Amherst regional superintendent candidate stresses collaboration, experience

Joanne Menard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Holliston, interviews Tuesday for the superintendent position at Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools.

Joanne Menard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Holliston, interviews Tuesday for the superintendent position at Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools. AMHERST MEDIA

Joanne Menard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Holliston, interviews Tuesday for the superintendent position at Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools.

Joanne Menard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Holliston, interviews Tuesday for the superintendent position at Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools. AMHERST MEDIA

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-25-2024 8:39 AM

Modified: 04-26-2024 4:27 PM


Editor’s note: The second of three finalists for the job of superintendent was interviewed Tuesday. The final candidate will be interviewed Thursday.

AMHERST — Experience in teaching, administration and establishing collaborative relationships, coupled with a professional background in sales before becoming an educator, are qualities Joanne Menard says she would bring to the Amherst, Pelham, and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools if chosen as the next superintendent.

“It’s about marketing the school district, it’s about selling the school district in a proactive way, getting the good things out there, and also communication,” Menard told the Regional and Union 26 committees during an interview Tuesday, adding that the community needs to know about the amazing things being done in the school buildings.

Menard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Holliston, said her unique background and efforts to create leaders and develop partnerships through collaborations make her an ideal candidate to succeed Superintendent Michael Morris, who resigned last August following criticism from some in the community over his handling of reported mistreatment of LGBTQ students at the middle school and allegations that gender-based bullying was not being stopped.

“A superintendency has always been my goal,” Menard said. “I’ve made very conscience decisions about what jobs I’ve taken along the way.”

This intentional approach has included building up her skills, first teaching middle school science and math before becoming a principal, first in Petersham and then in Gill-Montague.

Menard said her work has included relationship-building, developing culture and climate clubs for students and staff. When a secondary principal in Gill-Montague, she was tasked with addressing racism issues, looking for academic opportunities to improve climate and create positive changes for students who were getting into trouble, such as regularly fighting.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Hampshire Mall sells for fraction of assessed value at $7M
Divided over school funding, Northampton council fails to pass mayor’s budget
Hampshire College to cut benefits as enrollment for next school year comes in below projections
Senate climate bill runs into obstacle
DOT to transition traffic on I-91S in Northampton to permanent bridges Thursday night
Belchertown athletic director Jen Gouvin moving on after 5½ years

“We did a lot of growth in the two years I was there,” Menard said. “Sadly there were a lot of examples of racism that had happened in the previous time.”

Menard also brought in the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton to study biases in the district and speak with staff to learn about microaggressions, social justice standards and how to combat racism in the moment.

Menard was the second of three finalists to come to Amherst. The other two finalists are Susan Gilson, assistant superintendent and middle school principal in the King Philip Regional School District in Wrentham, and Ericilda Herman, insular (island) superintendent in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Gilson visited earlier in April, while Herman visits Thursday. A possible decision on which finalist to select could come as soon as Monday.

At the elementary school in Petersham, Menard built an after-school enrichment program that had more than 100 students participate in weekly.

Her involvement in Holliston has included sitting on the School Committee’s policy, communications and budgetary subcommittees, as well as playing a role in contract negotiations. She said she is comfortable with managing people and in tight budget times thinking out-of-the-box to identify funding sources.

In her current role, she is in charge of curriculum, grants, civil rights and doing an equity audit, and is part of Influence 100, a state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education project to educate teachers and superintendents concentrating on equity for all and celebrating differences, acknowledging that Holliston is predominantly a white community with a less diverse student body than she had in Gill-Montague.

Much of a superintendent’s job is also about listening, as well as bringing connections at the state level, which she can do from Influence 100 and her role as part of the Tri-County Superintendent’s Roundtable.

“I would bring a lot of knowledge back, and lot of contacts, to Amherst-Pelham,” Menard said.

Menard has been responsible for Title IX investigations, observing that she has worked with the state’s Safe and Supportive Schools, which brought in a transgender person to train in wellness standards and gender identity and making improvements through a multi-pronged approach. She said she would follow the law and district policies and values with respect to people’s preferred pronouns and names.

Menard would use as a model her own superintendent’s response to antisemitic actions in the schools, educating the community about what happened and what steps are taken to do about it, and holding open forums.

“You need to be transparent, but you need to respect people’s confidentiality,” Menard said. “We think it’s better to communicate these. You want the community be aware of the issue and how it’s being corrected.”

“A superintendent needs to be proactive,” Menard added. “If they’re not, stakeholders create their own story.”

As superintendent, she would not only be part of regular committee meetings, but would also want to be seen at school and town events.

“I weave myself into the fabric of the community, I become part of the community,” Menard said.

“I am very much about empowering others and showcasing their talents and really elevating them because that’s what makes people want to stay, that’s what makes people happy,” Menard said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.