Update on interim superintendent hiring process

On July 12, in a public meeting of the Northampton School Committee, we learned that Dr. Jake Eberwein declined the offer to become Northampton’s interim superintendent. Based on what was shared, he declined due to a desire to continue his consulting work. 

We are happy to announce that the committee unanimously voted to offer the position to Dr. Jannell Pearson-Campbell. We encourage everyone to watch the 30-minute recording of the vote and discussion that led up to it. It has its sobering, frustrating moments as well as some moments of brave vulnerability and grappling with how white supremacy was an underlying thread in the original vote and decision-making process. We thank Member Emily Serafy-Cox for requesting that the School Committee focus on anti-bias/anti-racist training at its next retreat, and we thank Vice Chair Gwen Agna for granting that request.

We are crossing our fingers that Dr. Pearson-Campbell accepts the position. In the meantime, though, we encourage the following: 

  • Community members to attend the School Committee’s open office hours, led by Vice Chair Gwen Agna the first Tuesday of each month at 4:00 p.m., to continue sharing reflections, needs, and other feedback on equity and healing in our district. Note that Gwen Agna communicates the locations of these sessions and related updates on her Instagram and can also be emailed for information. The next session will be held next Tuesday, July 19, at Hampshire Heights in front of apartment 19C (rescheduled from this week due to rain).
  • The School Committee to: 
    • Confront and reflect on the interim superintendent hiring and decision-making process. The School Committee has verbally committed to shifting our district’s culture and operations to be grounded in restorative practices–this is an important moment to start doing that, at a leadership level. One idea is to invite the Collaborative Resolutions Group, which is respected across Massachusetts as an organization steeped in conflict resolution and restorative practices, to facilitate a listening session that includes the School Committee and interested community members. 
    • Add open office hours that fall outside of daytime work hours so that more community members are able to attend.
    • Begin strategizing and planning ways to hear from and emphasize the voices of students, staff, and community members, particularly those of color, in the permanent search process to ascertain what people most need and want in a leader right now.
    • In response to the district’s recent hiring of an outside group to analyze our poor track record of hiring and retaining teachers and staff of color, publicly release those findings and hold facilitated dialogues internally and with interested NPS stakeholders (community members, staff, students) about actions/solutions based on the findings.

Response to interim superintendent vote

REAL is disappointed, saddened, and angered over the Northampton School Committee’s recent decision to not offer Dr. Jannell Pearson-Campbell the Interim Superintendent position. The recorded interviews with the three finalists and the dialogue and decision-making that followed offer a case study in the nuanced and pernicious ways that systemic racism and white supremacy culture operate. 

Our district has spent a good deal of time talking about equity, inclusion, healing, and anti-bias education; about our poor track record of hiring and retaining teachers and staff of color; about the urgent need to have children of color see their brilliant and strong selves reflected in and by the adults surrounding them in school; and about the need for white children to see that white people aren’t the only ones who get to be in leadership positions. 

And yet on July 7, 2022, our district—when presented with an abundantly qualified Black woman with 22 years of education experience, recent experience as an assistant superintendent during one of the most challenging times in public education, glowing references that spotlighted the most necessary elements of strong leadership, and an expressed commitment to emphasizing student voices, equity, healing, and collaboration—chose not to take action that backs up its talk. We chose to not hire Dr. Pearson-Campbell, after committee members praised her and wrung their hands over how tough the decision was. The all-white committee instead offered the position to a white man, Dr. Howard “Jake” Eberwein. 

Northampton failed here. Rather than just sigh, shake our heads, and move on, REAL requests the following: 

  • We ask that Dr. Eberwein, to honor the crucial work of anti-racism, decline the offer of interim superintendent and instead show support for Dr. Pearson-Campbell’s candidacy.
  • We ask that the School Committee offer the position to Dr. Pearson-Campbell, who noted at the July 7 meeting that she was available to start immediately. 
  • Regardless of the outcome of the above, we ask that School Committee members commit to engaging in anti-racist training and use this recent experience to inform dialogue, among themselves and with interested members of the NPS community, about ways that white supremacy culture played out in the hiring process and how future processes might protect against it. 

For more about how NPS community members have been impacted by the School Committee’s choice, we invite you to read some of the emails being sent to School Committee members.* We also encourage those who weren’t at the July 7 meeting and who haven’t viewed the recording to do so.

[28:52 to 1:03:18] Dr. Jannell Pearson-Campbell interview
[1:13:55 to 1:47:48] Dr. Marlene DiLeo interview
[2:00:30 to 2:44:08] Dr. Jake Eberwein interview (note that the beginning is cut off)
[2:54:10 to 4:13:03] School Committee in conversation about the interviews and vote to hire Dr. Eberwein

Finally, please tune into the School Committee meeting tonight at 6:30 for the next decisions on the interim superintendent hire. Zoom log-in info and the agenda are here.

*Please let us know if you would like us to add your own email to the School Committee to our running document.

Shine On, Jen Lucine

Jackson Street School kindergarten teacher and activist Jen Lucine wants to help her students feel seen and heard—”a real sense of belonging in their community,” she says. Now in her fifteenth year of teaching at JSS, Jen is a passionate advocate for social justice, which for her goes hand in hand with educating some of our district’s youngest.

Integrating social justice into her curriculum intentionally and in everyday ways, Jen emphasizes play at every turn, seeing this as an important tool for promoting principles of equity and inclusion.

“Play is the work of early childhood; it is the language of young children,” she says. “When children are given a chance to play, they are communicating on their terms, they are learning at their level, and they are engaging with the creation of a classroom community. And building a sense of identity and community is central to creating a more socially just environment.”

At the start of each school year, Jen supports her students in exploring their personal identities, then moving into discussions of family and community identity. The role of changemakers, including those from the civil rights and women’s liberation movements, is another point of focus in Jen’s classroom, which is adorned with images and other materials that reflect our multicultural society.

“We learn about people from all over the world, both historical and current, who [made and who] want to make change and why,” she shares. “We treat these individuals as mentors in thinking about how we can make change when we see injustice in the world. And whenever possible we look to local events and local activism as inspiration.”

Jen loves seeing her students respond positively to her teaching and gain awareness of the world around them. In 2020 she read aloud a book, We Are Water Protectors, inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline and the protests of Indigenous communities to its proposed construction, then mailed messages of support from her students to a Cheyenne River Sioux water protector who was facing jail time (see photos). 

Jen wishes more people could experience what she calls the magic happening across her elementary school, including inspiring conversations about social justice within the classrooms and the brilliance of young people’s thoughts, ideas, and play. It is so infused throughout the community that Jen insists that the Shine On spotlight be shared with all of her colleagues and students across Jackson Street School.

In her words: “I am one among many.”

With its “Shine On” series, REAL spotlights educators, caregivers, staff, and students who are using their energy, creativity, and heart to build community and dismantle systemic racism in Northampton Public Schools and beyond.

NHS conflicts & the need for restorative practices

[From an email sent March 16, 2022]

Dear School Committee Members and Superintendent Provost,

We, along with the broader community, have been watching recent exchanges at School Committee meetings about the shift to embedded honors in math courses at NHS. We have also read Susan Voss’s collection of Principal Vallaincourt’s correspondence–and we feel compelled to comment.

First, we want to clarify that, contrary to what’s in an email from Principal Vaillancourt on page 199 of Susan’s compilation, REAL never endorsed the shift to embedded honors in math at the high school.

Second, we want to express our disappointment at Principal Vallincourt’s urging of a colleague to “keep talking equity and they will be in our camp.” This use of “equity,” seemingly as a buzzword to persuade stakeholders of her position, devalues the actual work of equity and the many people across our district who are committed to it. And while we acknowledge there could be context around this quote that adds some nuance, the statement certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. Reasonable people can have different approaches to achieving district-wide equity, but all such approaches must involve respectful, inclusive, and transparent discussion.

We also read in the recent Gazette article that the move to embed honors in math has been in process since 2015, and yet it appears that the School Committee and caregivers only became aware of that change in 2021. Perhaps some of the tension and misunderstanding about the shift could have been alleviated with greater transparency and substantive engagement with all stakeholders over the years.

For REAL, the recent conflicts strongly underline the need for a deep investment of time and resources into restorative practices (RP) in the district. We believe that the RP approach to community building and conflict resolution is foundational to a school district that honors the dignity of all students and adults–and we can see how, in our current climate, taking a dedicated, well-funded restorative practices approach could give all parties a chance to be heard, accept accountability as appropriate, and move toward healing when people cause and experience harm.

As such, we fully support the RP funding that Superintendent Provost discussed in his recent budget proposal, to enable NPS stakeholders to develop a robust and sustainable plan for ongoing training and implementation of restorative practices across the district. And in the nearer term, one RP-aligned move that could be implemented by district leaders is to provide the NHS Student Union, and other students as applicable, with “restorative response” resources due to how they have been drawn into the conflict over embedded honors. It would likely be useful for these students to be part of a facilitated process during which they could debrief recent events and construct, together, a path forward. We would be happy to connect with you further on what this support might look like.

This is a tumultuous time in our world and district. We deeply appreciate all of your dedicated work in navigating with care, compassion, and inclusivity.


The REAL Coordinating Team

Reflect, discuss

Prompts for personal reflection and conversation with others:

> What do you experience in your body (sensations), heart (feelings), and/or head (thoughts) on reading the stories we just posted?

> What do these stories make you want to do/say? What feels possible for you to do/say? What feels hard and/or hopeful?

> Who has the power in these stories? Whose voice/s are not being heard?

> What choices might the people in these stories have had–and/or not have had? What is the impact of the choices they make?

> What might they have said or done differently in the moment–or afterward–and what impact might it have had?