Retired superintendent to lead Hampshire Regional Schools on interim basis while search for permanent boss continues

By ALEXA LEWIS

Staff Writer

Published: 05-05-2024 4:01 PM

WESTHAMPTON — An experienced educator who recently led the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District has been offered the job of interim superintendent for the Hampshire Regional School District, giving the district another year to find a permanent replacement for outgoing Superintendent Diana Bonneville.

The Hampshire Regional School Committee interviewed and offered the interim job on April 25 to Albert G. Ganem Jr., who is currently assistant principal and director of admissions at Venerini Academy, a private Catholic school located in Worcester.

Seated before rows of bookshelves and engaged audience members in the Hampshire Regional High School library, the committee spent 90 minutes interviewing Ganem, who was recommended by Liz Lafond, a consultant on superintendent searches for Massachusetts school districts.

“I talked to three retired superintendents in the general western Mass. area,” Lafond said. “One felt very underqualified to come into a regional district and one felt like it was of interest but that the work on his plate was far too much to take it on this coming school year, and being that we were asked for a retired superintendent — somebody with experience — we had one candidate left.”

Ganem became a finalist for the position partly due to a lack of other qualified candidates, but also because of his own extensive qualifications for the position and the Massachusetts Association of School Committees’ familiarity with his previous work as superintendent.

“I certainly did vet [Ganem] with my colleagues, who were all in support knowing that they had worked with him in the past,” said Lafond. “Just like anywhere else, there isn’t a plethora of retired superintendents dying to come back to work.”

Ganem, who has been in education for more than 30 years as a teacher, principal, director of curriculum and former superintendent of Hampden-Wilbraham, from which he retired in 2022, Ganem told the committee that “after a month of being retired, I was ready to go back to work.”

Committee members asked Ganem a series of 14 questions, followed by deliberation and public commentary. The questions tested Ganem’s experience in facilitating communication between schools, districts, students and parents, and asked for potential first steps should he assume the position.

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Committee members said they were impressed by Ganem’s positive attitude and emphasis on professional development.

“When stuff hits the fan, I’m the fan,” said Ganem when asked about his willingness to be the decision maker and voice for the district. “I think I’m a good communicator. ... I’m not afraid of difficult conversations.”

Upon Ganem’s retirement from his previous superintendent position, he himself was the subject of a difficult conversation. The State Ethics Commission chastised Ganem for nepotism hires. According to the Ethics Commission, he hired his wife as a kindergarten teacher, and his daughter as part of the district’s 2020 summer program, without notifying the school board beforehand. The Ethics Commission issued a Public Education Letter to this effect, but pursued no further action.

The committee did not ask him about this issue, but rather focused on his experience in the education field and as a superintendent, seen as valuable assets to the district.

“I think he’s willing … to come work with us as individual districts and our different unique qualities by getting to know us and by being visible,” said Amanda Faro, principal of New Hingham Regional Elementary School. “[Ganem will] set us up to be in a good position to offer the full-time position in a year.”

Ganem told the committee he plans to become involved in the Hampshire Regional community in his first weeks as superintendent, prioritizing school visits and open meetings to become familiar with the students and educators that inhabit them. He stated the importance of open communication between superintendents and school faculty, saying “our teachers and our principals are our boots on the ground.”

The committee voted to offer Ganem the position pending successful contract negotiations with the all-district committee negotiating on behalf of the districts. As an interim superintendent, Ganem would hold the position for the 2024-2025 school year as the committee continues the search for a permanent replacement for the end of his term.

Alexa Lewis can be reached at alewis@gazettenet.com.