By Neil Fater
---- — Superintendent of Schools Marinel McGrath has been given a five-year contract extension that will keep her at the helm while the town decides whether to expand Andover High and build a prekindergarten building.
The School Committee voted 4-0-1 last Thursday with David Birnbach abstaining, due to concern about the length of the contract. McGrath’s current contract is a three-year contract. It will expire June 30. State law allows contracts of up to six years.
“When Marinel came in, one of the first things she did was complete the strategic plan for the schools,” said Chairwoman Paula Colby-Clements. “We feel that that plan is moving forward and we’re moving forward on the right path. Five years was important so she could continue to shepherd that.”
A copy of the contract was not immediately available at presstime. McGrath made more than $202,000 last year, with about $3,000 in retroactive pay. She is the highest paid Andover employee. Her new contract does not outline how much she will be paid. Committee members said they will evaluate McGrath at the end of the school year and determine any raise then.
“At the end of the year is when we do a performance review which ties to salary,” said Colby-Clements. “Clearly we talked about whether the performance warranted five additional years and we certainly thought that it did.”
“Marinel has done a great job being a leader, bringing the leadership team, the principals, together to think as one district,” said Colby-Clements. “She also has been very receptive to bringing in new programs. The EdEx program (taking courses online) is an example of that at the high school.”
“We wanted to have some consistency given everything we’ve been through in the past two to three years,” said committee member Dennis Forgue, referring to the difficult teachers contract negotiation, and turnover in leadership positions. Andover has a new Andover High principal, assistant superintendent and director of student services, which is the top special education position.
Forgue also noted the ongoing Bancroft Elementary construction project, and the Town Meeting warrant articles concerning possible building projects for Andover High and a new prekindergarten building. McGrath will continue to oversee those and relatively new initiatives such as offering online courses at Andover High, and potentially creating a preK pilot program with Merrimack College.
Colby-Clements and Forgue said they had not discussed having a public comment period for the community as part of the decision to offer a new contract.
Colby-Clements said the contract had been the stated reason for three executive sessions. The agendas noted their topic was “to discuss successor contract for superintendent.”
“We get feedback on a regular basis, and we got feedback when we did our evaluation last June,” Forgue said. “But I don’t believe there was an official public session around the extension.”
Forgue said residents could have commented at the School Committee meeting on Thursday, March 21, when the item was on the agenda and the vote was taken.
Colby-Clements said that during McGrath’s next five years she expects to see the strategic plan advanced, with an emphasis on providing professional development, on offering world languages at the elementary-school level, and on beefing up the fine arts in part through the return of a K-12 fine arts coordinator.
“From my perspective, I would like to see further refinement of the budget process. The top priority by far is to move forward on [an expansion] for the high school,” said Forgue.
During the next five years, Forgue said he also wants to see a solution for the town’s prekindergarten program, and for online courses to be extended as one part of curriculum innovation, which also could include offering more interdisciplinary courses and pursuing partnerships with local colleges to offer more diverse courses.