The new Lynn superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler. (File Photo | Owen O'Rourke)

Veteran Lynn administrator has a super interview

LYNN -- The choice for the city's next superintendent is in the hands of the School Committee as the remaining finalist was interviewed on Tuesday night.

Lynn Deputy Superintendent Patrick Tutwiler, one of two remaining finalists for the superintendent position, was publicly interviewed by the School Committee for more than 90 minutes.

During his interview, Tutwiler focused on demonstrating a familiarity with the Lynn Public Schools, where he has spent nearly three years in the deputy superintendent role, while also highlighting achievements from past stints in other school districts.

"I've gotten to know this district really well," Tutwiler said. "I've gotten to know this community really well and I feel like this is the ideal professional home for me. I know at the outset of this process, there were some 30 or 40 superintendent openings.  

"I only applied to one. I'm not interested in becoming a superintendent. I'm interested in becoming the Lynn superintendent."

Tutwiler spoke about what factors would make educators consider a place an ideal professional home, which could include unanimity about a tight fit with values and philosophy between the educator and the district; one where an educator feels they can contribute a great deal to the community, but also learn and grow; and where the educator feels they are working with a specific group of students in a particular context.

Tutwiler said he has worked in a number of districts and schools, where there's been bits and pieces of those components, but only in Lynn were all those core pieces true.

When asked by School Committee member Jared Nicholson about growth and development in the school district, Tutwiler said he wants to work on meeting the needs of the lowest-performing groups in the Lynn Public Schools, which are English Language Learners (ELL) and special education students. A targeted approach to meeting the needs of those student groups is best, he said.

Tutwiler said half of the determination of the state's accountability system, which ranks schools and districts on a five-level scale, is anchored in the lowest performing groups in the district — he said there needs to be a focus on the achievements of those groups for the district to meet its target. Lynn Public Schools is currently a Level 3 district.

Tutwiler also addressed the high ELL dropout rate, when asked by School Committee vice-chair Donna Coppola how he would turn that around.

He said the ELL dropout rate is a significant issue — those students are most at risk of dropping out in the district. Almost 90 percent of those ELL students who drop out do so in the ninth grade, he said — those students get placed in the ninth grade when they arrive in the school district, often at 17 or older with a sixth-grade education.

Tutwiler doesn't believe enrolling a student who meets that profile in a traditional day program is the best option, and that the district is working on how best to meet the needs of and engage those students.

He also addressed a 2011 lawsuit, which occurred during his tenure as principal of Wayland High School — he was listed as a defendant in a case in which the town's former athletic director sued the school district, the School Committee and two administrators after she lost her job.

He was asked by School Committee member Michael Satterwhite about being listed as a defendant in a complaint for employment discrimination, along with the school district, and what he would have done differently in that situation.

In that case, school officials reached a $75,000 settlement with the town's former athletic director two years after she filed the lawsuit, according to the Metrowest Daily News.

Tutwiler said he believes in respect for human difference and for inclusivity — the district and administrators, himself included, adamantly denied the discrimination claims, in what was a two-pronged issue, which also included breach of contract.

"I'll tell you that as an educational leader, yes, you have to make hard decisions and you run the risk every time you make that decision (of) being misinterpreted even in the face of really clear communication around why a decision was made," Tutwiler said.

"I wouldn't do anything differently. I'd handle it exactly the same way I did back then, right now and I think the courage to make hard decisions with that risk is the mark of a good leader."

Tutwiler also talked about the importance of communication, how school districts addressing social emotional learning plays a role in school safety, and embracing cultural competence to create a school environment where families and students feel included.

Before his tenure as deputy superintendent in Lynn, Tutwiler spent two years as headmaster of Brighton High School and six years as principal of Wayland High School. His 18-year career in teaching and administration began in 2000 with a four-year stint as a history teacher in Brighton.  

The other finalist, Jessica Huizenga, Achieve 3000 director of strategic engagement, was interviewed on Monday. The third finalist, Marice Edouard-Vincent, who is instructional superintendent for Boston Public Schools, has accepted the position of superintendent in Medford.

Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham is retiring at the end of the school year.

A new superintendent is expected to be selected by June 1.

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