A local petition requiring 500 signatures surfaced online last week calling for the city of Worcester and Worcester School Committee to name South High Community School Principal Maureen Binienda as permanent Superintendent of Worcester Public Schools.
The petition was created on Wednesday, Nov. 4, and already by Saturday afternoon the group was merely five shy of its 500 signatures.
Last month, Binienda received three votes by Worcester School Committee members to serve as interim superintendent following Melinda Boone’s abrupt resignation to take the school chief job in Norfolk, Virginia.
Binienda has clearly garnered many supporters who believe she’s the right fit for superintendent, but has anyone asked her if she even wants the job?
Binienda, who has served 40 years in Worcester’s schools and six years as principal at South, told the Sun that she intends to apply for the superintendent position.
“Every time I hear people say bad things about the Worcester Public Schools, I get really upset. I just don’t think people realize how great the Worcester Public Schools are and how many talented educators there are.
“I feel as though in that position, I could share that and people could really recognize how great (WPS) is,” said Binienda, who is from Worcester and attended public schools in the city. “There’s a lot of things that I’ve learned from being at South High School and from what I’ve learned I could share with others in the school district.”
Binienda holds a certification for superintendent and assistant superintendent from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “I’ve been perfectly happy at South. I love this school. But when that position (superintendent) became available, I thought it would be a really key position for the Worcester Public Schools to move forward.”
While many people in Worcester applaud the work that Binienda does as a principal and community leader, some are concerned that South High’s continued progress may hit a roadblock in her absence.
Binienda, for her part, feels the school won’t skip a beat. “There’s a lot of great leaders here at South High. I really think they will continue the work here and even improve upon it,” she said.
“School systems have different needs at different times and the qualifications that are most important at any given time will vary,” said school committee member Brian O’Connell, the dean of the board and one of three who supported Binienda for the interim role over Mayor Joseph M. Petty’s choice of chief academic officer Marco Rodrigues.
“Several years ago, I thought Worcester would benefit by looking strongly at outside candidates. At this point, I think it would benefit Worcester to look at someone who is not only in the school system, but knows the school system very, very well,” O’Connell said.
He added: “At the same time, it would be helpful to have someone who is independent of the power structure of the school administration — someone who has independent experiences and opinions that are individually formulated who might bring a breath of fresh air. Maureen certainly qualifies in each of those categories.”
The petition that surfaced last week was formed by a group called Friends of Worcester on Change.org, and is titled “Hire Maureen Binienda as the Superintendent of Worcester Public Schools.”
The petition reads: “The citizens of Worcester and our public schools deserve to be [led] by a person with a proven track record and experience; by a person who really knows and loves the City of Worcester; by a person who is more concerned with REAL results and educational opportunities for all and not about statistical information; a person who will listen fairly to all the citizens of Worcester and not just a select few. We strongly urge the Worcester School Committee to pursue the hiring of Maureen Binienda, principal of South High School, as our new Superintendent of Schools.”
Friends of Worcester may get exactly what it wants following the results of last Tuesday’s election. The three school committee members who endorsed Binienda for interim superintendent — O’Connell, John Monfredo and Dianna Biancheria — were all re-elected. Tracy O’Connell-Novick and Hilda Ramirez, who voted in favor of Rodrigues, were voted off the committee and will not return in January.
When the time comes, the two candidates who will take their place on the committee would seemingly vote in favor of Binienda.
Following Petty’s endorsement of Rodrigues, newly elected (and former) school committee member Donna Colorio blasted the mayor’s decision, calling it “a wrong choice” and describing Rodrigues as “a continuation of poor leadership of the Boone administration.”
Colorio received the second most votes (8,597) behind longtime incumbent O’Connell (9,015) in Tuesday’s election.
Molly McCullough, who garnered the sixth and final spot on the committee, said, “I think Maureen Binienda should certainly be in consideration for the position. Selecting the next superintendent is the most important task for the next school committee. I look forward to working together with other committee members to make the best decision for our students and our schools.”
According to O’Connell, the additions of Colorio and McCullough represent a significant change in the committee. O’Connell noted that O’Connell-Novick and Ramirez were closely aligned with the administration of Boone, and proved that by voting for internal candidate Rodrigues to be interim superintendent.
Jack Foley and Petty, board chairman, are the two votes remaining that favored Rodrigues.
According to Petty, the search for a new superintendent could begin later this month and may take three to four months. A team of three school committee members will be responsible for the superintendent screening process.
Barring something unforeseen, after the Jan. 4 inauguration, five of the seven Worcester School Committee members will likely favor either naming Binienda as superintendent or finding someone else locally to fill the post.
McCullough said, “As I have said all along, I believe we need to have a clear process in place and that we should be considering internal candidates who know the system, understand Worcester, and will take a vested interest in the community and the schools as the next leader of the WPS.”