HARVARD -- The School Committee last week hosted two public meetings to introduce the finalist candidates for Superintendent of the Harvard Public School District: Scott Carpenter and Jessica Huizenga .
The committee was expected to make its decision today but Huizenga has now withdrawn.
Principal/superintendent of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School since 2009, Carpenter holds an undergraduate degree in biology and a master's in biology and science. In 1993, he earned a Master of Arts in teaching science education from Boston University, adding principal certification and a master's degree in education from Harvard University Graduate School of Education in 2003.
He is currently working toward a doctorate in curriculum teaching, learning and leadership at Northeastern University's College of Professional Studies in Boston.
Previously, Carpenter taught science at Lexington High School for seven years, during which time he became a science and robotics adviser and coordinator for competitive teams that won several state and national championships. He also co-founded the school's robotics/engineering program, which now collaborates with local businesses. And he's still involved, continuing to "find ways to share my expertise with students."
His resume also lists summer jobs, including four summers as an educator for the Somerville Arts Council, working with inner city students on a mural project. During a three-summer stint at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., he was a science teacher in the Upward Bound program. He lives in Sudbury with his wife, a school psychologist, and their two children, a daughter in third grade and a son in fifth grade.
"Teaching is still a passion for me," Carpenter told the audience of parents, teachers, School Committee members, students and others. "My heart is in the classroom."
Q: As a science teacher, how would you increase girls' participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs?
A: Carpenter said that's an issue, even at the introductory, after-school level, where he has observed a LEGO-based program consisting of all boys. And his daughter, he said, dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress rather than an engineer. His advice to youngsters at this stage is to "shoot to be an engineer first," movie star second.
On a more serious note, he said that schools, teachers, parents and other adults who work with students need to "create opportunities" to spark interest in STEM fields.
His role as superintendent would be to hire teachers able and willing to engage students, he said, like the fourth-grade teacher who "hooked" him on science. Perhaps after-school activities should aim at "special interests" that would draw more girls, he said.
Other topics that came up included declining enrollment, working relationships with teachers and communication with the larger community.
With the post baby-boom "bubble" ready to pop over the next four or five years, many communities face lower enrollment, which in small school systems like Harvard can impact programs. But the good news is it also means decreased class sizes, which he views as a plus for student performance, Carpenter said.
Q: "We're involved and opinionated. ... How will you work with us?" asked a Bromfield Student Council member.
A: Carpenter channeled his own experience as student body president in college. "I know it can be frustrating when you have ideas" that administrators don't follow up on, he said. "It's important to have student voices at the table."
The superintendent should have an advisory group with students on it, he continued, citing anecdotal evidence that this approach works.
Asked how he envisions "making a positive impact here," Carpenter said his first step forward would be to stand back and learn. That said, he's comfortable making touch decisions when necessary, he said.
For example, freeing up $200,000 for Lincoln-Sudbury's METCO program by combining three high-paid directors into one job. It was a controversial move, given that the directors were all African-American women and the call for change came from caucasian males. Despite some "heated" School Committee meetings and one hire that didn't work out, the administration stood firm and improved the program as a result, Carpenter said.
Q: Citing a rash of vandalism at Bromfield last year and recent violent incidents at schools in other states, a student asked Carpenter how he would handle security.
A: Again, he'd have to learn about the school's culture before making changes, Carpenter said, but he's no stranger to tragedy. A student was "stabbed to death" at his school in Sudbury during his tenure there. "He died right in front of me," he said.
An experience like that is life-changing, he said. "I'm someone who will take a stand" if increased security or other changes are needed to keep students safe. But he does not favor making a school into a fortress. At Lincoln-Sudbury, there are now cameras at all three unlocked entries, all of which are buzzer-controlled, and the system allows individual doors to be locked and can seal off access to areas of the building. Armed guards, in his opinion, do not necessarily equate increased safety any more than a police officer with a maching gun made him feel safer at the airport when he took a trip, he said.
Communities must be aware of and attentive to mental-health issues, he said, referencing an apparent cause of some school shootings and the murder in Sudbury, committed by a student with a diagnosed disorder. If the issues pertain to students, it may lead to "tough conversations" with parents about "support and prevention," Carpenter said.
Q: A Harvard Teacher's Association member asked Carpenter about establishing positive relationships, particularly with negotiations coming up next year.
A: Hopefully, those talks will "go better than in my district," where he said there have been numerous budget-related layoffs and teachers have been working without a contract for 16 months.
It isn't that teachers are not valued, he said, but when a community doesn't "fiscally support" school budgets, layoffs eventually result, after all other possible cuts are made.
Q: How do you plan to stay in touch with the community?
A: In his current job, Carpenter hosts monthly coffees with parents. He also tries to show up at as many PTO events as possible and other gatherings he's invited to attend. He also makes himself available via email and posts updates on the school website.