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Wellesley School Committee announces superintendent finalists

Posted by Evan Allen  April 13, 2012 12:01 PM

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The Wellesley School Committee announced three finalists Friday for the position of superintendent, which will become vacant when Bella Wong steps down at the end of this school year.

Gerald Hill, David Lussier, and Judith Paolucci were named as contenders for the top spot in the beleaguered district after a nationwide search. They do not work for the Wellesley schools.

Each candidate will spend a day in Wellesley at the end of April, meeting staff, students, parents, and representatives of town government before the School Committee makes a final decision in early May.

Hill has been a superintendent for the past 16 years, and is currently the head of the Glenview School District 34 in Glenview, Ill. Hill received bachelor of science and masters degrees from the University of Missesota and a PhD from the University of North Texas. He started his career as an elementary school teacher in Minnesota.

Lussier has ties to Massachusetts, having begun his career as a high school social studies teacher in the Bay State and winning Massachusetts Teacher of the Year for 1999-2000. He is currently executive director of the Office of Educator Quality for the Austin Independent School District in Texas. He has also served as an associate director of Domestic Policy in the White House. Lussier received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, a masters degree from Boston University and a masters degree and a doctorate in education from Harvard University.

Paolucci is superintendent of the Yarmouth School Department in Maine. She has also served as an assistant superintendent in Narragansett, R.I. Paolucci received a bachelor of science degree from Rhode Island College, a masters degree from Brown University, and a doctorate in education from the University of Rhode Island/Rhode Island College. Before she became a teacher, Paolucci was an engineer.

The salary for the new superintendent has not yet been established, said School Committee chairwoman Suzy Littlefield.

According to the superintendent's office, Bella Wong's salary this year is $178,073.

The finalists for the position were selected by a 16-person Advisory Search Committee, which includes parents, teachers, administrators and town government officials and is headed by School Committee member K C Kato. The district has worked with consultant Future Management Systems in the superintendent search process.

Paolucci is scheduled to be in Wellesley on April 24, Hill on April 26 and Lussier on April 30. On each day, the School Committee will conduct a public interview of the candidate from 6:30 to 7:15. They will hold a public forum from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Residents are invited to attend.

The new superintendent's biggest challenge, according to Littlefield, will be "restoring confidence" in the district. Whoever is selected will be stepping into the role vacated by Wong, who last fall announced her resignation after a series of controversies that have continued to roil the district.

The trouble began last spring, when it was discovered that the business department had failed to collect about $169,000 worth of school lunch debt. An audit triggered by the discovery and released in September showed sloppy bookkeeping practices and a lack of outside oversight. No misappropriation was found, but the public backlash was fierce.

Wong announced her resignation on Nov. 10, and less than two weeks later, business manager Ruth Quinn Berdell was put on voluntary paid administrative leave. Berdell has since been fired, and has said that she intends to enter arbitration with the district over what she describes as a wrongful termination.

The district has struggled to maintain community support as it has struggled with an array of other problems.

In October, a custodian at Wellesley Middle School was arrested on charges that he stole more than $20,000 worth of Apple equipment and student-crafted jewelry, raising questions about the thoroughness of the district’s background checks.

The custodian, Gino Lister, 35, had been charged in 1998 with assault and battery, and in 2000 with unarmed robbery, breaking and entering in the nighttime, and larceny over $250, according to Framingham District Court documents. Both sets of charges were continued without a finding and eventually dismissed.

The Committee has since tightened its background check policy.

The new charges against Lister are still winding their way through Dedham District Court.

The district has also faced ongoing problems with its food service provided, Chartwells, which replaced in-house service this year. In addition to parent and student complaints about Chartwells' food, the vendor received a number of health code violations early in its contract.

The School Committee voted on Tuesday not to renew its one-year contract with Chartwells, citing "a dwindling of community confidence."

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com.

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