Search on to replace Superintendent

Dr. Richard Safier

Richard Safier will retire as Gloucester’s superintendent of schools when his contract runs out June 30.

Safier declined to discuss his decision Friday, but he provided a copy of a letter to parents, also dated Friday. The 66-year-old longtime Gloucester resident has held the position since 2011.

“I knew he was contemplating it,” School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope said Friday, before receiving Safier’s letter to the School Committee announcing his retirement. 

“I’ve worked with him for the last eight years and he has moved the schools forward,” Pope said. “He has done things that have made the educational program in Gloucester better. ... I have great admiration for the job he’s done.”

In his letter to parents, Safier reflects on key initiatives during his tenure.

“The essential point of our efforts has been to engage our students in daily critical thinking, problem solving, and inquiry-oriented experiences which develop each child’s capacity for both understanding and toward the expression of those understandings,” he wrote. “I can say with confidence that the district has the means and the will to do so.”

Although Safier has drawn high praise from many quarters for his leadership of the schools, he has presided at a time when O’Maley Innovation Middle and Gloucester High schools drew heightened state scrutiny for students’ spotty performance on sections of the standardized MCAS test.

Pope acknowledged those challenges Friday and attributed them in part to a misalignment between the schools’ priorities and test-writers’ priorities.

“The experiences kids are getting in the high school and middle school are phenomenal,” Pope said.

School Committee member Kathleen Clancy on Friday credited Safier for “tremendous gains, particularly at the elementary level, academically, through his expertise in curriculum and instructional (process).”

Safier announced his resignation as the city faces at least two major school-related challenges: convincing taxpayers to vote in favor of a measure that would allow borrowing to build a new school to replace East Gloucester and Veterans Memorial elementary schools, and reaching a new contract with teachers at a time of heightened tensions between teachers and local governments statewide.

Gloucester also will face the challenge of hiring a new superintendent at a time when 22 other Massachusetts communities will be doing so, according to data from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

An increasingly popular option of late has been to hire interim superintendents to buy time while searching for long-term hires, said Tom Scott, executive director of the association.

Pope said Gloucester’s School Committee will explore that option and others.

Safier’s salary of about $185,000 annually falls near the state average.

As for Safier’s successor, Clancy said she hopes the School Committee finds “someone who embraces our community as much as he did.”

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