By Andrew Feinberg, Forest Lanciloti and Kiril Zhdanov
Photo contributed by Anna Nolin, Graphic by Adrienne Lirio
On Feb. 7, Newton’s School Committee unanimously selected Anna Nolin as the new superintendent of Newton Public Schools (NPS). After serving 12 years as superintendent, David Fleishman announced his departure from NPS on April 7, 2022.
Since then, the School Committee has had 10 months to fill the position for the 2023-24 school year, hiring Kathleen Smith as interim superintendent for the 2022-23 school year while conducting a search for a permanent replacement.
Smith served as interim public school superintendent four times: in the Salem Public Schools, Weymouth Public Schools, Dover-Sherborn Public Schools and now NPS. Smith said that she enjoys being an interim and working with others.
“I call [being an interim] an adventure because I have been able to meet people that I really wouldn’t have met previous to this,” she said. “I’ve worked really closely with elected officials and school committee members, I’ve gotten to know my central staff and principals and most importantly, I have really enjoyed when I have had opportunities to meet students throughout the state.”
On Nov. 5, 2022, the Superintendent Search Committee, composed of NPS staff, administrators and Newton community members, held its first meeting. After reviewing all applications, the committee selected three semifinalists for interviews.
Of the three candidates, Nolin, the current Natick Public Schools superintendent, was chosen. In addition to her role in Natick Public Schools, she currently serves as a professor at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College and has experience as an interim and assistant principal in the Natick.
Ultimately, Nolin said that she was chosen because she met the leadership profile NPS wanted.
“They told me that they were looking for someone who could be a really strong communicator and champion for the needs of the new schools,” she said. “That is what I proved that I could do through those public interviews. I could connect quickly, and communicate clearly with energy and care. For that reason, I think what they want and what I can provide are a good match.”
NPS is currently ranked ninth on the list of Massachusetts public schools, but Nolin said that one of her goals is to climb to the top.
“[NPS] will be the best school system anywhere in this nation. That is what I want: number one in the number one state for education,” she said.
Ward Eight School Committee member Cove Davis said that the process of hiring a superintendent was more meaningful than just finding someone to fill the position.
“It was a chance to hire a new superintendent, but also to have an opportunity to talk to the whole community,” she said.
Davis said the superintendent search committee sent out a survey to the Newton community asking what values, communication skills and leadership type they wanted in their next superintendent.
“Some people got interviewed, like School Committee members, principals, central office,” she said. “Initial focus groups and surveys formed this leadership profile that we came up with, based on feedback from the community about what was important to them.”
Ward Three School Committee member Anping Shen said that the survey’s results were very helpful in the search.
“[There were] a lot of common themes like vision and values, teaching and learning, community engagement and management. They all think these are very important qualities for the future leader,” he said. “With these survey results … in our mind, we could make our determination to see which candidate hit our preferred leadership profile best.”
Junior and student representative on the search committee Phoebe Anthony said that the survey enabled different voices to be heard around the community.
“Because the survey was so broad and available to anyone who could take it, it pretty much covered all the different communities and different identities.”
Smith said that as the budget continues to be a major issue for the district, she hopes matters will improve in the future.
“I am concerned about the present state of the budget, but I am very hopeful that we will find our way forward with a sustainable budget and build it back over time.”
Despite concerns, Smith said she is confident in both the district and Nolin’s ability to improve NPS.
“Looking back, it’s been a challenge, but I’ve had people by my side all the way. I feel you’ve had great collaboration and wonderful teams here, and I’m very hopeful for Dr. Nolin in the future.”