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Administrator dismissed from Greater Lawrence hired as Medford voke director

Posted by Jarret Bencks  July 16, 2013 10:55 AM

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Heidi Riccio lost her job as an administrator at Greater Lawrence Technical School in June after an internal investigation found she had taken credit for a national award she never won. But it didn't take her long to find a new post.

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Earlier this month, Riccio was hired as the new director for Medford Vocational Technical High School.

She was offered the position one day after the Medford School Committee conducted a public interview July 1. Superintendent Roy Belson said he told some committee members about Riccio's situation at Greater Lawrence before the interview, but not all of them. The issues that led to her dismissal weren't discussed at the public interview.

"I want them to consider her for what she can bring to the school," Belson said. "It's up to me to decide if she is a good person."

The authority to hire administrators rests with Belson, but he said he narrows the field to finalists and has the School Committee conduct public interviews as part of the process.

Following two searches, one at the end of the school year and one this summer, Riccio was clearly the most qualified candidate for the job, Belson said Monday.

"She told me about this controversy right up front, then I did my homework, and I still liked her for this," Belson said.

She has worked in vocational education for 17 years, all at Greater Lawrence, including the last three years as director of career and technical education.

A press release distributed by Greater Lawrence in May proclaimed Riccio the winner of the Educator of the Year Award from the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a national organization based in New York. The release included a quote from Riccio, calling the award "a great honor."

But the award actually went to Catherine Doherty, at teacher at Chelsea High School. Riccio had been a speaker at a ceremony April 23 in New York, where the award was presented to Doherty.

Riccio, who could not be reached for comment, was placed on paid leave by Greater Lawrence May 8, one day after the press release appeared in local publications. She was dismissed from her job in June after lawyers for the school reviewed the situation, Greater Lawrence district committee member Kenneth Henrick said.

"It was turned over to lawyers, and they advised them [the school administration] that they agreed with terminating her," Henrick said.

Henrick had advocated for Riccio's dismissal, and said he was pleased she was no longer working at the school.

"Good luck to her, and good luck to Medford, if they're going to hire her," he said. "But how she got that job, I don't know."

Henrick, had previousy worked with Riccio when he was a guidance councilor at Greater Lawrence, and saw her rise to become one of the school's top administrators.

"She was really a nice kid, but gradually over the years, she really was just focused on getting ahead," Henrick said. "...She made comments to me later when I was there and I was a little upset with some of them."

Belson said the incident at Greater Lawrence has been overblown, and Riccio did not deserve to lose her job.

"I don't think this woman intentionally misrepresented herself, I think it was a miscommunication," Belson said. "I've got to believe this is a minor infraction, if it is an infraction at all. It wouldn't result in a termination here in Medford. You take a 17-year employee and put her on the street? Something else is going on up there, but it"s not up me to try and figure what that is."

Riccio is likely going to get a raise with her new job. She previously earned $106,511 at Greater Lawrence. The school department in Medford is still bargaining with its administrative union, so the salary for her new position is not set, but it is expected to fall between $107,000 and $110,000, Belson said.

She replaces William Mahoney, who announced his plans to retire in April.

An initial search for a new vocational director in the spring narrowed the field to two finalists, who were interviewed in in June. But Belson said he decided to start to the search over after disappointing public interviews.

School Committee member Robert Skerry said Riccio impressed in her responses to policy questions.

"The other people before her could not have answered them," Skerry said.

Skerry said Riccio's recent past fell into a professional "gray area," but given her experience, she is worth the chance.

"I wouldn't have felt right saying don't hire her, but she's going to have to prove herself," Skerry said. "I think with that hanging over her head, we're either going to have a really great director, or it won't be taking very long for her to be moving on."

Riccio is out of the office this week as she completes work for her doctorate, Belson said, and will be attending a seminar related to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration next week. She is expected to begin work in Medford July 29.

Jarret Bencks can be reached at bencks.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @JarretBencks.

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