Falmouth four superintendent finalists - a mixed bag

Two are good choices, two are non-starters - Nauset's Bonny Gifford and the Vineyard's Laurie Halt are better competitors than the others
The Falmouth School Committee has released the names of four superintendent finalists

How do they rank in school competition?

The Falmouth School Committee has released the names of four finalists to succeed retiring Superintendent of Schools Marc Dupuis. The finalists are:

  • Bonny Gifford, Assistant Superintendent, Nauset Regional Schools
  • Laurie Halt, Assistant Superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Martha’s Vineyard
  • Steven Hiersche, Interim Superintendent, Hopkinton Public Schools
  • Mark Wilson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Falmouth Public Schools

Falmouth Schools’ Profile

Falmouth is a school district of 3,536 students. 83.9% are white, 4.3% African American, 4.4% mixed race, non-Hispanic, 3.3% Hispanic, 2.6% Asian, 1.3% Native American and .1% Pacific Islander.

District-wide MCAS scores show 76% of Falmouth’s students proficient or better in English Language Arts (ELA), 67% in Math and 57% in Science/Tech/Engineering (STE).

Falmouth accepted 67 school choice students and lost 36 to other districts, a net profit of $132,247. Falmouth lost 80 students to charter schools at a gross cost of $1.19 million.

The “Non-Starters”: Falmouth's Mark Wilson and Hopkinton's  Steven Hiersche

Falmouth Public Schools’ school competition profile is middle-of-the-road for Cape Cod, with a respectable gain in school choice but a large loss to charters. Their MCAS scores raise an eyebrow, though, when one considers the math and STE scores of the students in the hometown of venerable institutions such as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Marine Biological Laboratory.

Given Falmouth’s middle of the road competitive standing and less than stellar MCAS, we consider Mark Wilson a non-starter. As the curriculum and instruction director who presided over such mediocrity, he should stay in the gate. Falmouth needs a change agent both academically and competitively.

It doesn’t seem quite fair to rank Steven Hiersche on the performance of the Hopkinton Public Schools, as he’s merely the interim superintendent there.

Hiersche only stayed at Framingham for three years, from 2009 to 2012, citing that “for personal and professional reasons, I felt it was time for a change…” according to an article in the Metrowest Daily News at the time of his resignation. His Linkedin profile states that he served five years in Watertown and six years in Plymouth. Hiersche always seems to land on his feet, with no gaps of unemployment in his vitae.

However his sojourn through superintendent positions raises concern whether he would be a “drive by superintendent” who might not offer the stability Falmouth Public Schools enjoyed with someone like retiring Superintendent Dupuis who spent most of his career in ascending positions at Falmouth.

The “Competitors”: Martha's Vineyard's Laurie Halt and Nauset's Bonny Gifford

Laurie Halt of Martha’s Vineyard comes from a 684 student school district. MV’s enrollment is 79% white, 9.1% Hispanic, 5.1% multi-race, 2.8% African American, 2.6% Native American and 1% other.

Her MCAS scores as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction are impressive: 97% proficient or better in ELA, 86% in Math and 75% in STE. If Falmouth is looking to improve their academics, Ms. Halt might be a good fit.

In terms of competition, MV’s record is not strong. They lost 37 students to charter schools and are not listed on the school choice report from Massachusetts DESE.

Bonny Gifford is assistant superintendent of the Cape’s powerhouse school competitor. This year Nauset is hosting 277 school choice students at a profit of a cool $1.3 million – the best on Cape Cod. Nauset’s 1,545 students are 89% white, 3.3% African American, 3.4% Hispanic, 2.1% Asian and 2.1% other.

Nauset’s MCAS scores show the Grade 8-12 district with 90% of its students proficient or better in ELA, 77% in Math and 78% in STE. Gifford’s district is not quite as strong as Martha’s Vineyard in MCAS but wins the school competition.

In terms of school competition, Bonny Gifford takes the prize for her work at Nauset. Coming from a successful, moderately-sized district we believe Dr. Gifford could bring some of the Nauset’s skill in student recruitment and “retail education” to Falmouth.

She is part of a strong administrative team at Nauset and is one of the architect’s of Nauset’s “educating the whole child” system of retail education that is practiced so well on the Lower Cape.

A Different Set of Needs

We find it odd that there is not a single permanently employed superintendent in Falmouth’s list of finalists.

That said, Falmouth is not a district that we feel is “at risk” in the same way that Monomoy is threatened by Nauset and Dennis-Yarmouth. We don’t find it “vulnerable” in the way we do Barnstable. Rather, Falmouth is a good district with hints of mediocrity.

For Falmouth, therefore, we are not hesitant to see a first time superintendent offered the job.

Either Bonny Gifford or Laurie Halt would bring the promise of necessary academic improvements to Falmouth, however we believe Dr. Gifford would be able to advance the district in terms of how it competes for students on the Upper Cape.

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