In a sharply split vote that came after nearly two hours of polling among board members, the All-Island School Committee last night selected James H. Weiss as the next superintendent of Vineyard public schools.
Mr. Weiss, who has been superintendent of the Sanborn regional school system in New Hampshire for the last seven years, is expected to take over leadership of the Island's six public schools on July 1, replacing Vineyard interim superintendent G. Paul Dulac.
Both parties must still agree on terms of a contract, including salary.
School committee members last night initially deadlocked on two of the front runners, Mr. Weiss and Wayne R. Ogden, assistant superintendent of schools in Wayland. A third finalist, former Brookline superintendent Richard Silverman, received only one first-place vote and was quickly eliminated from the running.
In the end, the decision came down to experience. Mr. Weiss has served as superintendent of of two school systems in New Hampshire over the last 15 years and was a teacher and principal in Connecticut for more than 20 years.
Mr. Weiss was candid with Vineyard school committee members during interviews, telling them he was looking for one more stint as a superintendent before winding down his career.
Some school committee members argued that such experience, particularly in a school system with many districts like the Vineyard, was vital.
"I worry about someone being the head of the whole operation for the first time here, in what is a very hot seat," said Kathy Logue of West Tisbury. "We are not an easy community."
Mr. Ogden has never held a superintendent's position, but some school board members saw that as an advantage.
"Other candidates who have been a superintendent elsewhere will bring their style here, but Mr. Ogden would be creating his style to fit the mold of our Island," Mr. Manter said. "Eventually every superintendent needs to have their first opportunity somewhere. I think Wayne should have his first day here."
Once Mr. Silverman was removed from consideration last night, the school committee was evenly split.
School board members Roxanne Ackerman, Barbara Fortes, Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter, David Morris, Susan Parker and Robert Tankard supported Mr. Ogden; while Leslie Baynes, Kathy Logue, Judy O'Donoghue, David Rossi, Priscilla Sylvia and Diane Wall lobbied for Mr. Weiss.
Some school board members worried that Mr. Weiss lacked rapport with students. A group of high school students who met with all three finalists prior to their interviews ranked Mr. Weiss at the bottom of their list.
But school committee members who visited the New Hampshire schools and watched Mr. Weiss in action were impressed by his interactions with students.
Ultimately, in the sixth time around the table and the third official round of voting, Mrs. Parker and Mr. Manter cast their votes for Mr. Weiss ˜ giving him an 8-4 advantage, which was more than the necessary simple majority. Both Mrs. Parker and Mr. Manter said they decided to switch their votes because they felt it was in the best interests of the school system.
Mr. Weiss, who has a wife and adult son, said he had applied for only one other superintendent position this year - in a district on the Connecticut shoreline - but that he will now withdraw his name from consideration there.
Mr. Weiss told school board members that he would like to visit the Island this spring to work with Mr. Dulac and other school administrators in an effort to make the transition as smooth as possible.
"I'm just really excited and really pleased that this was the way the board decided to go," Mr. Weiss said when reached at his Stratham, N.H. home last night. "I'm looking forward to getting started and beginning the transition."
Since former Vineyard schools superintendent Kriner Cash left his post on short notice last fall, Edgartown School principal Edward Jerome and then Mr. Dulac served as interim leaders while the school board focused on finding a new permanent superintendent.
School committee members last night described the five-month search process as long and arduous, though ultimately rewarding. Almost every one of the 12 school board members who participated in the process said they would have been happy with any of the three finalists.
Ironically, Mr. Silverman - who had been a finalist in at least seven school systems across the state - was unanimously selected for the superintendency in Randolph last night, and accepted the offer.
Mr. Ogden is still one of four finalists for the superintendency on Nantucket. He will interview for that position later this month.
Back here on the Vineyard, Mr. Weiss said last night that he hopes to win over the four school board members who voted in opposition to his appointment.
"I'm sure it was a tough decision because they had three very good candidates," he said. "They were looking for a good fit, and I hope I can show to those people who voted against me that I'm a good fit. I'll work hard to do that."
The Island school board is expected to finalize a contract with Mr. Weiss soon. The salary range of the position was advertised at $120,000 to $130,000. Mr. Weiss‚ salary in New Hampshire last year was $98,707.