Amherst Regional board aims to set stage for new superintendent

Ericilda Xiomara Herman of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, interviewed for the superintendent position in during a visit in late April.

Ericilda Xiomara Herman of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, interviewed for the superintendent position in during a visit in late April. SCREENSHOT

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-20-2024 3:42 PM

AMHERST — Regional School Committee members are expecting Superintendent E. Xiomara Herman will hit the ground running and begin a successful tenure overseeing the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools as of July 1, even if she is not provided with a comprehensive onboarding plan.

A detailed outline of best practices to support Herman was presented to the Regional School Committee at its May 28 meeting, but committee members anticipate that current school staff and administrators will play the lead role in getting the new superintendent settled into the job.

Regional School Committee Chairwoman Sarahbess Kenney said the process of “onboarding” Herman needed to be welcoming and geared toward ensuring the stage is set for the new superintendent, who is coming to Amherst after serving as the insular, or island, superintendent in St. Croix, Virgin Islands.

“We want to make sure Dr. Herman is off to the best start we can possibly offer her,” Kenney said.

Herman takes over for Michael Morris, who left at the end of last August after serving both as interim and permanent superintendent for seven years. Douglas Slaughter, the district’s finance director, has been interim superintendent since Morris’ medical leave last year that began following reports of mistreatment of trans youth by middle school counselors, and his eventual departure.

For Irv Rhodes, the Amherst representative, the most critical piece for Herman is developing an orientation work plan, making sure that she understands the districts’ priorities and plans. Under his detailed memo, which he calls best practices, there would be a review of board policies and key decisions; a sharing of essential information about the schools’ strategic plan, mission, vision and beliefs; information about ongoing projects; and support for community engagement.

Part of his rationale for having such a plan, Rhodes said, is that Herman is coming to a new community from outside the continental United States that has a different racial and socioeconomic composition, where the people she works with “are not like us in a number of different ways.”

“We have the obligation to onboard her in such a way that her transition is as seamless as possible,” Rhodes said.

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The committee opted against taking any action on the plan presented by Rhodes, neither supporting nor rejecting it.

Rhodes said he wants Herman to feel welcome and to have a proper onboarding process, and to manage expectations. “We cannot expect her to be Doug on day one,” he said.

But Amherst representative Jennifer Shiao said an onboarding plan shouldn’t be created without Herman’s input, and it makes her uncomfortable to hand Herman a plan or ask her to be involved in making one before her starting work, as she shouldn’t be assigned any duties before being on the payroll.

Shiao said she felt Rhodes’ perception is “othering and belittling” to Herman. “I have every confidence in her decision-making — I have every confidence in her ability to make a decision five days in,” Shiao said.

Amherst representative Sarah Marshall said a thorough and smooth transition for Herman will be partly the responsibility of Slaughter, though the School Committee might also have a retreat with Herman.

Slaughter said he intends to put information in Herman’s hands about school operations, both from the district standpoint and for Massachusetts. This will be in “coherent and digestable chunks” as Herman gets acclimated to the district.

Some of this will be about the basics, such as explaining the construct of of three committees with which she will be working — the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst Regional boards — and the four towns that make up the district, with Leverett and Shutesbury’s secondary students joining Amherst and Pelham’s secondary students at the middle and high schools.

“We’re starting to put pieces together to try to make the pragmatic operational components as straightforward as possible and as conveniently structured so that she has the ability to step in, look at it, and be able to make decisions if she wishes to,” Slaughter said.

Committee members agreed that community-building and community connections, along with knowledge of the political structure in each town, should be their responsibility to convey to Herman.

Slaughter said there will be a range of ways to provide additional assistance and information as Herman transitions into the community.

Like Marshall, Pelham School Committee Chairwoman Margaret Stancer said she likes the idea of a retreat with all committee members who serve on the regional panel, including those from Shutesbury and Leverett, as well as the Pelham school committees.