School board defends choice

MILFORD – An educator who most recently served as a state-appointed receiver for a failing Massachusetts school district has been picked to be Milford’s interim superintendent.

In an emailed statement in which he praised Dr. Jessica Huizenga and her qualifications to lead Milford schools, School Board Chairman Ron Carvell referred to negative comments about the appointment posted on the Milford residents’ Facebook page.

Receivers are appointed by the state education department and take the place of both a superintendent and school board, after the department decides that local officials can’t turn around a district on their own.

Since the appointment of a receiver involves the dissolution of the local school committee, “these situations are typically contentious,” Carvell wrote, “and unfortunately often result in wild accusations and mischaracterizations.

“We know in this day and age of social media anyone can print or say anything without any boundaries, and it’s unfortunate when conspiracy theories rise above the exceptional accolades of such an outstanding individual.”

Huizenga was the Southbridge School District’s receiver for one year until she went on paid administrative leave in June of 2017. She resigned a month later.

In a phone interview, Huizenga said she went on leave because of a family matter and ultimately decided to resign because of the three-hour daily commute between her home in Burlington, Massachusetts, and Southbridge.

Carvell said the Milford School Board appointed her after it interviewed numerous candidates.

Huizenga “has taken on some of the most challenging roles in educational administration,” said Carvell, “and dramatically improved outcomes for students there.”

Huizenga, 42, has master and doctoral degrees from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. During her 20-year education career, she was a middle and high school teacher, an assistant principal, principal, director of curriculum, assistant superintendent and superintendent.

After the director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association called to tell her Milford was looking for an interim superintendent, she researched the district, she said, and found that “our values and aspirations are really aligned.”

She called Milford a “high-performance district with wonderful teachers and incredibly innovative.”

“The focus on safety is miles ahead” of other districts, she said, and the school board is very supportive. “I hope to bring it to the next level of excellence.”

Carvell’s statement says Huizenga was named a Harvard Principal’s Scholar at the Institute of Leadership for Large Scale Reform, in 2008 and her doctoral dissertation, studying collaborative practices among educators, won the Coburn Award for Oustanding Research in Education.

She is a temporary replacement for Robert Marquis, who is retiring after three years as head of Milford schools.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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