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Former Wellesley superintendent Bella Wong was last finalist left when picked to lead Lincoln-Sudbury

Posted by Leslie Anderson  May 31, 2013 12:28 PM

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Two of the three finalists for the interim superintendent/principal job at the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School withdrew from consideration before the School Committee was set to make a selection last week.

Despite having just one candidate remaining, the committee voted unanimously Tuesday morning to hire former Wellesley superintendent Bella Wong.

The Lincoln-Sudbury Regional School Committee released a statement Tuesday announcing the appointment, saying that it had engaged in a “rigorous and inclusive search process, which included numerous interviews, a campus visit, and an extensive reference checking process.’’ It did not mention, however, that Wong was the only finalist at the end.

School Committee member Nancy Marshall released a statement Friday clarifying the selection process.

“In our Committee meeting Tuesday morning, we did not discuss reopening the search. We deliberated in good faith to ensure we were fully informed in our decision,” Marshall’s statement said. “We are satisfied with the process and looking forward.”

Edward Malvey, interim superintendent of the Monson schools, took another job before the final interview. Then Herbert Levine, who most recently served as interim superintendent in Peabody, withdrew last weekend, the statement said.

Wong, who resigned as superintendent of the Wellesely school system amid a tumultuous period in 2011 and 2012, said she is ready to not only get back to work but return to where her educational career began. She said those formative years helped shape who she became as an educator.

“I’m really excited,’’ Wong said. “It’s where I started my teaching career.’’

Wong taught in the science department at Lincoln-Sudbury between 1991 and 1998. Most recently she spent six years as assistant superintendent in Wellesley and five as superintendent. She announced her resignation in the fall of 2011 and stepped down in the spring of 2012 following public concern over the administration of the school system’s business office.

Wong said she feels good about what she accomplished in Wellesley. She cited advancements in curriculum and instruction, building projects, the use of technology and staff mentoring.

“After reflecting, I feel really good about what I was able to do over the long term,’’ she said. “I feel my decision to resign was the right decision and in the best interest of the students and community at large.’’

The Wellesley district had $169,000 worth of uncollected school lunch payments from the 2009-2010 school year and before. The debt’s discovery in spring 2011 plunged the district into a year of turmoil in which Wong resigned and business manager Ruth Quinn Berdell was dismissed, leading Berdell to file a lawsuit against Wong and Suzy Littlefield, the School Committee’s chairwoman at the time, accusing them of conspiracy and defamation.

Details of Wong’s contract with Lincoln-Sudbury are still being worked out, though she is expected to start July 1 and stay on for a year while the district searches for a permanent superintendent.

Carpenter was paid $155,000 to run the 1,600-student high school for the 2012-2013 school year. Wong’s salary in Wellesley, which has about 5,000 students, was $178,073.

Wong said she will not apply for the permanent job but is not ruling out a superintendent’s job in the future.

“Right now, my focus is to do the best I can at Lincoln-Sudbury. I’m sure at some point during the year, I’ll decide what I want to do next,’’ she said. “I want to be very deliberate about that choice.’’

Marshall said that Wong is a good fit for Lincoln-Sudbury because of her familiarity with the school, her understanding of key policy issues, and experience advocating for capital projects.

Wong said she took the past year to be home while her twin boys transitioned to middle school. She has also served as Weston’s representative on the School Committee for Minuteman High School in Lexington.

She said she was looking for a one-year position to make the transition back to work when the Lincoln-Sudbury job opened up. She thinks her 14 years in administrative experience will help guide the school through its transitional year.

The key, she said, is listening to community members about their priorities and making them happen in the short term.

“It’s making the most of that time,’’ she said.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.

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