GROTON -- At the conclusion of a Jan. 15 meeting held to consider finalists in the search for a new superintendent, the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee found members divided not only over who to choose but whether they should choose anyone at all.

Clearly dissatisfied with the choices, John Giger told fellow committee members that they had four choices before them, one of the three finalists or none at all necessitating a restart of the search process.

Committee chairman Allison Manugian even noted the low energy level among members toward the three finalists.

"We have some things to digest here," said committee member James Frey pointing out that each of the candidates had at least something missing from their resumes and that he was not prepared to advocate for any of them. "Even though none of us are jumping up and down over these candidates, we can agree that they are all capable. We may be shooting for the impossible."

The lack of enthusiasm comes following a search process that yielded 26 applications from which three finalists were chosen: superintendent of the Mashpee school system Ann Bradshaw, superintendent of the Beverly school system Marie Galinski, and superintendent of schools for the New Hampshire towns of Franklin and Hill, Maureen Ward.

School Committee members interviewed each of the candidates individually over the past couple weeks and followed up with site visits before the Jan. 15 meeting.

That meeting began strongly with members speaking positively of Bradshaw, characterizing her as "well balanced," "very professional," "a believer in technology," and "very strong in connecting with the community."

"I found Galinsky extremely professional," said committee member Jon Sjoberg of the next candidate. "I found it refreshing how everything tied back to the long term goal (her strategic plan)."

"She was the least positive about spending a good deal of time with us," returned Giger. "I listed that as a lingering unknown. To me, that was not trivial."

One criticism of Galinsky was that if hired, she seemed reluctant to commit herself to staying with the district beyond the three year contract she was being offered, something that Giger was uncomfortable with.

But Sjoberg defended the candidate's candor.

"It was the most true answer you could give," said Sjoberg reminding his colleagues that they did not promise Galinsky that they would keep her beyond the initial three year contract either.

Commenting on the final candidate, Frey noted her positive attitude.

"(Ward) was definitely the most enthusiastic of the candidates in terms of what she does," said Frey. "She had a more interesting and varied background."

"When she said that she was thinking outside the box," said Sjoberg of the candidate's experience in schools across the country and Canada, "her box is bigger than others. Thinking out of a little box is not very hard. I think she is doing a fantastic job in Franklin. It was one of the ten lowest performing districts in New Hampshire and she has done wonders with that."

But in Ward's case, committee members said that they were not looking for a "turnaround expert," they wanted someone who could take a high performing school district like Groton-Dunstable and take it forward.

Committee member Leslie Lathrop also noted that Ward was not technology savvy, a quality deemed important as the district begins to move aggressively to introduce computers in every classroom.

After reviewing the candidates, Manugian reminded members that they were looking for someone who would be a "good fit" for Groton-Dunstable and noting the lack of enthusiasm for any of the finalists, suggested that the search process could be started over but that it would mean going without a permanent superintendent for at least two years.

Giger noted that none of the finalists were coming from school districts that were close to the performance level of Groton-Dunstable.

In response, Sjoberg said that not every candidate would be able to fulfill all the expectations of the committee but one could cover most of them. Leaning toward Galinsky, Sjoberg noted that "solid professionalism is a good thing for the district."

Unable to move forward, committee members decided to take up the discussion again on Jan. 18 when one way or another, they hoped to arrive at a decision whether to hire one of the three candidates or restart the search process.