NEW BEDFORD — Members of the Screening Committee in the search for New Bedford's next superintendent of schools had their first chance Monday night to voice their opinions of what they're looking for in potential candidates.

Donald Macrino of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, who is heading up the New Bedford search along with Ed McCormack, addressed the Screening Committee and shared their timeline of how the search will play out, before a final appointee will be voted upon by the School Committee on March 26.

"It seems like they have the experience behind them," Screening Committee member Isaiah Houtman said. "They laid it out pretty clear for us, now it's just our ability to stick to the timeline and hopefully get the correct applicants, the best applicants for the city."

Macrino said that once the firm had finished negotiating their price with Mayor Jon Mitchell, they jumped right into the process of creating a timeline and action plan for finding the best candidates for New Bedford.

"We want to delve as deep as we can, but also make it as transparent as we can," he said.

Macrino said in the next day or so, the firm will begin advertising for the position nationwide, with a descriptive posting of both the position and the city. By February 1, an online survey will be posted on the City's website and on the School Department's website, to get input from parents, members of the community, teachers, support staff and administrators in what they'd like to see in the next superintendent.

The survey will seek out input on three questions. The first is, what do stakeholders value most in New Bedford Schools and what about them would they like to see retained and built upon? Then, what issues do they think the district currently faces, and what will it face in the next three to five years? And finally, what personal and professional characteristics do they expect in a superintendent?

Macrino and McCormack will be spending two days in New Bedford on February 5 and 6--"from early in the morning until late in the evening," he said--and speaking with a number of focus groups to get their input. Then on February 12, the online survey will close, with applications closing on February 15.

Macrino and McCormack will then take a few days to compile a leadership report.

"That will boil down everything we got, what themes were repeatedly consistently," Macrino said of the information gleaned from the focus groups and online surveys. "We will have a bulleted list of the desired characteristics."

From there, they will whittle down the applications and present a slate of applicants to the Screening Committee on February 27, and the committee will then begin initial interviews before identifying the finalists March 1.

Macrino noted that his firm is in constant communication with superintendent candidates for positions across the country, so they already have a network of possible candidates who are looking for positions. He said they also know of those who might fit the bill who aren't actively looking for a new job, but may be interested to find out about the New Bedford position.

"A lot of the time, the candidate you end up with is one that was not even looking for a job," he said.

After laying out the timeline for the Screening Committee, Macrino then turned to the committee to get its thoughts on the questions that will be posed.

"You are now a focus group," he said.

On the question of what should be retained in schools, committee member Isaiah Houtman, a math and computer science teacher at New Bedford High, said he'd like to see more technological advancement in the younger grades.

"I'd like to see that strong technology education that we have at New Bedford High School continue throughout all of our schools," he said.

Anne Pryzstarz, a grandmother of a special needs student and committee member, said more support is needed for special needs students, and that much of their technology is outdated.

Committee Chair Barry Haskell, former Superintendent of Plymouth Public Schools, said he doesn't want that "feeling of neighborhood" to disappear from New Bedford Schools.

"A school is the center of a neighborhood," he said. "People are very aware of that, with multiple generations of a family going to the same school. There's a dedication to those schools that we want to retain."

As for issues in the future, committee member and YWCA Executive Director Gail Fortes said diversity in the staff is something that needs to improve.

"We've done better, but there's more work to be done," she said. "The staff is not reflective of the community."

Many committee members chimed in with what they thought were important characteristics for the next superintendent to possess.

"They need to be a leader in bringing people together, in building a consensus," said Josh Amaral, "But they also need to empower and delegate."

Pryzstarz said the next superintendent should "support teachers from top to bottom, and recognize them for their achievements." Karen Treadup mentioned it should be someone "with a proven track record of turning districts around," and would prefer someone who "worked their way up through the ranks," starting as a teacher and later becoming an administrator.

Irma Valerius said with such a large immigrant population, it would be helpful if the next superintendent had a diverse ethnic background or experiences, and was perhaps multilingual. Houtman said the final candidate should be willing to live in New Bedford and "want to be a part of the community."

Macrino also reminded the Screening Committee members that it's just as important that New Bedford is well-represented to the applicants as they are to the Screening Committee.

"They will examine this community, as they do every community. They'll look at some of the strengths and weaknesses from their perspective," Macrino said. "So just keep in mind, they'll just be sort of interviewing us as we're interviewing them. It's a two-way process."

With School Committee member Chris Cotter questioning the need for the search firm and asking to know the price associated with it, at least one Screening Committee member is pleased with the work of the firm thus far.

"I like how transparent he was, in terms of the focus groups, what's going on there, the meetings that already occurred with the mayor and the School Committee," said Houtman, who also said the Screening Committee had not been told the cost of hiring the search firm. "It just seems they're confident going forward. I think the School Committee made a good choice with the firm, and I hope they're correct."

NEW BEDFORD SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH TIMELINE

January 18: Planning Meeting with Firm Selection Committee

January 22: Meeting with Mayor/Planning

January 29: Extended Advertising to Additional Outlets/Meeting with Screening Committee

February 1: Online Survey to Webpage

February 5-6: Interview with Focus Group Meetings

February 12: Close Online Survey

February 15: Close Applications

February 20: Leadership Report (LPR)

February 27: Slate Presented to Screening Committee

February 28-March 1: Screening Committee Final Interviews

March 1: Screening Committee Identifies Finalists

March 5: Public Announcement of Finalists

March 12: Site Visits

March 19: School Committee Interviews Finalists

March 26: School Committee Votes to Appoint

July 1: New Superintendent Assumes Responsibilities