The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 29, 2010

CSC interviews superintendent candidate Joyce Mehaffey

Principal Joyce Mehaffey
(Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

As six audience members looked on, Middle School Principal Joyce Mehaffey joined the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) on January 20 for her first public interview in her quest to become the new Carlisle School superintendent/principal. Current superintendent Marie Doyle has submitted her resignation effective June 30. The CSC decided to first open the position to internal candidates and Mehaffey was the only candidate to apply. During the interview Mehaffey provided opening and closing statements and responded to questions from the CSC about her background, educational and administrative priorities.

Background. Mehaffey received her Ph.D. in counseling psychology, and has certification as a K-8 principal, a superintendent, and in school psychology. She joined the Carlisle School as middle school principal in the fall of 2008. Before that she worked in the Greenfield District Schools, most recently as director of curriculum and instruction. CSC member Louis Salemy reported that Mehaffey’s references were confirmed by the committee’s consultant, Arthur Bettencourt of the New England School Development Council (NESDEC).

“I’ve worked my way up the ranks,” she explained. In the past she has been a special needs aide, a teacher, a school psychologist, a principal and a director of curriculum and instruction. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount in every position I’ve held,” she added. “My perspective changed with each position.” Working in a preK–12 school system such as Greenfield was a good experience, she observed. Mehaffey enjoys being part of the Carlisle School’s administrative team and particularly enjoys the contact with students.

Communication. CSC member Dale Ryder noted communication is important “in a small community like Carlisle,” and asked Mehaffey to explain “what kinds of things will you continue to do or change or improve?” Mehaffey replied that communication is important to her. “I prefer personal communication. Email is quicker but, for example, I had a question today where I felt the need to call the person; it wasn’t a simple yes or no answer.” She feels it is important to be visible at student events, explaining, “I want students to see me as a person involved in their education.” She added, “Sometimes parents may not be as apt to pick up the phone, but at an event they are more willing to come up to you.” Ryder asked her about communication with faculty. Mehaffey said she will continue to attend grade team meetings when she is able to. “I walk through the building, peek my head into classrooms, talking to teachers individually. I have an open door policy,” she said.

Past accomplishments. CSC member Bill Fink asked Mehaffey to elaborate on achievements that she was proud of during her years in the Greenfield School District. Two accomplishments stood out for Mehaffey. First, she helped install a consistent reading program throughout the district’s five elementary schools within the district, which was needed due to families moving from school to school. Second, Mehaffey said she was successful at helping an under-performing school become a “premiere school.” Ryder asked, “How long did that take?” Mehaffey replied, “I was there four years.”

Grant writing. Salemy noted that Mehaffey wrote grants while she worked in Greenfield, “It was a big aspect of your career in Greenfield.” Mehaffey said that as director of curriculum and instruction she had to write federal and state grants such as Title 1 and Title 2, “including extended learning grants.” She said the district received over $2 million in grants, some of which were for under-performing schools or low-income districts.

Decision making. Salemy asked Mehaffey to describe a difficult issue she had to deal with and how she interacted with colleagues to solve a problem. Mehaffey said that to resolve a budget deficit she was involved in a decision to close two schools, one of which was the school that she had helped improve. “It was very sad,” she said.

Salemy asked Mehaffey how she would involve the faculty and the other administrators in decision making. “It is a process,” replied Mehaffey. “First, in making any decision, we must agree on what we’re trying to solve.” She said the process was to decide on the problem and “bring in people who have a stake in that issue and explore possible alternatives.”

Curriculum. Koski asked Mehaffey what steps she would take to keep alignment with the state curriculum frameworks and prepare students for high school. She will continue to look at curriculum benchmarks and offer professional development and support for teachers. She added, “We will address students that need more support.”

Staff evaluations. Ryder asked Mehaffey to comment on the staff evaluation process. Mehaffey would like to encourage teachers to take risks and be more inventive. Currently teachers are evaluated based on “what is happening in the classroom including content, clarity and knowledge.” She said that is a small snapshot of what teachers are doing, “but a broader picture is out there. I really would like to see evaluations become more useful to the teacher.” She said the evaluation process should be supportive of what the teachers are trying to accomplish, and not critical. “A teacher wouldn’t want to try something new if they are going to be critiqued.”

Conflict management. Fink asked Mehaffey what types of “creative solutions” she would use to resolve conflict between others. “I manage conflict a lot,” replied Mehaffey. “Anytime there is a conflict it is because both parties are invested in the issue but they aren’t looking at it through the same lens. It doesn’t make either party wrong.” She encourages each party to listen to the other and come to a compromise if possible. “Sometime there can’t be a compromise,” she added. “Sometimes a decision is what the decision is.” Ryder replied, “And that’s your role when you get to that point.” Mehaffey agreed. “One thing that comes to mind is when parents have questions about the curriculum. The teachers went to school for this and they are experts. There are ways, and whys and what-fors” that are sometimes not apparent to parents, she said.

Contract negotiations. Because the superintendent is involved in contract negotiations with the teachers union, Salemy asked. “What steps would you take to make it go smoothly?” While stressing that she has never been involved in contract negotiations, Mehaffey said, “I see the role of superintendent is to present information to the School Committee about the needs of the teachers . . . including the issues and challenges they are facing.”

Budget. Koski asked Mehaffey how she would support extracting the “maximum value” under a tight budget. Mehaffey said she viewed the budget as “one of the biggest challenges.” She said Carlisle has a fabulous program, and high achievements are pushed. The school supports the arts and music, and the students strive “for the highest possible level.” Mehaffey would ask, “What do we have? What do we cherish? What is the data that supports what we do? Are there other ways to implement what we do? Will it be effective if it is done differently?” She said she would seek to “maintain the essence” of programs while keeping achievement high and class sizes low.

Administration reorganization. Ryder asked Mehaffey how she would balance taking on additional responsibilities, noting “You are already working incredibly hard.” Mehaffey said she created a Venn diagram with principal and superintendent duties, and analyzed what areas overlapped and how she might divide her time. “Both positions pay attention to areas like curriculum,” she said. Currently she is the middle school principal of grades 5 – 8. If chosen to take on the superintendent role, she would probably reduce her principal duties to grades 7 and 8. “Initially I would spend more time on the superintendency pieces,” she said, noting she has a “learning curve for superintendency responsibilities.” She added, “Right now I try to get back to people within 24 hours. That could vary day by day.” She would still attend team meetings, but not as frequently.

Since she would reduce her principal responsibilities, she would have Director of Student Services Karen Slack take on the role of principal for kindergarten, and Elementary Principal Patrice Hurley would cover grades 1 – 6. However, she said that next year Slack is facing a Special Education state audit “which requires intensive work.” “I need to have conversations with Patrice and Karen” to confirm the model, she added.

Technology. Fink asked Mehaffey what she sees as the role of technology in classrooms. “I see the role of technology is to enhance learning,” said Mehaffey. She said that the teachers that have whiteboards make full use of them, creating interactive lessons. “I don’t think we add technology for technology’s sake,” she said. “It is a tool, used to augment teaching and learning.” Fink asked, “Do you see any changes in the progression of technology deployed here?” Mehaffey said she encourages teachers to request technology that supports what they are teaching. As an example she said she urged seventh-grade science teacher Brad Cranston to put in a grant request to the CSA for digital cameras and microscopes. “It is okay to ask for more. Might not get it, but it is okay to ask.”

Mehaffey’s questions for the CSC. Fink asked Mehaffey, “What questions do you have for us?” Mehaffey replied she had three or four questions. “What is it that you have for goals for the district with the reorganization? What do you value about Carlisle and want sustained?” Ryder replied, “We want to continue to maintain and improve the academic excellence that is so part of the school and the experience the children have when they are here.” Fink added, “The difficult budget is the reason for the reduction of the administration.” He asked that Mehaffey “work with us on the budget” to recommend areas to help manage costs. “I know it is a difficult thing to do. It is what we are all confronted with.” Ryder said she would like to see “high levels of collaboration” to come up with creative solutions. “It is going to be tough in the years coming up,” Ryder added. Koski said he would like to see a “sense of humor,” and help to bring “all parties together.” Salemy said the good news is that the “town strongly supports the school.” Mehaffey said, “I feel strongly that in order to lead you have to have a good relationship with people.”

Koski thanked Mehaffey and said they were happy that she was willing to step forward.

Next steps

The CSC will hold a public forum with Mehaffey on February 10 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Clark Room at the Town Hall, as well as an informal “meet and greet” earlier the same day from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Corey dining room. Town Moderator Wayne Davis has agreed to moderate the public forum. Members of the public can submit questions to the CSC by email ( or by submitting questions on a card at the forum. Koski said the CSC will meet on March 3 to deliberate, with a decision likely by March 17. ∆

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