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Will DEI Be a Central Focus of High School Principal Search Committee?

At the School Committee meeting held on February 16, 2023, Superintendent John Buckey revealed the eight selected members of the search committee to assist in choosing a replacement for Marblehead High School (MHS) Principal Daniel Bauer, who will be departing at the end of this school year to become the superintendent in Danvers. The committee will be composed of 19 members: Superintendent Buckey, Assistant Superintendent Nan Murphy (who will also be leaving at the end of this school year to assume a superintendent position in Dedham), two administrators, four MHS staff members, four MHS parents, four MHS students, a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) representative, a METCO representative, and a School Committee member. The first meeting will take place on February 27 with a series of meetings to follow, ultimately leading to the announcement of the new MHS principal on April 10, 2023. 


Buckey spoke to the significant interest in participation on the search committee, with more than four times the number of parents and three times the number of students applying than there were openings to fill. He went on to express gratitude to Bauer for his assistance in the selection process, indicating the importance he places upon ensuring that “this committee is representative of all facets that the new principal will be in charge of: working with students who are academically advanced, students who struggle, students who are in athletics, who are involved in the arts or leadership.” He then announced the four parent representatives: Kerry-Frances Bourne, Melissa Kaplowitch, Cindy Schieffer, and John White. The four students, each of whom is from a different grade, are as follows: Audrey Bathurst, Jeremy Sorkin, David Alpert, and Lucy Sabin. 


As shown in the schedule above, the committee will review applications for the position, eventually selecting semi-finalists on March 7, 2023. Those selected will be interviewed during the following week, with finalists chosen on March 20. The finalists will meet different members of the community through forums, interviews, faculty meetings, and student panels. The final decision will be made on April 10, 2023. 


Following the overview of the search committee, newly appointed School Committee member Tom Mathers questioned the efficacy of a team with 19 members, to which Buckey responded that “this is the largest search, Tom, and it is larger because by NEA (National Education Association) contract, they have a set number of representatives for a high school principal search.” The contract requires four representatives, but Buckey emphasized the importance of a broad range of perspectives, including both parent and student representatives of the community. “This is a larger group,” he said, “but I think it will be a representative group, and I look forward to working with it.”


The search committee has one spot delegated to a member of the School Committee, which Sarah Fox, the chair, suggested she would fill, stating “for the school committee representative, I will be representing the School Committee as the chair.” Mathers asked, “Is that up for discussion?” and Fox replied that “our process in the past has been that it’s at the discretion of the chair, but we absolutely can have a discussion about that.” 


Mathers then inquired whether anyone else on the Committee had interest in taking on the role, to which School Committee member Sarah Gold replied that Mathers himself might be the right person given his lack of children in the schools and presumed lack of conflict of interest. School Committee member Alison Taylor seconded that notion, indicating that she would like instead to serve on the committee searching for Assistant Superintendent Murphy’s replacement. Buckey stated that he certainly appreciated having a School Committee representative, but that “at the end of the day, this is a superintendent hire, so I wouldn’t want to cause consternation on the board by having a contested School Committee member on it.” The School Committee is responsible for voting to approve a contract for a new high school principal once Buckey, with the input of the search committee, selects a candidate. In the past, this contract vote has provided an informal check and balance preventing superintendents from bringing forward candidates of which the School Committee does not approve.


The School Committee ultimately decided to put forth Mathers as its representative.


The open MHS principal position was posted to School Spring, an educational career job-listing website, on February 1, 2023. The listing specifies that Marblehead is seeking a “dynamic, innovative and visionary educational leader” able to serve as a “champion for all students” and maintain “a positive school environment where every student can succeed.” The listing also notes that a successful candidate will be “committed to equity and inclusion” and provide specific examples of work done to “create safe and inclusive learning environments where all means all.”


At the same meeting during which the principal search committee was announced, Marblehead’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives were also discussed, with Buckey confirming that the proposed budget line items for DEI staff members have been removed from this year’s budget. Marblehead previously voted down by a more than two-to-one margin a proposal – put forward by Superintendent Buckey – that included funding for a full-time DEI staff member last year.