Thursday, 4:30 PM
Mayor stands firm on public search for schools chief
By Tracy Jan, Globe Staff
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said this afternoon that the search for the city's next schools superintendent may have to start from scratch if too many top candidates drop out of the running because their names were made public.
Menino, who vowed that finalists would have to meet with community groups in public interviews, said he was pleased with the experience of the five front runners identified by the search committee but said he has not met with any of the contenders and does not have a favorite.
"From what I read, they're all qualified individuals," Menino said in an interview. "But all five might pull out. What happens then? This might have to start over again."
The committee met on Monday behind closed doors and chose Deborah A. Sims, the chief of K-12 operations in San Francisco; Arlene Ackerman, outgoing San Francisco superintendent; Manuel J. Rivera, superintendent in Rochester, N.Y.; Mary Grassa O'Neill, a former Boston school system administrator who now trains principals at Harvard; and Nancy J. McGinley, academic chief of the Charleston County schools in South Carolina.
The search committee was not going to publicize the names and make recommendations to the school committee, which is responsible for choosing the superintendent, until candidates agreed to pursue the job.
Menino said he learned about the search committee's picks from reading the Globe before his routine 5 a.m. walk and had not had a prior conversation with those running the search about top choices. He said he has talked with search committee members about keeping the public interviews, despite the wishes of at least two candidates who feared risking their current jobs.
"We committed to a public process," said Menino. "You have to go through it. I have second thoughts on it at this time but I gave my word."
At this point, he said the city is just waiting for candidates to decide whether they want to pursue the job.
"I hope the candidates don't withdraw their names," Menino said. "We're not looking for a mediocre candidate. We're looking for the best."
Community and education activists who sponsored a forum this morning on the priorities for the next superintendent said they were impressed by the candidates' ethnic diversity and in-depth experience.
John Mudd, a senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, said the community now has a chance to scrutinize the candidate's track records and looks forward to meeting with the candidates if they agree to be named finalists.
"It's not what they say or what they've put in plans that matter, but what they've been able to achieve with the kids in schools," Mudd said.