Jessica Huizenga, Achieve3000 director of strategic engagement, interviews for the Lynn superintendent of schools position on Monday. (Owen O'Rourke)
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Lynn down to the wire on superintendent search

LYNN — The search for the city's next superintendent of schools has been whittled to two candidates with one of the three finalists accepting the same position in another district on Monday.

Mayor Thomas M. McGee, chairman of the Lynn School Committee, announced at the conclusion of the School Committee's public interview of superintendent finalist Jessica Huizenga, Achieve3000 director of strategic engagement, that another candidate, Marice M. Edouard-Vincent, had accepted the superintendent position in Medford.

Edouard-Vincent, who serves as instructional superintendent for Boston Public Schools, was offered and accepted the Medford position Monday and withdrew from Tuesday night's scheduled public interview with the Lynn School Committee.

The development also means that Lynn Deputy Superintendent Patrick Tutwiler, the other remaining finalist for the city's superintendent position, will interview with the School Committee at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, rather than his initial scheduled time of 7:30 p.m.

Huizenga was interviewed by the School Committee for nearly two hours, fielding questions regarding her experience in education and how she would move the Lynn school district forward.

In her interview, Huizenga also addressed the circumstances regarding her tenure as a Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education receiver for the Southbridge Public Schools, and departure from that position, which has been the source of some online speculation.

"My calling in life has been from the day I graduated college to make a difference in the lives of children and families (through) education," Huizenga said. "I believe it is the great equalizer. I believe it is the pathway for great opportunity and success for all children."

Huizenga spoke about the need for educational equity for students in the Lynn Public Schools. In one instance, she was responding to School Committee member Lorraine Gately who said Lynn has been a Level 3 school district — Huizenga was asked when she sees Lynn achieving Level 2 status.

Huizenga said the district has an outstanding teaching team, but there are some schools that need targeted assistance. She said a strategy could be to look at funding in an equitable manner so more resources and support could be provided to underperforming schools. Because of the sheer size of the district, she predicted the increase would take three to five years.

Huizenga also spoke about educational equity when referring to the need for a strong capital plan. She said Lynn is sometimes the tale of two cities, saying that it could be a different experience for kids depending on what school they go to, and their condition. She said the city needs to be educating students in a way that they're able to come back and contribute to Lynn.

"We need to have buildings that support an education like that," Huizenga said.

Huizenga said she loves the diversity she has seen in Lynn Public Schools — she said the urban renewal that is happening in Lynn is exciting and something she wants to be a part of.

Huizenga was asked by School Committee member Jared Nicholson about what her vision was in Southbridge, where she spent a year as receiver for the public schools — the receiver acts as superintendent after the state has taken over a chronically underperforming school district — and why she left.

Huizenga resigned from the Southbridge position last year after being placed on paid administrative leave by the state. She told The Item in an interview prior to the meeting that her resignation was for personal reasons, in addition to the long commute — a family matter came up and she decided to go on leave to take care of that and shortly thereafter was able to pursue a position that gave her a little more flexibility and she's been doing that for the past year.

But on Monday night, she expanded on that reason, and addressed recent unflattering social media activity, saying she is proud of the work she did in Southbridge.

Huizenga said a tremendous amount of work was done during that one year in Southbridge — the graduation rate was the highest it had been in 15 years; a dual language program was started; the district did a lot with social emotional learning; school safety was improved across the district; metrics were up at the high school; and work was done to improve the overall culture.

"It was just really hard to walk into a situation and no one wants you there," Huizenga said. "The school committee was really resentful of receivership. I think they were very resentful that a woman was in place in receivership. And from my first day — and the recent blog — I dealt with that from day one with just a really toxic environment, threats and disgusting sexual things that were said about me.

"It was a three-hour commute every single day and it just took a personal toll on me and my family that was not worth, it was just not worth continuing. I just found it to be an unsustainable prospect."

Huizenga said she's done the work elsewhere that needs to be done in Lynn to build on what outgoing Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham has done. In other districts, she said she's improved school safety, done work on social emotional opportunities for children, expanded technology access in classrooms, and worked closely with unions on collective bargaining agreements.

Her experience also includes stints as assistant superintendent for curriculum in Cambridge Public Schools, and assistant and interim superintendent for the Freetown Lakeville Regional school district.

Latham will be retiring at the end of the school year. The school budget lists her salary at $207,000.

The new superintendent is expected to be hired by June 1.

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