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Lynn gathers input on superintendent search

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, right, talks at the first of five community focus groups that included Geneliz Herrera, Kevin Conway, Kaleb Habtegebriel and Miranda Lachman as part of a search for the next Lynn school superintendent. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — School nutrition, overcrowding in classrooms and curriculum were some of the topics broached on Monday night when residents had their first opportunity to weigh in on the search for the next superintendent of schools.

A sparsely attended public session was held at the Lynn City Hall Council Chambers on Monday night and followed three sessions earlier in the day, which were open to parents, Lynn Public School principals and administrators and teachers respectively.

Monday’s four sessions kicked off a week of community focus groups aimed at gathering feedback to help school officials in their search for the next superintendent. Dr. Catherine C. Latham will be retiring at the end of the school year.

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, is facilitating the community focus groups. The MASC has been hired to conduct the superintendent search.

Koocher said comments from each of the focus groups, including community feedback in the public sessions, will be summarized into a report, which will be shared with the superintendent search committee and the Lynn School Committee.

He said he was looking for people to provide questions the candidates should answer and share information those conducting the search should know.

Koocher said areas of feedback being sought include what the community feels should be strengths of a superintendent; areas of growth, development, improvement or change people would like to see; what characteristics, based on their own life experience, they’d like to see in a school superintendent, which could be based on past teachers or administrators they have had; and anything someone feels is a clear strength of Lynn Public Schools that they don’t want people to tamper with.

There was a major focus on Monday night on school nutrition as several students from the Food Project were on hand to share their thoughts on the matter.

Miranda Lachman, a FoodCorp Service member serving at the Food Project, said she works to help bring healthy food into school cafeterias. She said school food is a large piece of a child’s education, which affects how much they pay attention in school.

Lachman said the new superintendent should be aware of the impact access to good food has on education. She said it is important to have a superintendent who understands the interconnectedness of school food and the rest of students’ lives.

A couple of students in attendance spoke about how schools’ focus on standardized tests, and prepping for them, takes away from students’ education and their learning experience.

Kevin Conway, a senior at Lynn Classical High School, said some teachers have relayed to him that there’s not a lot of wiggle room in the curriculum.

“I don’t know how change could come about that way, but I know a lot of teachers feel they’re in a tough spot,” he said.

Conway said there are certain requirements to graduate, as far as courses, but he said that students desire something that better prepares them for the real world, such as learning about personal finance and how to balance a checkbook. A lot of the things kids are learning in school, he said, citing algebra as an example, won’t be relevant later on in their lives.

Geneliz Herrera, a ninth-grader at Lynn English High School, suggested that a question posed to a candidate for superintendent would be what he or she would do about overcrowding in classrooms. One of her biggest classes has 31 students, she said.

Regarding what characteristics the next superintendent should have, Cheryl Davis said Lynn is a diverse city so the person should have some cultural background.

“I agree with that 100 percent because this city is very diverse and we have people coming from different experiences and different backgrounds so it is very important that we have a superintendent that appreciates and understands the diversity of Lynn,” said Kaleb Habtegebriel, a 17-year-old Lynn resident and sophomore at Pingree School in South Hamilton.

“We want to find the best candidate possible and one who connects with the community,” said Mayor Thomas M. McGee, who also serves as chairman of the Lynn School Committee.

Brian Castellanos, a school committee member, said valuable characteristics for a superintendent could be empathy and emotional intelligence. He said emotional intelligence is important to have when dealing with the kind of kids there are in the community and empathy could be important when considering the different levels of poverty in the city.

“We’re hoping the process is a very open process,” McGee said. “It’s important that we get input from the community to allow us to make the right decision.”

Community focus groups will be held today, Thursday, Saturday and next Monday.

Today, Lynn Classical High School will host a parent session from 8:45 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. and one for principals and administrators from 10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. At the Lynn City Hall Council Chambers, there will be a session for teachers from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and a public session from 6-8 p.m.

On Thursday, at Lynn Tech Field House, there will be a parent session from 8:45 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. and one for principals and administrators from 10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. At the Lynn City Hall Council Chambers, there will be a session for teachers from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and a public session from 6 to 8 p.m.

On Saturday and next Monday, there will be public sessions at the Lynn City Hall Auditorium from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. respectively.

The public sessions are rolling — community members can show up and leave at any time during the session.

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