HUDSON — The process to find a new superintendent for the Hudson Public Schools has reached the beginning of the interview phase.
The committee began the first of five public interviews with the final five candidates for the superintendent position on March 7. That evening, Jannell Pearson-Campbell, who is currently the interim superintendent of Northampton Public Schools, answered questions from the school committee.
Following a question from member Christopher Yates, Pearson-Campbell said the three words that described herself were joyful, a visionary and ambitious.
She said people “need to see joy” at this point and need to able to have conversations to handle tough times. A visionary quality is necessary, she said, for people to see your vision of things, which she likened to the phone call Neo gets in “The Matrix.”
Sometimes, she believed, you have to be ambitious to move forward together, despite seeing things differently.
“The vision of the school district is to make sure whomever gets off the bus to any school is prepared for college,” Pearson-Campbell said.
Impression of the district, budget work
School Committee Chair Michele Tousignant Dufour asked Pearson-Campbell what her first impression was of the Hudson schools after her day spent visiting the district.
Pearson-Campbell said she met with staff, students and teachers and asked about how they contributed input to the schools. They asked her how she looks at equity and how she approaches the issue.
She called her visit “a great opportunity to hear from all different perspectives.” She complimented the district on providing space for learners of different abilities, such as the programs for autistic students and English Language Learners.
Speaking of the COVID-19 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, she said she would look at how to keep and grow these programs.
“You have all these programs, now how do you maintain them?” Pearson-Campbell said.
Another focus for her would be social and emotional support for staff and others in the schools after dealing with changes during the pandemic. Her goal is to see how to “move forward together.”
She described herself as a “Marine’s daughter” who was not afraid to have honest conversations about the finances for the district.
Member Steven Sharek asked for examples of difficult news she has had to deliver as an administrator and who she involved in such communication.
Pearson-Campbell said she is currently dealing with a deficit in her school district’s budget. This portion of difficult news she delivered through a newsletter and with communication with the press to let people know they are dealing with a hard budget year.
Pearson-Campbell said she was open about the budget process with administration and community members. There is the difficulty of “having ESSER funds going away,” but also maintaining staff. The balance is paying for what is needed, while keeping staff.
Member Steven Smith inquired about her process to develop the budget and how she sold the short-term and long-term budget needs to the community as a whole. Pearson-Campbell said she works with building principals and the business manager to look at checks and balances as well as the actuals from the previous year’s budget.
The school improvement plan is important, she said, because it is connected to the budget. She creates templates for each school so parents and other community members can focus on the financial situation in their school and track what is going on there.
To show the financial impact over time, she added, “I believe in creating a very simplified plan.”
Creating an anti-racist culture
Member Molly MacKenzie asked about how she would create an anti-racist culture to ensure a safe environment for all students.
Pearson-Campbell said as “a Black Southern woman of a later generation” she sees the world she wants to create – an equitable school culture. This means that she has honest conversations with her colleagues who are Caucasian. Often, she may be the first Black administrator they have had in the district.
She said it is about building relationships and talking about equity versus just sending a memo, for example. She will tell people who contact her about equity “if you come and sit down and talk to our staff” and explain how it will affect the schools, that is a good conversation.
The important part is to have an honest conversation “so we can move forward together,” according to Pearson-Campbell.
Member Mark Terra-Salomão asked if she could spend the last 15 years of her career focused on one aspect of being an educator, what would it be.
She would set high expectations for all students by ensuring staff has professional development opportunities and can teach diverse lessons. She went to school in Florida and still remembers the teacher who helped prepared her for higher education and life.
She wanted to be someone who supports and prepares all students, regardless of background or culture, for life and college.
“To me that has always been my goal, to be that person,” she said.