By Carley Dangona
The West Springfield School Committee conducted a special meeting on June 4 to interview three candidates for interim superintendent. West Springfield High School principal Michael Richard was chosen for the position. Superintendent Dr. Russell Johnston has accepted a position with the state. His last day will be July 31.
Reminder Publications submitted photo
WEST SPRINGFIELD – The School Committee unanimously chose West Springfield High School Principal Michael Richard as interim Superintendent of Schools during its special meeting on June 4.
Current superintendent, Dr. Russell Johnston, has accepted a position with the Commonwealth’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“It’s important to have the selection process for the interim completed,” Mayor Edward Sullivan, chair of the School Committee, said.
Sullivan stated that Richard’s anticipated start date is July 1. He said that it’s “critical” for the interim superintendent to work with Johnston prior to his departure. Richard has experience working closely with Johnston since there are many ongoing initiatives in the high school such as the upcoming implementation of Chromebooks.
Johnston, 44, was named the Senior Associate Commissioner for Accountability, Partnerships and Technical Assistance. At a special meeting of the West Springfield School Committee on May 29, Johnston submitted his letter of resignation. His last day with the district will be July 31.
In his new position, Johnston will manage the state’s accountability and assistance system for all public schools and districts to support their work to raise achievement for all students and will oversee the implementation of various initiatives to assess effectiveness, monitor improvement and identify appropriate interventions.
He succeeds Lynda Foisy, who retired as Senior Associate Commissioner for Accountability and Targeted Assistance on May 2 after 18 years of service in the department. He and his family will relocate to the Boston area.
“I enjoy every moment that I spend in West Springfield,” Johnston said. “I have a firm belief that I can take what I’ve learned here and apply it to make an even bigger, a better difference across this great state.”
In a separate interview, Johnston told Reminder Publications, “Unquestionably, this is the most difficult decision I’ve ever made. I’m very excited and very humbled to be offered this position. I’m so pleased and honored to have served this district.”
Johnston, who began his career as a special education teacher and administrator, has led the West Springfield Public Schools since 2010.
In West Springfield, he oversaw an annual operating budget of $39 million for a school district that serves 3,900 students and 700 employees in nine schools. Over the past four years, the district’s four-year graduation rate has increased from 71.7 to 81.6 percent; the annual dropout rate has declined to 2.1 percent and students across the grades have made performance gains.
School Committee members discussed the upcoming need to find a permanent replacement for Johnston during the May 29 meeting.
Patricia Correira, field director for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, attended the meeting to provide an overview of what the search for a permanent replacement would entail.
Correira advised the committee that it could take between four to six months to find a successor for the job. “Now is not a good time to start a search,” she noted, explaining that it’s best to begin looking in September.
She also added that contracts for interim positions are “per diem,” but that amount would be in addition to the salary of an internal staff member.
Member Joey Sutton asked Correira, “Russell does more than [a typical] superintendent. What’s the likelihood that we could find a diamond in the rough again?”
She responded, “Russell’s breed are few and far between, but they’re out there.”
Correira added, “The bad news is that he’s leaving. The good news is that he’s going to be in Boston.”
She said the average tenure for superintendents is three to five years.
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