Struggling Southbridge Schools Again In Need Of Leader

Jul 27, 2017

Massachusetts education officials must find a new leader for the Southbridge school district, following the resignation of its state-appointed receiver.

Jessica Huizenga became the state receiver in Southbridge in May of 2016, a few months after the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education took over the district. A year later, with no public explanation, the department put her on paid leave, and last week she quit.

Southbridge School Committee member Scott Lazo has criticized the hiring of Huizenga, who held school administration jobs, but never worked as a superintendent before. He said the state's next pick to lead the district should have more experience.

"It's like we're a Petri dish, and the state just keeps on experimenting," Lazo said.

Lazo said he worries that the state will freeze out the committee during the hiring process.

"We're sitting here, waiting for a signal" from the state, Lazo said. "We're ready to work."

A state education spokeswoman said she thinks the community will be asked to weigh-in before Acting Education Commissioner Jeff Wulfson appoints a new receiver to lead Southbridge schools. No timeline or process has yet been defined.

Russell Johnston, a senior associate commissioner with the state education department has served as Southbridge's interim receiver since Huizenga went on leave, and will continue in that position until a replacement is hired, a statement from the department said.

Johnston is getting high marks from another Sturbridge official, Town Manager Ronald San Angelo.

"Russell Johnston is a very fine man," San Angelo said. "A very high-level, quality person who is working...with the town."