New Haven superintendent search process debated

There was an article in The Argus yesterday about the search for a new superintendent for the New Haven school district.

Long story short, some community members on the superintendent selection advisory committee criticized the process, saying they wish they had been given the opportunity to interact face-to-face with board members about the candidates. Instead, they apparently were instructed to direct their comments, one by one, to a facilitator while trustees sat in the back and listened. One committee member called the process “incomplete,” and Trustee Gwen Estes said, “It’s hard to call it a `community’ group when the community’s not involved.”

Today, another committee member, Michael Ritchie, sent an e-mail to trustees and others in the district, saying he was clear all along about how things would be handled. He also thanked the board for getting the community involved. Michael has given me permission to reprint his e-mail (in blue text). Check out his take on how things went:

Hello all,

I wanted to let you know my opinion regarding how the input from superintendent advisory committee was handled.

I understood from the beginning that the superintendent advisory committee role was limited and also clear on how the process was to work.  Barry described the selection process at our initial meeting and it transpired the way in which he described.

While I think it might be human nature to want to “dig in” and be one of the key decision makers, that was clearly not “the deal”.  

I also appreciate the NH School Board inviting the community members to participate at all.  Further, I think the board handled the process correctly – where they listened to our assessments at the conclusion of the candidate interviews and didn’t just “read our notes”.   It is my view that the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates (from the limited assessment we had) were clearly summarized and communicated to the board during the Friday afternoon session.

One area for improvement would be in how the interview questions were determined.  In the future, I would recommend extending the length of the initial discussion session with the consultant (or adding a second session) where direct input and formation of questions could have taken place.  This would result in improved input from the various stakeholders’ individual viewpoints as the candidates would directly answer questions of concern to them.

Obviously over the years there have been issues of trust between the community and the school district.  To me, including the advisory committee in the selection process for the new superintendent was yet another positive step the district has made with the community to address this issue. 

I think it is time the community “return the favor” by placing trust in the school board and the school board’s ability to take community input and use it to select the best candidate for the job. 


Michael Ritchie


By the way, one thing I left out of yesterday’s article due to lack of space was that Michelle Matthews, who criticized the process, had also served on the previous superintendent search committee when the last schools chief, Pat Jaurequi, was hired. According to Matthews, committee members and trustees sat together and actually discussed the candidates last time. (I got the sense from speaking to various people who had served on the 2004 committee that they were disappointed with the way things were handled this time, having experienced the process under a different format last time.)

Meanwhile, Trustee Jenn Stringer, who served on the ’04 selection committee, told me that from what she remembers, the process used this time was “very similar” to the one four years ago.

Linh Tat

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