By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — While describing the job held by Superintendent Marinel McGrath as nearly “untenable,” the School Committee is singing McGrath’s praises in executing the role while also offering suggestions for how she can improve as leader of the town’s school district.
The committee reviewed McGrath’s performance at their meeting yesterday, during which they said McGrath has taken a school district facing a multitude of issues three years ago into a much more positive direction.
While previous reviews of McGrath also had discussion of a raise attached to them, yesterday’s review didn’t have a bonus tied to it. When asked about a raise for McGrath, School Committee Chairman Dennis Forgue said the discussion hasn’t yet taken place but details would be forthcoming.
In his personal comments, Forgue said he often thinks “that, had you known everything you would be walking into three years ago, that you wouldn’t have accepted this job.”
“We’re so far beyond where we were three years ago, and that’s a remarkable accomplishment,” Forgue said. “This was a school system in trouble, going in a bad direction, and it’s now a school system with an enormous amount of potential.”
Committee member Annie Gilbert recalled the hiring process that brought McGrath to Andover, saying that she remembered “as we pulled all that information (about the position) together, feeling that the position is almost untenable, and thinking, ‘How is there anybody who can even do this?’”
Particularly called out on occasion was deliberations for the recent teacher’s union contracts, which started shortly after McGrath was hired in 2010 and continued to a heated end last summer.
“McGrath’s personal integrity, fortitude and determination are absolutely critical to the progress of the district, particularly in the aftermath of last year’s contract negotiations,” Forgue said, reading comments from the entire board. “Accountability in a student-first approach begins at the top, and in this area, we believe Dr. McGrath has shown tremendous strength and leadership by example.”
There is area for improvement. One suggestion the committee had was that McGrath should scale back her involvement in certain areas. One example directly highlighted the district’s leadership team of principals and administrators.
“With continued development in the leadership team, Dr. McGrath should hopefully be able to withdraw from some of the issues she currently has to deal with on a regular basis and have more opportunities to focus her efforts on the pursuit of educational excellence for the entire district,” Forgue said, reading from the summary.
The review also called for improvements at Andover High School, particularly “attention to curriculum and courses offered.” Their suggestion pointed directly to pruning away courses that are less relevant to the professional world today and “pursue what new courses would be conducive to better prepare our students.”
In discussing personnel management, the committee also advised McGrath to continue developing the school’s leadership team.
The charge “is critical in improving the culture there,” Forgue said.
While Forgue, Gilbert and member Paula Colby-Clements offered high praise of McGrath, one short of comments was committee member Barbara L’Italien, who only recently joined the committee after winning a seat in March’s town elections.
“I’m glad we’re making good progress. I’m glad we’re in a good place with our teachers. I’m glad we’re making strides with technology,” she said. “Hopefully, as things get well in hand, you can kind of move back from some of the hands-on stuff.”
Since her hire in 2010, raises for McGrath have come up twice. In 2011, she didn’t receive a raise after intentionally not building money into the budget for administrative raises due to budgetary concerns.
In 2012, a 1 percent raise brought her annual base salary to $196,506 with other compensation bringing the number to $202,894 — making her the highest paid official in the Merrimack Valley.
With the end of the fiscal year ending on Sunday, June 30, McGrath’s five year contract awarded in March will begin.