Susan Nicholson Chosen As New Waltham School Superintendent
Mayor Jeanette McCarthy expressed worries about Nicholson's experience.
In a 5-1 vote Monday night, the Waltham School Committee chose Dr. Susan Nicholson as the new district superintendent, despite hearing concerns about her.
Mayor Jeanette McCarthy, the committee’s chairwoman, expressed worries about Nicholson saying she lacked the experience as a superintendent to run the district. The mayor, however, did not vote.
“My concern is she does not have bona fide experience as a superintendent,” said McCarthy of Nicholson.
Nicholson, who currently serves as assistant superintendent of the Andover schools, was chosen over finalist Anthony Polito, who currently serves as superintendent of the Athol-Royalston Regional School District.
Hiring Nicholson is contingent upon negotiation of a successful contract with the School Committee.
Nicholson was also a finalist to become superintendent of schools in Grafton.
Reached by telephone last night, Nicholson declined to publicly address McCarthy’s concerns before speaking to the school committee. Nicholson was, however, overjoyed about her new position.
“I’m very excited. I look forward to being the new superintendent in Waltham,” said Nicholson.
Nicholson, of Methuen, will replace former superintendent Peter Azar who resigned last year after a dispute with the school committee. Assistant Superintendent for Administration Anne Marie Carr-Reardon has been managing the district in the interim.
The decision to hire Nicholson came after School Committee member Stephen Rando, the only member to vote against Nicholson, and McCarthy both aired their reservations about Nicholson. Rando said he wanted to continue the search after saying, “I’m not convinced that Dr. Nicholson is the best choice for Waltham.”
Rando did not elaborate on why he was unconvinced.
McCarthy said Nicholson’s lack of experience as a superintendent left the mayor with doubts about Nicholson's ability to create budgets and improve the district.
Nicholson has never served as a permanent superintendent, but did serve as the interim school chief in Andover from April to July of last year. She has also served as the principal and assistant principal of North Andover High School. Despite that leadership experience, McCarthy continued her concerns.
“I’m not really sure that the Waltham system … is the correct match at this point,” McCarthy said.
The mayor also expressed worries about the legality of the search process. Nicholson has said she wants a “5-7 year commitment,” from the School Committee, but McCarthy said that may be illegal because the job posting for the superintendent asked for a three-year stay. Also, McCarthy said the law prohibits signing any contracts of more than six years.
“The lawyer in me says the devil is in the details,” McCarthy said.
Nicholson, however, had plenty of support among School Committee members. School Committee Vice Chairman Harold Walker said current Waltham school district staff would make up for any experience Nicholson lacks.
School Committee member Robert Cincotta said Nicholson would excel in her new position.
“She is going to be an excellent superintendent,” he said.
The mayor was also concerned about Polito.
“The problem with Mr. Polito is … Athol is about one-third the size of Waltham,” McCarthy said.
She however, favored him over Nicholson because of his superintendent experience.
The mayor was not the only person concerned with the search process. Several Waltham parents have previously expressed misgivings about all three finalists saying they did not want to hire somebody who did not already work in the district.
Overall, 26 candidates applied for the job, and 10 were interviewed as semi-finalists, and from that group, three finalists were chosen and interviewed. In addition to Polito and Nicholson, Paul Schlichtman, of Arlington was a finalist, until last week, when the committee chose not to do a site visit to the Lowell Public Schools, where he currently works.
Stay tuned for a video of the School Committee's discussion on hiring Nicholson.