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Pittsfield School Committee Reject Superintendent Candidate
By Joe Durwin, Special to iBerkshires
06:00PM / Friday, May 11, 2012
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee will not hire the sole finalist for Superintendent of Schools.

Following an hour and a half interview conducted at Public School Committee's Wednesday night meeting, the committee voted 5-2 against hiring Reza Namin, the only remaining prospect identified in a screening process conducted over the last few weeks, and instead will start the search over. 

Ten candidates had originally applied for the advertised vacancy in March following the Jan. 3 announcement that Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III would leave the position at the end of June.

Six candidates withdrew their applications prior to screening, leaving four to meet for private interviews with a screening committee that met primarily in executive session. Of the four, only Namin was advanced for further consideration by the school committee.

Committee members spoke enthusiastically about Namin's credentials, interview presentation, and other aspects of his expertise, but expressed reservations about the likelihood of a long term relationship between the candidate and the school system.

"I do have reservations about the commitment. We've lost important figures up to this point from our administration, I don't think we can afford to lose more," School Committee member Daniel Elias said.  "If you don't have stability, then you open yourself up to losing other people."

Namin has been the Superintendent in three different school systems during the past three years. After earning acclaim between 2005 to 2009 as superintendent of Ralph C. Maher Regional School District in Franklin County, Namin moved on to Westbrook, Maine for about a year and a half before being hired for the Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District. Namin applied for the Pittsfield vacancy about six months into his first year there.

Mayor Daniel Bianchi also expressed concern with Namin's commitment and suggested further examination.

"The fact that he's in a place right now, and that he's only been in there for less a year, and he's looking for another job, that gives me concern," Bianchi said. "His credentials however, and the answers that I heard to questions to questions tonight, would lead me to think that is at least worth a site visit... I would love to talk to the municipal leaders in some of the other communities where he's been involved, to either solidify my support, or allow me to come the conclusion that he is not the person."

Katherine Yon, School Committee member, also favored a potential site visit, expressing similar questions about permanency.

"I am just as concerned with his leaving a community that he speaks so highly of, in such a short time. I really don't understand that," she said.

School Committee member James Conant added, "We previously went through this with another school superintendent, and the outcome didn't work out ... I just can't support the application further."

School Committee member Kathleen Amuso expressed a different concern — saying she was worried about Namin's ability to lead an urban district instead of a rural one.

"I think he has qualities, that I think he could continue to lead a regional district," Amuso said. "I don't think he's ready to lead an urban district."

Terry Kinnas, expressed greater favor to Dr. Namin, said he would have liked to have interviewed him more extensively, "I thought our process here was a little short for the magnitude of the position." 

Kinnas said he could understand why the candidate may have chosen to relocate in his previous jobs, and expressed faith in his ability to transition to this position.

"I have faith in the individual, I want to see more though before I make a final decision," said Kinnas.  "I want to see a completeness, and I don't think where we are in this process, it's a completeness."

Yon asked if there was a disadvantage to moving forward with the candidate for the purpose of further evaluation.

"We have two of our top administrators leaving," said Kathleen Amuso, "Time is a significant disadvantage."

The School Committee hoped that they would have arrived at a decision for a new superintendent by their next meeting. 

"May 23 was originally when we were supposed to offer the job and ratify the vote, if we were going to hire someone," said Committee Chair Alfred Barbalunga.  "We're obviously delayed right now, and we're dealing with the Deputy Superintendent search, which has taken on equal priority."

With regards to whether Eberwein would be inclined to stay on any additional time past his slated departure of June 30, he said that he had pledged to do his "best to transition the new superintendent," but could not make a definite answer.

"I'm currently actively engaged in conversations with the next phase of my professional career," said Eberwein. "So it's difficult for me to commit to something."

A motion to move forward with Dr. Namin as a candidate for consideration failed 5-2, with Barbalunga, Amuso, Conant, Elias, Yon against, Mr. Kinnas and Mayor Bianchi in favor.

The committee voted unanimously to implement its back-up option, to have the Massachusetts Association of School Committees put forth names of three retired superintendents who have expressed interest in an interim position in the area at its June 13 meeting. 

The School Committee's next meeting on the May 23 will be devoted to interviews for the deputy superintendent opening, then a budget workshop on May 30, a budget preparation on June 6 and the committee is pushing the interim superintendent review until the very end of the school year.

Update: In an email to iBerkshires on Saturday, Namin said he had decided to withdraw his name from candidacy after the interview and had spoken to both Eberwein and Barbalunga.

"I strongly felt that after interview, I will not have my heart with the district and this is not a district with similar values with me about education," Namin wrote.
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