By Ann Needle
As reported last week, in the wake of former Nashoba Superintendent Michael Wood’s resignation in October, the Nashoba School Committee chose Dr. Curtis Bates as interim superintendent at a special meeting on Dec. 8.
Before retiring from a full-time education career that spanned more than 40 years, Bates most recently served as superintendent of the Boxborough Public Schools between 2006 and 2014.
The SC chose Bates by a 6-1 vote (Stow Rep. Nicole Odekirk was the only dissenting vote) after a 5-hour process that involved extensive interviews of Bates and two other finalists. The other candidates were Nashoba Asst. Superintendent George King and Dr. Nancy Spitulnik, who has been serving as interim superintendent in the Palmer Public Schools.
King will continue as Nashoba’s acting superintendent until a contract is finalized, with Bates expected to begin work after the holiday break. It is anticipated by the School Committee that Bates will be on the job for at least 6 months as Nashoba searches for a permanent superintendent. Bates said he would be willing to stay beyond 6 months if the SC cannot find a suitable candidate right away.
SC Chair Lorraine Romasco explained that the SC narrowed a list of candidates offered by the MA Assn. Of School Committees, from its list of retired superintendents willing to step in as interims for local districts.
Each candidate was asked an identical set of questions, which Romasco reported were built around gauging candidates’ strengths in fiscal management; promoting a positive working relationship between their districts and surrounding communities; and managing large, multi-faceted organizations efficiently. Each SC member also reviewed each candidates’ resumes, along with feedback from a background check of six references.
Romasco said the Committee was aiming to finalize Bates’ contract before its Dec. 16 meeting.
No Stranger to Change
“Dr. Bates is a ‘kids first’ professional – he’s a listener,” Romasco commented. “During the interview, he stated that his passion is mentoring staff and he does that by asking questions, guiding and encouraging them to take risks and ‘own it.’ That was important to us, as he can help ease the transition for our administration and staff.”
Highlights from Bates’ extensive resume included a career that began as an elementary school teacher, followed by the principal’s job at Shaker Lane in Littleton, Harrington Elementary in North Chelmsford, and then McCarthy Middle School in Chelmsford.
As superintendent in Boxborough, Curtis shepherded a small district with only a $7.5 million budget, something Bates said demanded he take on many roles. These included, among others, director of Special Education and Human Resources, along with acting as principal of the town’s one kindergarten-through-grade-6 school.
One of his biggest challenges was in helping Boxborough through the 4-year process of fully regionalizing into the Acton-Boxborough School District, which happened in 2014. Bates laughed that, at the time, he understood he was “working his way out of his own job.”
Even before retiring, Bates began to work at mentoring administrators at other schools throughout the state via the MA Elementary School Principal’s Association. He has continued mentoring through the organization, and acted as program supervisor for groups of Education students at Endicott College and the University of MA Lowell.
Asked how he would support principals in the district, as superintendent his job would be to “provide them with the tools and information to do their job. I’m not a micro-manager; I expect them to do their jobs. If there are issues, I’ll help out.” He continued, “I want people to take risks, try something new.”
Bates recalled the many times he simply sat and listened while an employee came to him with an issue, asking only those questions that would prompt the person to think of their own solution. “I don’t like to direct and tell. If I pull it out of them, they own it.”
Answering questions regarding the management of school finances and community relations, Bates spoke of meeting monthly with Boxborough’s town department heads at the Boxborough Leadership Forum, “So that everyone knew the needs of the town, and any issues coming up.”
Before launching the annual budgeting process, Bates explained that he always took direction first from Boxborough’s Finance Committee as to whether to construct a zero- or needs-based budget.
In coming to Nashoba, Bates proposed that he set up a short-term “entry plan.” This would include meeting with school and community leaders. “You still have to build those relationships, even if it’s for 6 months,” he said. As for his role as interim, Bates said he sees himself preparing Nashoba for a permanent superintendent, introducing the person to district employees and being a support through the transition.
On working with the SC, Bates reflected, “I see the role of the superintendent and the School Committee as one, it’s a team. I’ve seen too many superintendents get into trouble when they think they are an island unto themselves—I don’t want any hidden agendas out there.”
Lorraine Romasco mentioned that the search for Bates has not cost the district anything. The search firms being considered for finding a permanent superintendent currently estimate costs of around $10,000.