Comments flow in on Amherst-Pelham superintendent search

  • Amherst Interim Superintendent Michael Morris, left, speaks at a meeting earlier this year. The school committee is expected to decide Oct. 10 whether to offer Morris the permanent position or launch a nationwide search. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Amherst Interim Superintendent Michael Morris. The school committee is expected to decide Oct. 10 whether to offer Morris the permanent position or launch a nationwide search. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Thursday, October 05, 2017

AMHERST — The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee will soon vote on whether to appoint Michael Morris as the district’s permanent superintendent, and ahead of that decision public comments are pouring in to committee members.

Chairman Eric Nakajima said the committee will vote Oct. 10 on whether to permanently appoint Morris, who currently serves as interim superintendent. In the lead-up to that vote, the committee has been gathering feedback, both in letters from residents and during public comment at committee meetings.

“There has been overwhelming support for Dr. Morris, and for appointing him,” Nakajima said, pointing out that close to 70 percent of correspondence sent to the members has been written in favor of appointing Morris.

There are others, however, writing in to urge the School Committee to conduct a nationwide job search for a permanent superintendent. One such letter was signed by 32 residents, many of whom previously campaigned against a proposal to co-locate two elementary schools at the Wildwood Elementary site on Strong Street.

The failed elementary-school project, the group wrote in their letter to school committee members, divided the town.

“Dr. Morris led the Wildwood Rebuilding Project from its beginning in 2014 and through all 4 votes, continuing to press the project long after any hope of political possibility,” the letter reads.

Those residents say an open, national search will create a level playing field for underrepresented groups, including women and candidates of color, and could draw in candidates more experienced than Morris.

The committee is continuing to accept feedback in advance of its Oct. 10 decision, which would require a simple majority vote to install Morris. Nakajima said he wouldn’t speculate on how the committee will vote, and that members will be ready to either proceed with hiring Morris or to begin a national job search based on their vote.

In March, Morris said he would serve only as acting superintendent while the School Committee looked to fill the position permanently, but he recently reversed that decision and expressed interest in taking the job.

Morris — previously the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction — was named interim superintendent following the departure of Maria Geryk, who in 2016 left following a $309,238 buyout. The district stopped its search for a new superintendent in March after discovering that the Iowa-based firm the district had hired had asked candidates questions about their history of arrests and offenses that were not compliant with state statutes.

Nakajima said the committee is still in the process of resolving affairs with Ray and Associates Executive Leadership Search after the firm’s error. “It hasn’t come to completion. I know that our attorney had been in dialogue around a resolution that would enable us to recoup some of the funds,” he said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

Editor's note: This story was changed on Sept. 28 to clarify the reason for the dispute between the district and the Iowa-based firm hired to conduct a search.