By Cary Shuman
The Winthrop School Committee selected Lisa Howard as the interim superintendent of schools at its meeting Monday night in the Joseph Harvey Room at Town Hall.
Howard is a Class of 1985 graduate of Winthrop High School. She graduated with a degree in Education from Boston College where she was a member of the Eagles’ Division 1 softball team. She holds a Master’s of Science in Education from Salem State College.
She previously worked in the Winthrop school system for 23 years, holding the positions of pupil personnel director and assistant superintendent of schools. She is currently the pupil personnel director for the Saugus schools.
Howard’s appointment was ultimately approved unanimously after the committee members had individually expressed their opinions about how each of the eight candidates had fared in the public interview and selection process.
School Committee Chair Dawn Sullivan, who kept the process transparent to the very end and excelled in moderating what was a dramatic decision for the community, welcomed each of her colleagues to speak about each candidate’s “strength and areas of growth and a reason to move them forward” for consideration by the entire committee.
Four of the members, Ronald Vecchia, Valentino Capobianco, Brian Perrin, and Robert Driscoll Jr. offered strong support of Howard’s candidacy in their remarks.
Vecchia praised Howard’s qualifications, adding that her prior work in the Winthrop school system, expertise in special education, and knowledge of the town were assets in her candidacy.
“When [Supt. of Schools] John Macero announced that he was leaving Winthrop, I was quoted in the newspaper saying this town needs a superintendent to “hit the ground running” and I think out of all the candidates that I interviewed, Ms. Howard probably exemplifies that whole peel. She has the experience. We have problems in special education that we attended to and Lisa certainly has that experience. She has been working in the system as an assistant superintendent so she knows the town, she knows the system, she knows the teachers and knows the students. She’s right now on the top of my list.”
Capobianco said that he was “especially impressed with her years of service in the town, her knowledge of the community, the ability she’ll be able to have work with the town manager and the Council as well as our students and teachers. Quite frankly, I thought she was our strongest candidate when it came to special education.”
Perrin said he was “impressed by her experience withing the district,” adding her answers during the interview were “more substantive” because of her previous experience in the district. “Knowledge of the community is big for me and knowledge of the district is big.”
Sullivan, who expressed her belief that hiring a retired superintendent for the interim position would best serve the town and named Dr. Barbara Cataldo as her top choice, did give Howard a positive evaluation.
“I think Ms. Howard is a strong candidate as well. Obviously her special education experience is expansive. I think she was well prepared for the interview. I did like her mention of wellness and nutrition and that we are working with the whole student here in Winthrop.”
Sullivan offered her highest praise for Dr. Barbara Cataldo, former superintendent of Cohasset schools.
“I think Dr. Cataldo has many strengths including her extensive special education experience as well as her superintendent experience. She also spoke about reorganizing leadership teams, presenting two strategic plans, budgeting. One think that I really liked was that she overhauled the special education department and released the pupil personnel director [because of mismanagement] and that showed good insight and that was probably a difficult decision. I think she is the strongest candidate in my mind.”
Committee member Dr. Laura Callis also said that Cataldo was her “No. 1 candidate.”
In the recommendation phase of the vote, members Vecchia, Capobianco, Perrin, and Driscoll named Howard as their No. 1 choice. Sullivan, Callis, and William Holden named Cataldo as their top choice. The committee then made Howard’s appointment a unanimous one, agreeing to enter into contract negotiations with Howard.
Supt. of Schools John Macero said he is looking forward to working with Howard in the transition process.
“I had the honor to work with Lisa for three years when she was assistant superintendent so it will be a good opportunity,” said Macero. “She did a great job in that position.”
Howard is a member of a longtime and prominent Winthrop family. Peter Gill, Howard’s father, served as an assessor, town meeting members and president of the Winthrop Town Council. Her uncle, Richard Gill, was a member of the School Committee and the Town Council.
Lisa Howard and her husband, Rudy Howard, have four children, Christian, a graduate of Bridgewater State University, Ashlyn, a graduate of Merrimack College, Gretchen, a 2017 WHS graduate who will attend Salve Regina University, and Declan, a Winthrop elementary school student.