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Hopkinton schools lose pair of administrators as Zaleski, Bilello accept positions in other towns

by | Apr 14, 2023 | Education, Featured: Education

The Weston School Committee on Friday voted unanimously to appoint Karen Zaleski as its interim superintendent for a year, beginning July 1, pending successful contract negotiations.

Zaleski has been director of student services in Hopkinton for nine years.

Weston’s Superintendent Marguerite Connolly decided to pursue other opportunities.

Weston School Committee Chair Kenneth Newberg said it would be included in the contract that the interim superintendent participate in a training program by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) and that funds are set aside for an external mentor as well.

A search committee narrowed the field to three finalists: Zaleski, Weston Middle School principal John Gibbons and Weston High School principal Paul Peri.

Newberg said the salary range for the position is $200,000 to $220,000 and the search for a permanent superintendent would begin in the fall.

The next step will be “meet and greets” after spring break, he said.

Committee members praised all the finalists, with Zaleski standing out because of her administrative experience, leadership in special education, and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

In a recommendation letter, Hopkinton Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh described Zaleski as “highly educated, exceedingly efficient in her leadership and personally gracious.”

Cavanaugh said in addition to being responsible for the district’s SPED programming, Zaleski was a member of the leadership team and played a “key role” in curriculum development.

Cavanaugh also praised Zaleski’s ability in budgeting, saying it is “an area of strength with a student-center focus.”

Further, Hopkinton Public Schools Director of Finance and Operations Susan Rothermich endorsed her colleague, noting, “Her management ability, fiscal prowess, vision and sincere concern for student quality is a valuable asset.”

The search process included interviews on April 5 with the three finalists each asked 22 questions. On April 10, the candidates participated in a public forum on Zoom. School Committee members deliberated on April 12 and voted Friday.

During her interview, Zaleski said that she is “passionate and energetic,” and before she ends her career, it is her mission to be a superintendent.

When asked on a scale of 1 to 10 how interested she would be in seeking the permanent role next year, Zaleski responded, “10 plus.”

She also spoke about the importance of building trust with community stakeholders, having healthy dialogue and “rigor, high expectations and accountability.”

Zaleski acknowledged the public outcry that occurred in Hopkinton when she proposed cuts to therapy positions during the budget process. The experience taught her to “check for clarity and understanding” in the future, she said.

Zaleski holds a doctorate of education in educational leadership with a concentration in superintendent leadership from Boston College. She earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Assumption College.

She also is an adjunct professor at Ana Maria College in the graduate psychology department.

Prior to coming to Hopkinton, she served as director of pupil services in the Spencer/East Brookfield district and assistant principal for Southbridge schools.

Zaleski is a licensed mental health and substance abuse clinician and school adjustment counselor. She began her career at Adcare and UMass Hospital in Worcester.

Hopkins principal also departing

During Thursday’s Hopkinton School Committee meeting, Cavanaugh announced that Hopkins School Principal Vanessa Bilello was moving on to become principal at K-8 Lawrence School in Brookline, effective July 1.

Bilello has been principal at Hopkins for seven years and before that was assistant principal for two years.

Cavanaugh said, “She will surely be missed. She’s an amazing instructional leader. Good for Brookline. Not so good for Hopkinton.”

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