Editorial: School district shortcut the search process — again

Posted 12/2/21

Regardless of who is in charge, who is departing and who is arriving, the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee follows the same process whenever it hires a new superintendent — which is no …

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Editorial: School district shortcut the search process — again

Posted

Regardless of who is in charge, who is departing and who is arriving, the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee follows the same process whenever it hires a new superintendent — which is no process at all.

When Melinda Thies retired, the school committee promoted her second-in-command without conducting a full search. That was Mario Andrade. When Andrade was forced out of the district, the committee quickly hired an interim and then made him permanent without conducting a full search. That was Jonathan Brice.

When Brice was forced out of the district less than two years later, the school committee quickly cycled through two interim superintendents before choosing a new superintendent without conducting a full search. That is Ana Riley.

Riley seems like a coup for this district, which has been suffering from poor leadership recently. She arrives here with a strong reputation, loads of experience and immediate respect from all parties. She arrives with optimism and energy and a great opportunity to steer these schools where they should be — respected and recognized among the best in Rhode Island.

Yet she could still turn out to be the right hire from the wrong process. It has been two decades since the school committee conducted a robust, open search process for its top position, which is the highest-paid public position in either town.

This time around, there was exuberant talk of a full search. Private citizens were encouraged to sign up for a search committee. The teachers’ union, which has a contractual right to be involved in the process, expected it would be included.

Then none of that actually happened — again.

Consider a contrast in the Bristol Police Department, which hired its top executive two years ago. The Town of Bristol, which must adhere to a search process delineated in its Town Charter, conducted a lengthy search that attracted dozens of applicants and included testing, a search committee, multiple rounds of interviews (both private and public) and a small group of finalists. In the end, the town hired an outstanding new chief, and no one could find fault with the process itself.

Hopefully the school committee won’t have another chance at this for a long time. Hopefully they got the right person through the wrong process. If not, perhaps it can remember and learn from its past.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.