Haverhill School Committee Vice President Gail M. Sullivan.
Further discussions are expected from Haverhill school leaders over whether reorganized roles among top management personnel, including a future assistant superintendent, can reduce departmental staff turnover.
No formal action taken by the Haverhill School Committee Thursday. Members, however, discussed various options, ranging from holding exit interviews with departing staff to revising either job responsibilities or the school department’s organizational chart. Discussion was sparked by the impending departure of Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Julie R. Kukenberger, who, according to Superintendent James F. Scully, is currently in contract negotiations for a reported superintendent job in Maine. He said the situation brings an opportunity to explore the “real role of the assistant superintendent” and whether changing roles would bring the district “significant savings.”
“As organizations evolve, you can’t be stagnant in your thinking and your approach to how problems are solved has to change and evolve. With that in mind, I’ve given a lot of thought to it and we need to look at the real role of the assistant superintendent because the previous assistant superintendent’s function was very different than Julie’s function,” Scully said.
Committeeman Scott W. Wood Jr. noted retention of upper management in schools is a “problem throughout the country” and also called the issue a “fundamental change in generations.” He questioned whether holding exit interviews, as proposed by committee Vice President Gail M. Sullivan, would be held by the committee in public or in closed-door “executive session” as a personnel matter.
“I don’t know how we do it or how we retain somebody in that position but I believe the assistant superintendent, being charged with curriculum, is a vitally important position that can not have the turnover. If there’s something we can do to keep her, if there’s something we’re not doing right or something needs to be done differently I would hope she would pass that information along to the school committee president. The committee can discuss what needs to be done to retain somebody in that position.” Wood said.
Committee Chairman, Mayor James J. Fiorentini, added he would consult with the city solicitor about a venue for exit interviews, including the city’s Human Resources Department.
“I think we should do an exit interview including, by the way, with principals, not just with people in the central office. I am concerned about the turnover. If it happens everywhere then so be it, we should know that. But I am concerned about the turnover rate and retention and maybe an exit interview will tell us something that will help with the retention rate, I really don’t know,” Fiorentini said.
Kukenberger would be the second assistant superintendent in two years to leave the Haverhill school district. Her predecessor, Dr. Mary Malone, left in 2014 to become superintendent in the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District.