Superintendent Friend to Retire, Search Begins for His Replacement

HIs retirement has broad implications to the school system

Amsden Klinghard, Staff Reporter

Superintendent Theodore Friend has recently announced that he would be retiring before the start of the next school year: “I am retiring on August 31st, 2022”. Mr. Friend has been the superintendent of Sutton Public Schools for 12 years. 

“Mr. Friend has been the superintendent for just about as long as I have been in the school system, so having a steady and consistent figure like him during my years here has been great.” says senior Riley Towle. “Obviously as a senior this year I will never get to experience the new superintendent, but I would hope that they are just as personable and willing to cater to the students as Mr. Friend is.”

Senior Matteo D’Anello shares a similar sentiment: “I think that Mr. Friend has made a considerable impact on our graduating class and I feel he will be greatly missed in the classes below us. He’s always walking around the halls and popping into classrooms and that is something I will miss when I graduate soon.”

Further capturing the attention of Sutton High School students, the effort to hire a suitable replacement is already underway. The School Committee has partnered with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to help organize some aspects of the superintendent search. According to the MASC website, “With over 30 years’ successful search consulting experience, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees has provided technical assistance and/or complete search management to more than 200 member school districts across the state. We uphold our commitment to you, our members, by maintaining the highest standards of professionalism, integrity and accountability. As your Association, MASC is committed to helping you find the best leader for your particular district.”

A field director from MASC, Tracy Novick, recently spoke at a meeting with the School committee about the association’s role in the superintendent search: ¨The school committee has contracted with MASC to do the staffing portion of the search¨. She explains how the interests of the public will be taken into consideration: ¨What this means is that I have spent a bunch of time in your schools, have spent some time with your administrators, and am doing a session this evening and a session later this week for members of the public to be able to give input. Once that’ s completed I will be putting together a proposed position description for the school committee, which they’ll be taking up at a meeting on Feb. 7th¨.

Bruce Edwards, the chair of the Sutton School Committee, shares the details of how the superintendent search is organized and how the MASC fits into it. “They’ll put the job description out, and they’ll collect the applications, and they will lead the search committee through their process of narrowing down the pool of candidates to the semi finalists that will be presented to the school committee. They’re doing all the administrative and paperwork part of it ”.

The search committee is a group of students, parents, teachers, and other community members created; used only for the superintendent search, and serves as the third entity to play a role. According to Novick, “At that meeting [on Feb 7th] they not only will be talking about [the proposed position description], they also will be making their decision as to the seats that will be part of the search committee”.

The search committee is intended to allow members of the public to have a say in who will be selected, and to represent the public at large: “The search committee is a public body according to the Massachusetts general law for open meetings” (Novick).

While the members of the search committee have not yet been selected (as of Feb. 9th), it is clear that student input will play a large role in finding Friend’s replacement. On Tuesday, January 18th, a group of student leaders from each grade was asked to give their input on what qualities a new superintendent should have. The Sutton Student Council is also “working with the MASC to identify…two students to participate”, according to Mr. Edwards.

Mr. Edwards gives the final timeline for the selection process: “The applications go out now [Feb 9th] and they will be out until the second week of March when the application close. The MASC will present the applications to the search committee, and they will have a little bit of time to go through it. They will meet and discuss the applicants, and narrow down the pool of applicants to three or four who will be considered semi finalists. They will hold interviews with those semifinalists in the middle of March, and then they present a list to the school committee of the semifinalists. At that point the semi finalists will interview those people, and we’ll have them come out to the district and see the school. If they are superintendents or principals, we may go to their school districts and view them in their current role. Then the school committee will sit and have a discussion, and hopefully choose the next superintendent from the pool of candidates. The goal is to have this done by the end of April”.

What changes will the new superintendent bring to Sutton schools? Mr. Friend acknowledges that there might be a shift in priorities with his successor: “Whoever is hired, they’re going to come in and they’re going to say ‘How come Mr. Friend didn’t address this’ or ‘How come he didn’t do this?’. [This is] because there are always so many things that need to be done, and some things I prioritized over other things in my job, and so the next superintendent, they may prioritize a different set of challenges that they feel is important. It really comes down to who is hired and why they are hired, and what the expectations are of the new person…” 

Photographer: Amsden Klinghard

Mr. Friend’s biggest concern about his successor is that he or she will make decisions without first understanding the Sutton Schools community: “My number one piece of advice is that this is a great school system, and to take a year to get to understand the school system before implementing any … major changes within the district. Sutton is a great place, there is no hurry to make any changes”.

Friends’ retirement has broad implications to the school system at large. While students at Sutton Schools may recognize Mr. Friend from his classroom visits, those are far from a superintendent’s only responsibility. The superintendent is in charge of carrying out school board decisions, determining the short and long term goals of the school, and even hiring teachers, just to name a few. According to Mr. Friend “[A superintendent is in charge of] making sure that each and every day, our students receive the best possible education and social emotional support that we can give them”. “A superintendent is the executive of a school, just like you would have an executive at a company” says Mr. Edwards. A change in superintendent leadership can directly or indirectly affect anything from COVID policy to staffing, so Sutton students are left wondering how the decision will impact them. As of now, the future of Sutton Schools is up in the air, with potential for either sweeping change or for no change at all, depending on who is eventually hired. The seemingly complicated workings of the superintendent search can have effects years down the road, and the time period for students to share their vision is closing fast.