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School Committee to start from scratch in superintendent search

It’s back to the drawing board for the Peabody School Committee. After a months-long search that yielded six finalists, then two, then one, the school board will have to go through the process all over again. In the meantime, interim Superintendent Herb Levine will pick up the slack for another year.

It was nothing personal for the committee members in their decision to waive the top slot to the E.J. Harrington Elementary School Principal, Debra Ruggiero. Ultimately, none of the candidates that the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) chose were sufficiently qualified for the position. The city hired MASC to conduct interviews and parse through applications. “We had candidates who did not have experience with collective bargaining, and not one candidate had experience formulating a budget beyond the building or department level,” said Committee Member Jarrod Hochman.

During the third interview earlier this month, Ruggiero, who is a Peabody resident, attempted to persuade the board otherwise. Committee members were concerned that Ruggiero may not be able to handle the $70 million budget that the schools receive, given that she is experienced only with handling the budget of one school. She explained that including the senior leadership team was helpful to her making any decisions about spending, and that they were also informed by taking a hard look at data. “I don’t want to make a decision just because we think we need something,” she said. “I do have the drive and passion.” She added, “I’m reaching for the stars, and Peabody is my star.”

John Oteri, another candidate, dropped out at the last minute, opting to go with the superintendent position in Malden. Oteri was formerly the headmaster at Somerville High School and was tied with Ruggiero for the top position.

Another candidate, former assistant superintendent in Gloucester Arthur Unobskey, left to assume the superintendent post in Wayland.

Lourenco Garcia, principal of Revere High School, Laura Chesson, the assistant superintendent in Arlington, Peter Badalament, an educational consultant and former principal of Concord-Carlisle High School, did not make the cut.

Ultimately, the board felt it was better for Levine, who is an experienced administrator and already has years under the belt working with Peabody, to remain in the position.

The Peabody School Committee has a lot on its plate in the upcoming year, with overcrowded schools, the Middle School Building Project wrapping up its final phase and the city taking a hard look at redistricting. The board has yet to say when the search will resume.

By Melanie Higgins

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