Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

July 4, 2013

McGrath receives high marks

Potential raise for school head unknown

By Dustin Luca
dluca@andovertownsman.com

---- — Superintendent Marinel McGrath’s leadership over a school district that faced a multitude of challenges in her first three years is worthy of applause, officials say.

But a raise for the town’s top school administrator is still outstanding.

The School Committee last week presented its third performance review of McGrath, praising her for effectively turning the school district around as it faced numerous obstacles when she was first hired on a three-year contract in 2010.

“I often think that, had you known everything you’d be walking into three years ago, that you wouldn’t have accepted this job,” committee Chairman Dennis Forgue said. “We’re so far beyond where we were three years ago, and that’s a remarkable accomplishment.”

As McGrath began her tenure as superintendent, the School Committee and Andover Education Association were embarking on what became nearly two years of tumultuous contract talks that often resulted in a lot of heat being directed at McGrath’s desk.

In its review, the committee said McGrath’s “personal integrity, fortitude and determination are absolutely critical to the progress of the district, particularly in the aftermath of last year’s contractual negotiations,” according to Forgue.

Committee member Annie Gilbert said as officials were working to hire McGrath, she felt the demand of the position made it “almost untenable.”

“Despite everything you have to do in the untenable job, the educator shines through,” she told McGrath. “We’re lucky for it.”

While the review was overwhelmingly positive, the committee also identified room for improvement.

One recommendation called for identifying high school courses that are less relevant in today’s world and pursuing new courses that would be conducive to better prepare students.

Another suggestion encouraged McGrath to focus on the continued development of the school’s administrative leadership team, which “is critical in improving the culture there,” the review read.

The School Committee also cautioned McGrath against becoming too involved in some areas of the district.

“With the continued development in the (district’s) 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,” it read.

McGrath, who spoke briefly at the end of the review, credited her team of leaders, saying that “the success of any one person is through a lot of people around them.”

“Everyone, I think they understand the vision, the course of that vision,” she said. “We’ll all just keep working together and continue to tell our story of learning.”

While McGrath’s last two performance reviews contained some discussion of a raise, a future performance boost was not part of the conversation at last Thursday’s meeting.

Whether McGrath will receive a raise this year hasn’t yet been discussed or determined, according to Forgue. Further information on that process will be forthcoming.

McGrath has received only one raise since she joined the district — a 1 percent bump last year that brought her base salary to $196,506. Additional compensation brings her gross salary to $202,894, making her the highest paid public official in the Merrimack Valley.

The previous year, McGrath’s annual budget request didn’t factor in money for administrative raises, resulting in her forgoing a pay hike following her first year of work.

Last Sunday marked both the close of the fiscal year and end of McGrath’s first contract. A new five-year contract for the superintendent, which was approved in March, took effect Monday and runs through 2018.