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Ely unanimous pick for schools

Schenectady educator offered superintendent job

Eric Ely (click for larger version)
June 30, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — The School Committee unanimously voted to offer the superintendent's job to recently resigned Schenectady, N.Y., superintendent Eric Ely, with plans to negotiate a contract by the end of July.

They picked him over three other finalists — Tri-Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School (Franklin) Principal Mark Wood, Milford Assistant Superintendent Barbara Cataldo and Southbridge High Principal William Bishop.

Morgan Cook carries signs bearing quotes about leadership before a handful of residents picketed Town Hall before Wednesday's School Committee meeting. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
"All the candidates were poised … but you got a real good feel that there is somebody who fits Southbridge better than the rest of them," said Scott Lazo shortly before making the motion for Ely. "… This appointment is this much [fingers an inch apart] of this [arms held wide]" he added, referring to the various issues the district has on its plate in the next few years.

To Ely, those things — a new school, student test concerns, diversity, a difficult economy, community outreach and more — sound a lot like what he's been facing for six years now, and he said he looks forward to them. The only real difference is that Schenectady is much bigger, with a school system about five times Southbridge's size.

"The Southbridge community obviously has a strong desire to improve student achievement," he said when reached by phone after the meeting. "… Kids need a school system that will allow them to overcome the challenges poverty presents."

Comparing the two districts, Ely said they have "similar expectations" but Southbridge's smaller size makes it easier to create relationships and solve problems. That will be crucial — the School Committee has repeatedly stated they want a new chief who has good community skills, something Ely said is "not all that complicated. All you have to do is be open to listening … become involved, willing to learn and willing to teach as well."

Committee members John Jovan Jr., Scott Lazo and Tanja Dominko did most of the talking Wednesday, having spent about 16 hours on the road visiting the candidates' home districts. They agreed that all four places were very different in terms of how the schools, local demographics and the site visits themselves were structured, but they essentially asked the same array of questions with one main goal in mind — To determine how well each candidate would fit in Southbridge.

They all said each visit seemed better than the one before it, but by the time they finished with Ely (the last visit), the common reaction was, "Wow," Dominko said.

See Friday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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