Union #31 and Silver Lake Regional School Committee met on Thursday, Nov. 14 to discuss the interviews of the two finalists for superintendent and vote on the final selection
The final interviews were held the previous two nights. Jim Hardy of Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) who was hired to assist with the search was on hand to offer consultation regarding procedure for the voting, etc.
Currently the assistant superintendent in Easton, Christine Pruitt was one of the finalists selected by the search committee. Pruitt, who began her career as a classroom teacher, served as the principal of Jefferson Elementary School in Rockland from 2010 to 2015. She spent the next two years as the assistant superintendent for Silver Lake, leaving in June of 2017 to begin her tenure in Easton. Pruitt has a Master of Education from Boston College.
Current Silver Lake assistant superintendent Jill Proulx was the other finalist. Proulx was previously the assistant superintendent for Scituate for five years before beginning her career at Silver Lake a little over two years ago. Proulx, who has a doctorate in education, has also served as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal over the years.
The discussion centered around what the committee and union saw as strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. There were several in the room who expressed concern that Pruitt left Silver Lake previously only two years into a three-year contract and was now willing to leave Easton after a short stint there.
Vice Chair of the Silver Lake Regional School Committee Eric Crone, who has been serving on school committees since 2006, described this sentiment saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Regional School Committee member Christopher Ecklund echoed the same concern saying he was worried about Pruitt’s “staying power.” Others disagreed including Kingston School Committee member and Union member Sheila Marie Vaughn. Vaughn said, “Chrissy wants this to be her home. She wants to bring her kids here, I think Chrissy wants to move here, I think she loves this district. I think she wants to be in this district for the long-term.”
Despite preferring Pruitt, Vaughn did acknowledge, however, that she thought that Proulx’s interview was fabulous saying she thought she came across as “smart and articulate.”
Some expressed concern that Pruitt had left Silver Lake as it was too complex a district for her given that it is a three-town region. Union member and Plympton School Committee member Jon Wilhelmsen said, “I went into the site visit with a lot of reservations and a lot of concerns about why she left the district and went there.” He explained that his concerns were dispelled, however, saying, “She just felt that she needed to take a step back to take a step forward.”
Those in support of Pruitt spoke highly of her interpersonal skills calling her both outgoing and social. There was considerable debate regarding how much weight should be given to Pruitt’s sociable personality.
Jeanne Coleman, a member of both the Kingston School Committee and Union 31, said that she is unimpressed by personal relationships and stressed the importance of focusing on the qualifications of the two candidates.
Speaking about Pruitt, regional committee member Laura Tilton said, “Being a friendly person does not necessarily mean that someone is not capable, not strong. Those things are not mutually exclusive. I believe that someone that forms strong relationships, that’s critical in a leader.” Wilhelmsen spoke to Pruitt’s other qualifications based on conversations with a myriad of people including students, teachers, and selectmen saying, “I don’t think its fair to classify Chrissy as a one trick pony.”
There was confusion among those present regarding which candidate seemed to have more administration support. Coleman explained her belief that the support of the Silver Lake administration was behind Proulx, saying, “I thought that Jill’s resume, her application, and her letters of recommendations (three of which were solidly from within the district), all of her references were from within the district – I thought that those spoke solidly for her as a candidate that she had the support of the administration behind her.”
Coleman also expressed that she believed that someone disclosed to either Pruitt or the administrative team that there was a concern that Pruitt did not have that support and as a result, several letters of recommendation were written and submitted the night before the final deliberation. Coleman, who called the letters in support of Pruitt “compelling” went on to say that she had spoken with both Kingston elementary school principals who were fully supportive of Proulx. “They believe she has been a mentor to both of them; they’re both new administrators over there. I spoke at length to one of our teachers in the Kingston district and she also believes that Jill is by far the standout candidate.”
Coleman did stress that despite preferring Proulx, none of the administrators or staff had anything negative to say about Pruitt.
In response to Coleman’s accusation that letters in support of Pruitt had been solicited at the last minute, Silver Lake Regional School Committee Chair Jason Fraser said, “To be fair we entered into deliberations in open session last night and its well within expectations that something like this would occur.”
There were others in the room that fully believed that the administration and staff preferred Pruitt. Halifax School Committee member and Union member Alison Vance said, “As a school committee member and as a parent in Halifax I think both of them are amazing and great candidates and as a school committee member and a parent, I would probably be happy with either of them.” Vance, who has been a teacher for 17 years in another district, went on to say, “I think if I’m coming at it from a teacher’s perspective and a staff member’s perspective, I feel like for me I would prefer to work under Chrissy more than Jill.” She continued, “I spoke to a lot of Halifax teachers… and every single one of them that I spoke to said I would really love for Chrissy to be the superintendent.” Like Coleman, Vance stressed that those she spoke with had nothing bad to say about Proulx.
There were questions as to how much weight should be given to the letters of recommendation provided. There was also some disagreement as to how much input the district staff should have in the selection process. Silver Lake Regional School Committee member Laura Tilton said, “ I have been struck by the fact, in this process and in districts I’ve worked in, how little input staff and administration get in the selection of the superintendent because they are the folks that work with that person every day and they are the people that know the district the best. To me, the letters we got yesterday held a lot of weight with me.” Regional School Committee member Paula Hatch offered a different perspective saying, “I come from the corporate world, I spent thirty years at a very large corporation, never once did I get to pick my boss. You don’t get to pick your boss.” Wilhelmsen said, “We can keep throwing letters of recommendations and they’re all good, because we have two great candidates.” Most in the room seemed in agreement that letters for both candidates were compelling as both were worthy and qualified. Of the Silver Lake administration and staff, Coleman said her impression is that they were willing to work with either candidate.
Perhaps in a moment of foreshadowing a question was asked to Fraser at the outset of the meeting as to what would happen if the Union and the Region were split in their decision. Fraser responded, “If we’re in that situation, it’s a failure to nominate. We are a family and we have to come to the same endpoint and hire the same superintendent.” After several votes and re-votes which ended with the Union voting for Pruitt and the Region for Proulx, it was beginning to look more and more likely that the vote would end in a deadlock. Several alternative options were discussed at this point including hiring an interim superintendent as well as having current superintendent Joy Blackwood stay on through the end of the school year, something she had offered to do should the need arise. Both these options would call for a renewed search to be started. Hardy of MASC did warn that should they elect to go that route, they would be entering into a search cycle with far more competition from other large districts looking to hire a superintendent than what was experienced during the first search. Another concern that was voiced was whether Proulx would stay on as assistant superintendent should the vote either end in a deadlock or in favor of the other candidate. Many in the room believed it would send the district into chaos to be looking at the possibility of having to hire the two top positions in the district basically at the same time.
In the end, a motion was passed for reconsideration of the way the Union voted. Several of those on the Union side that initially voted in favor of Pruitt changed their vote in favor of Proulx. The decision, however, was not unanimous with a few holdouts though there were enough pro Proulx votes to award her the Union nomination. “I also think it’s important that we all remember that just because we have different views on this, we’re all trying to do the right thing for the district,” Wilhelmsen reminded the group. With both the Union and Region now voting for Proulx, she was successfully nominated as the new superintendent.