but the board hopes to finalize an agreement with him soon. Both Dr. Canfield and school committee Chairman Sharron L. Marshall said on Wednesday that they expect to quickly move along in the process.
“It’s going to happen shortly,” Ms. Marshall said about the contract discussion with Dr. Canfield.
Dr. Canfield was one of four finalists to be interviewed by the committee last week. At the age of 64, he was the oldest finalist. But Dr. Canfield stressed on Wednesday that he does not intend to retire anytime soon. He graduated from Springfield College in 1969 and has worked as an educator ever since, for the past 10 years as the assistant superintendent of Monroe Public Schools in Connecticut.
“Retirement is really not on my radar screen,” Dr. Canfield said on Wednesday. He and his wife have been interested in relocating to Cape Cod for a long time, he said, and not as a place to retire. “We wanted to look for a community where I could continue doing what I love doing.”
Dr. Canfield said that he and his wife have a home in Fairfield that they will put on the market, and they will probably look at renting in the Sandwich area when they first arrive.
Ms. Marshall said that people have been supportive of the committee’s decision to hire Dr. Canfield over the past week.
“People seem very happy with the selection… I have only heard good things,” Ms. Marshall said. “He does have the presence to unify and move Sandwich forward… I think that’s what brought people together. They really were unanimous in the way they felt about him as the candidate of choice.”
It was the unanimous vote of the school board members—who have been at odds throughout the entire superintendent contract process—that took many by surprise, including some of the board members themselves.
“Sure I was surprised, but it left me hopeful,” said committee member Nancy A. Crossman. She added, “Although the school committee has had its differences, it shows that we can come together. I think the whole committee was able to put their personal feelings aside and do what was best for the district.”
Committee member Barbara A. Susko said she, too, was surprised that, when during discussions of the candidates, it appeared that the members were in agreement.
“I am very encouraged that as a committee we were able to reach a 7 to 0 unanimous vote. It sends a positive message to the new superintendent. I felt that Superintendent of Schools Mary Ellen Johnson’s excellent and innovative curriculum work was validated by all four candidates when they lauded the school district’s curriculum and the fact that we are well on our way to matching the new common core standards,” Ms. Susko said.
Both members indicated that the unanimous vote could be the beginning of a healing period for Sandwich. “I would like to think that,” Ms. Susko said.
Ms. Crossman said the vote was also significant in terms of moving the district forward.
“It was extremely important because we need to show that we are all behind the new leader and are all ready to move forward. We put our energy into choosing a candidate that was a best fit for the district and in moving us forward,” Ms. Crossman said.
Although Ms. Susko had made a motion to extend the search a bit longer so that site visits could be made, when it became apparent that that would not happen, she “rolled up her sleeves and went to work and spent time evaluating the candidates.”
“I sincerely believe we should have taken more than 72 hours to decide on a superintendent to whom we would be offering a three-year contract who was going to be responsible for a $30 million budget over the course of three years for a total of $90 million, especially after it took four months to decide on a copier contract,” she said.
Assuming the ruling of Barnstable Superior Court Judge Raymond P. Veary Jr. stands, Dr. Canfield will succeed the current superintendent, Mary Ellen Johnson, in July. Last month, Judge Veary dismissed a lawsuit Dr. Johnson filed against the school committee and four of its individual members, seeking $300,000 plus damages, and the enforcement of a contract that would have extended Dr. Johnson’s tenure as superintendent into 2013.
In dismissing Dr. Johnson’s lawsuit, Judge Veary ruled that the school committee’s vote to extend Dr. Johnson’s contract in an April 2010 meeting was unlawful under state open meeting law. With two newly elected members, the committee re-voted on extending Dr. Johnson’s contract in June 2010, this time opposing the extension 4-3.
Early last week, Dr. Johnson and her attorney, Paul L. Nevins, filed a motion challenging Judge Veary’s dismissal of the lawsuit, and requesting the court reconsider the decision.
Several nights later, Dr. Johnson was in attendance on Thursday when the committee voted to hire Dr. Canfield. At 2 AM on Friday morning, following the school committee’s selection, Dr. Johnson sent an e-mail to Sandwich schools staff.
“I want to thank you for all that you have done and continue to do on behalf of our students,” Dr. Johnson said in the e-mail. “You are a smart, collaborative and caring group of people who continue to do remarkable work on behalf of our students. It has been an honor and pleasure to work with you over the past four years and I look forward to continuing our work over the remainder of our time together.”
Dr. Johnson concluded her e-mail by saying, “Thank you for your ongoing support and please join me in welcoming Dr. Canfield to the Sandwich Public Schools.”
Was Dr. Johnson’s e-mail a concession? No, she said in a telephone interview this week. “I wanted to let [staff members] know everything is going to be okay,” Dr. Johnson said.
Dr. Johnson stressed, however, that she will continue to challenge Judge Veary’s decision.
“We still are appealing,” Dr. Johnson said.
When asked if she had a “Plan B” in place for July, Dr. Johnson said, “I’m always one to explore all my options,” adding that she could not say anything more on the subject at this point.
Dr. Canfield said that since applying for the Sandwich superintendent position, he has heard different takes on what has transpired over the past year.
“It really was not necessary to know all of what was going on,” Dr. Canfield said. “My approach is to look to the future… The only thing I need to know about the past is how it has an impact on the future.”
Ms. Marshall said that she, too, is looking to the future.
“I want the system to continue to move forward,” Ms. Marshall said. As for the legal issues, she said, “I’m just leaving that in the hands of our attorneys.”
Mary Stanley contributed to this article.
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