Budget issues, administrative responsibility and educational philosophy were all topics of discussion at the final interviews for three Chilmark head of school candidates this week.
Hosted by Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss and the up-Island regional school district committee, the interviews took place on Wednesday and Thursday nights at the Chilmark school.
Mr. Weiss explained later that the title head of school differs from that of a principal based on the length of the contract term. “The difference in title has to do with the fact that this is a 10-month position rather than a year-round position. The [head of school] will also do some reading instruction with a limited number of students. But for all intents and purposes, the woman who is chosen will be the principal of the Chilmark school,” he said.
The chosen candidate will replace Diane Gandy, who has been school principal since 2004. This will be the sixth principal of the school, whose traditions are rooted in its beginnings as a one-room school house, in 15 years.
The final candidates are Susan Kluver of New York city and Chilmark, Susan Stevens of Lake Worth, Fla., and Edgartown, and Deborah Hammett of Oak Bluffs.
Mrs. Kluver is currently working as interim dean of Children’s Programs at the Bank Street College of Education in New York city, where she oversees the School for Children and the Family Center. She has master’s and doctoral degrees in education from Harvard University, and an undergraduate degree from Simmons College. Her professional experience includes numerous principal positions in elementary schools throughout Massachusetts.
Mrs. Stevens currently works as a guidance counselor and special education coordinator at Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Fla. She has a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Florida Atlantic University, a certification in working with autism from the University of Florida and an undergraduate degree in education from the University of South Florida. She is currently working toward a certification in administration.
Deborah Hammett works as a third grade teacher at Oak Bluffs School. She holds a master’s degree in school administration from Salem State College and an undergraduate degree in education from Western Connecticut State University. She was assistant principal of the Tisbury School from 2000 to 2002.
In the interviews candidates spoke about their backgrounds and their professional experience and answered questions.
Ms. Kluver discussed what she believes is a need for better funding in the public schools. “I think that public education is very under-resourced,” she said. She said she would like to establish a school foundation to support programs and bridge budget gaps. She also said she would welcome the chance to work in a small setting. “In a small community you are more able to work on behalf of the children,” she said.
Questioned about her experience managing a budget, she cited her past work with Cambridge public schools.
As for the plan to have the head of school to act as a reading specialist, Ms. Kluver said she hoped that would be temporary. “My sense of the realities of a principal’s job is that it is very demanding. I wouldn’t want to let down the children,” she said.
In contrast, Mrs. Stevens embraced the idea of a principal who also teaches the children. “That’s great. I love working with kids,” she said.
She too was questioned about her ability to manage a budget, and she admitted that she has never been responsible for a full school budget. But she said she is currently managing a household budget that includes financing three children in college. And she said she led an after-school program at Bak Middle School which included managing a budget and doing grant writing.
Mrs. Stevens said she is responsible for supervising over 700 children in her current position. How can she attend to the needs of each one? “I try to make myself very available to kids at all times,” she said.
Discussing her current school, which is a public magnet school for the arts, she spoke about the connection between art and learning. “Arts go hand-in-hand with academics. Utilizing art and creativity is very important,” she said.
In her interview last night, Deborah Hammett said she is confident that she can manage a budget based on her experiences working as an administrative intern at the Oak Bluffs School. “My goal is to make sure that everything that is in the budget has a direct and positive impact on student learning,” she said.
Mrs. Hammett also spoke about her teaching philosophy and her keen interest in and direct experience with project-based learning, which she said has been “thrown to the wayside” in an era of increasing emphasis on standardized test performance.
Like Mrs. Stevens, she too said she would embrace the notion of a teaching head of school, but with a few reservations. “I don’t know whether Chilmark has really considered the fact that the principal would be unavailable if the principal is teaching,” she said, adding: “But I think it could work.”
In the end the said it comes down to that old word: communication. “I think it’s really all about communication in a way that people feel safe and they feel listened to and they feel important. The way to avoid disasters is to work hard to maintain communication,” Mrs. Hammett said.
Mr. Weiss said the next order of business is reference checks, and he expects the committee to reach a final decision sometime next week.