Falmouth board sticks with Powers as school chief

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FALMOUTH — The School Board has called off its search for a new superintendent and plans to appoint interim Superintendent Barbara Powers as the district’s new school chief.

A consensus was reached in executive session during a Saturday, Dec. 12, special meeting. The board is expected to vote on Powers’ appointment at its meeting Monday night, Dec. 21.

Powers, who previously was assistant superintendent, assumed temporary responsibility as the School Department’s leader when the former superintendent, George Entwistle, left Falmouth for the Belmont, Mass., school district in July.

Powers on Saturday said her permanent appointment came as a “stunning surprise. I took it as a genuine vote of confidence of the way I’ve been leading the district this year.”

School Board Chairwoman Beth Franklin on Friday said the board received applications from some “top-notch choices,” but declined to say how many applications were received or the number of finalists on the board’s list.

Originally the board planned a series of interviews to be held after the first of the year, Franklin said. But she said board members decided to terminate the search and name Powers to the position because her leadership during the past six months exemplified the qualities the board was looking for in a candidate.

“It was a unanimous decision in the end, but it wasn’t a clear-cut decision,” Franklin said. “When Barbara (Powers) started as interim superintendent … we knew she had strengths in what she had been doing, which was largely curriculum, but there were a lot of areas where there were big challenges in front of the district right now. … We did not feel it would be fair to throw her into that brier patch without consideration of what the alternatives might be.”

Franklin said Powers impressed the board with her approach to the financial challenges Falmouth is facing. She described her as a popular leader and one who has respect from School Department staff, as well as the unique advantage of being a candidate who had already earned the district’s confidence and support.

“Everybody is terrified about the prospect of what the budget cuts are going to mean with the schools,” Franklin said. “I think there’s some comfort in knowing who their leader is going to be and a high degree of confidence in Barbara.”

The board is expected to announce Powers’ appointment in its meeting on Monday, Dec. 21. Contract negotiations will follow; as interim superintendent, Powers earns $116,000 a year, Franklin said.

When she assumed interim duties last summer, Powers said she “had to hit the ground running” to deal with challenges that include state funding curtailments, the threat of H1N1 flu and an audit of the last five years.

With the district facing nearly $2 million in budget cuts next year, Powers said she “embraces a transparent budget review” that will gain the “full trust of the (Town) Council.” She praised the council for its support, noting that four councilors came to the last School Board workshop to learn about the operating budget.

Powers will also be in the thick of the transition to the new elementary school, with what she called “fun planning” of scheduling, fifth-graders’ return to an elementary building and other pleasant adjustments to a new building and revamped school campus.

The School Board began a nationwide search for a new superintendent last summer, and hired consultant J.A. Roy Associates to head the effort. Because the consultant had agreed to be flexible, the original fee of about $12,000 will be prorated, reduced by aroung 25 percent, Franklin said.

The consultant’s flexibility was a determining factor in the board’s decision to hire Powers, Franklin said.

“We knew all along that we might come to the point where we say we want to go with Barbara,” she said. “Obviously, we struggled with whether we wanted to do the search from the beginning, but the board’s primary responsibility is to hire and fire the superintendent.”

Though the board selected a familiar candidate, Franklin said the competitive vetting process has affirmed and empowered Powers as she prepares to begin her position officially.

Powers began her teaching and educational administration career in 1980 in Cape Elizabeth. She came to Falmouth  in 1998 as the principal of Plummer-Motz School. During her tenure there, the school was named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. After a year as the district’s curriculum coordinator, she was appointed assistant superintendent, serving under Entwistle until she was named interim superintendent last summer.

“I’d like to thank the school community for their support all fall,” Powers said. “They expressed a lot of confidence in my abilites.”

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.