Interim school chief takes over

MILFORD – On Monday night Dr. Jessica Huizenga offered a formal entry plan for her first 100 days as Milford interim superintendent of schools, and her first school board meeting showed no sign of the controversy that marked her hiring.

Huizenga takes the place of Robert Marquis, who retired. After she was hired this summer people on social media questioned her recent tenure as a state-appointed receiver to a failing Massachusetts school district, prompting board Chairman Ron Carvell to defend the board’s decision.

In her multi-page entry plan, Huizenga said she would hold “structured, confidential meetings with key individuals and focus groups,” visit every school to meet with students, principals, teachers, and support staff as well as with union leadership, each school board member and central office staff.

She will also hold multiple parent “meet and greets,” and meet with church leaders, non-profits, colleges and the business community, town officials, local representatives.

A Twitter town hall meeting is also in the plan, and Huizenga said the district now uses Twitter and Instagram, and social media sites will be “a key way to communicate.”

The point of the entry plan, she said, is for her to learn the “key events, issues and concerns,” as well as the “values, norms, expectations and goals of the community.”

She called it a “purposeful way for a new leader to integrate into a community” with the goal of building trust.

“Without a doubt,” she wrote, “all the components are here in this community to be the best school district in New Hampshire and be a model nation-wide in authentic, personalized, and integrated learning.”

The complete 100-day plan is on the district’s web site.

Huizenga has worked in public education for 20 years, and has masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, where she was the graduate commencement speaker in 2012.

School board Chairman Ron Carvell, in his statement announcing her appointment, said that in her capacity as an assistant superintendent and superintendent she has led school district turn-arounds, improved outcomes and graduation rates, expanded school-community partnerships, social emotional learning programs and implemented STEM programs.

Huizenga was the state-appointed receiver for the Southbridge school district for a little more than a year when she was placed on paid administrative leave, without explanation, in May of 2016, according to the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Mass. Seven superintendents have served there between 2010 and 2017, according to the newspaper.

Huizenga told The Cabinet she went on paid leave because of a family matter and the three-hour commute between her home in Burlington, Massachusetts, and Southbridge promoted her resignation.

Receivers are appointed by state governments and take the place of the local school board and superintendent. These situations that are typically contentious, Carvell wrote, and “unfortunately often result in wild accusation and mischaracterizations.”.

Huizenga is the wife of a teacher and mother of three. Her oldest girl is a junior in college; her son is a new cadet at West Point Military Academy and her youngest daughter will start middle school this year.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or