Choosing Superintendent-Elect Philip Conrad

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The superintendent-elect of the Bedford Public Schools began his career as an art teacher, has led two Essex County high schools and is a member of the state education department’s Kaleidoscope Collective cohort.

Wednesday afternoon the School Committee unanimously voted to offer the position to Andover High School Principal Philip Conrad, effective July 1. Later that afternoon Conrad accepted, and soon discussions will begin on a contract.

The appointment culminates a months-long process to succeed Superintendent Jon Sills, who is retiring.

Mr. Conrad, principal at Andover High since 2015, began his career as an art teacher and department head at Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, NH. His undergraduate degree at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is in fine arts. Conrad taught for several years at Hamilton-Wenham High School and was principal of Rockport Middle High School before taking the helm at Andover High School in 2015.

The School Committee met Wednesday on a public videoconference platform. As they took turns sharing their impressions of the finalists, gleaned from personal and group interviews, and reference checks, it became apparent that Conrad was the favorite, even with the self-imposed rule requiring at least four votes for appointment. Members also were laudatory about the runners-up, Anthony Parker, principal of Weston High School, and Nan Murphy, former principal of McAuliffe School in Lowell and now with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

School Committee member Dan Brosgol, citing Conrad’s innovative ideas, noted his “outstanding answer on how to use not just local but also state and federal resources.” He was the only finalist who provided examples of questions to ask job applicants, Brosgol said, and the candidate acknowledged that high-achieving districts can still include “stagnant” achievers. “He spoke almost flawlessly, pacing himself in command of the language,” Brosgol pointed out.

Brad Morrison noted that Conrad “followed a very traditional path, from teacher to department chair to principal, and that made me feel the step to superintendent is an appropriate one for him now… More than anything, what came through quite powerfully for me is he is a man with a very strong value system. It was quite clear to me that his values would translate to the front lines for teachers and kids throughout the system.”

Sarah Scoville, noting that Conrad began his career as an art teacher, said, “He understands balancing everyone’s needs in a budget.” She also mentioned his experience advocating for his district at the state level, particularly by inviting legislators to spend a day at the high school.

Among Conrad’s strengths cited by committee member Ann Guay were the experience of developing a budget covering all the grades as well as working through a period of financial challenges. “He placed an incredible amount of emphasis on social-emotional learning,” she said. “While you want to be a high-performing district, it’s important to meet the students’ needs.  He wanted to help every student become a better learner.”

JoAnn Santiago, School Committee chair, noted Conrad’s experience in some of the central responsibilities of a superintendent, including strategic planning, district-wide budgeting, and community advocacy.

She also pointed out that Conrad “faced some very public controversies in Andover, and people told me he handled them well on behalf of the district.”

Scoville stressed the candidate’s “priority on building relationships,” and Santiago endorsed that point. Bedford schools, she said, “really benefit from the collegial atmosphere among staff, town officials, the School Committee. He is really skilled in being able to build relationships. That’s something that could be very beneficial to continue the collegial atmosphere.” Morrison pointed to Conrad’s intention “to seek trust in the community.”

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education describes the Kaleidoscope Collective as “a pilot program created to nurture deeper learning in Massachusetts public schools. The pilot will give individual schools and entire districts the chance to rethink classroom instruction around deeper learning.”

Before the exchange among members, Santiago reviewed the process leading to the finalists. Each met with district leadership and had a conversation on Bedford TV answering questions from students, teachers, staff and community members. Almost 200 responses were received in a survey that followed televised interviews. School Committee members also reported on reference checks with colleagues, mentors, students, teachers and parents in the finalists’ respective districts.

Bedford hasn’t undertaken a full superintendent search since 1981 when Joseph Buckley was appointed to the position. Subsequent superintendents were Dr. Maureen Lacroix, who moved up after serving as Buckley’s assistant superintendent, and then Sills, who served as Bedford High School principal.

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