Wood Pushes Up Resignation to Nov. 30…Nov. 25, 2015

By Ann NeedleW NashobaColor
Nashoba Superintendent Michael Wood announced Monday that he will resign as of November 30. The resignation is a leap up from the original date of June 30, 2016, which he announced last month.

“I am grateful to those that have supported me and the work I’ve been party to these past 12 plus years,” Wood said in his official statement on Nov. 23 regarding the abrupt move. “It is time for all of us to stay positive, and put our words and deeds toward supporting the School Committee, a new leader, the district, and the kids. I wish to extend my appreciation to the School Committee for collaborating with me to get to an agreement that is mutually acceptable.”

Wood’s 5-year contract would have expired on June 30. Praising Wood’s contributions to Nashoba over more than 12 years, Committee Chair Lorraine Romasco of Bolton told the audience that, as the SC and Wood prepared to re-negotiate the contract earlier this year, “After reviewing his goals, the Committee’s goals, and the district’s goals, we came to the conclusion that it was the right time for a change. We sincerely wish him well in the future.”

After Wood and Romasco signed the separation agreement, the SC voted to accept the document, with Lancaster Rep. Cathy Thier abstaining.

Wood’s original letter of resignation was presented at the end of the Oct. 28 SC meeting. In the letter, the superintendent asserted that the district needed new leadership. The SC took an immediate vote to unanimously accept the resignation, effective June 30. The SC has since received about 50 letters from teachers, former School Committee members, and parents, each asking the SC to re-consider its vote to accept the resignation.

At an often tense Nov. 18 meeting, the SC took heat on its decision. Among the approximately 100 audience members in Bolton’s Florence Sawyer School auditorium, most of those that spoke publicly voiced their objections to what was widely cited as a swift and unclear process.

Most of the audience members who spoke during Citizens Comments on Nov. 18 read from their letters of support for Wood. A number of speakers remarked that the letters were not posted on the SC site, something customarily done with correspondence. Throughout the meeting, Romasco maintained that the number of letters made them difficult to post, and that the SC was advised that it is not legally obligated to do so. But Romasco said that, out of consideration for the letters’ writers, the SC did put up a list of their names under its meeting correspondence for Nov. 18.

The letters to the SC regarding Wood are public documents, available by contacting Wood’s executive assistant, Aleta Masterson, at amasterson@nrsd.net, or calling 978/779-0539, x-3002.
Former SC Chair Don Adams of Lancaster referred to his letter as he spoke from the audience. After working with Wood for 6 years, he said, “I found him capable in every area; I consider him at the top of his field. He was engaged in Nashoba, and had a desire to stay for a long time, so his resignation was a surprise. What’s more surprising is how this matter was disposed of pretty quickly.”

Adams concluded that there must be some dysfunction between the superintendent and the SC, with the SC acting on “other agendas.” He expressed concern that these actions could discourage candidates looking to fill Wood’s position.

“It raises questions in our mind that it was a quick resignation,”  agreed former SC Member Nancy Fleming of Stow. Referring to her letter to the current SC, Fleming noted that, along with pulling Nashoba out of a financial crisis when he arrived in 2004, Wood has received consistently strong performance evaluations, and that two SC members resigned last spring “citing a contentious environment as the reason.”
One of those members who had resigned, Bolton’s Nancy Federspiel, asked “Why would you want to pull the rug out at such a positive time in Nashoba’s history?” Pointing to the district’s strong student performance and sound fiscal management, the former SC chair stressed Nashoba’s good fortune in having a superintendent on board for over a decade, reading a list of several local districts that have gone through at least four superintendents during Wood’s tenure.

Other questions centered on three Executive Sessions—which are closed to the public—held since the resignation, devoted to “discussing negotiation strategy for Superintendent contract.” One audience member commented, “You are in Executive Session to discuss the super’s contract, yet the superintendent has resigned.”

Also speaking from the audience was Troy Hatlevig of Stow. He theorized that Wood’s “command-and-control style,” apparently effective during a financial crisis and recent economic downturn, could now be wearing on some residents and the current SC. Hatlevig pointed to Stow’s recent election of Mark Jones as a new SC representative as hinting at some residents’ feelings, given Jones ran on a platform of tighter fiscal management and potential change in administration.

“Elections matter, but the comments tonight matter also,” Hatlevig concluded.

Acknowledging the haste of the Oct. 28 vote to accept Wood’s resignation, Romasco then called for an affirming vote. The motion passed, with Lancaster SC Rep. Cathy Thier the only opposing vote.
Asked later why she changed her vote from Oct. 28, Thier said, “I just want the best for Michael Wood and his family. I felt like things could be going slower and there could be more transparency. I sit there as a member of the public, and I want to be the voice of the public.”  She added, “I truly believe everyone in that room voted what they believed was right.“

“As soon as we can legally provide information to you, we will do that. For now we are giving you everything we can,” Romasco maintained of the brief information available. “We are going to honor and respect the decision that was made [by Wood].” She noted that the Executive Session minutes would be available when the issue was resolved.

The Search Is On
Looking ahead, Romasco announced that the district would put together a search committee from every level of Nashoba, from residents to school administrators and teachers and town officials. She said Nashoba also will look to contract with a search partner experienced in the process, which could be a trade group such as the MA Association of School Committees or a private firm.

Though it typically takes 3 to 6 months to find a replacement for a superintendent, if more time is needed, Romasco explained the search partner could also help select a seasoned interim. “We are not in a crisis situation like we were the last time, when Michael came in and saved us,” she commented regarding the start of Wood’s career in the district.

The SC voted unanimously to allow the Personnel Sub Committee to begin the search for a partner. Estimating this search could run between $10,000 and $25,000, Romasco said the district has not yet determined how those funds will be budgeted.

In the shorter term, Romasco reported on Nov. 23 that she and SC Vice Chair Nicole Odekirk of Stow would be meeting with Assistant Superintendent George King after Thanksgiving break to discuss his transition to the role of acting superintendent. As for King’s role as Hale Middle School’s principal, Romasco said the SC is looking to tap personnel within the school that could help alleviate King’s work load.

Outlining what comes next, the Personnel Sub Committee’s Kathy Codianne of Lancaster explained the School Committee will select an interim superintendent to at least finish out the school year. She noted that interviews with the interim candidates will be open to the public.

Asked if the Executive Session minutes would be available after Nov. 30, Romasco replied that any formal requests for the minutes will be routed through the SC’s legal counsel.

The next School Committee meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 2, 6pm, at the Emerson School in Bolton.

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