Amherst-Pelham Regional School District Appoints New Superintendent

Dr. E. Xiomara Herman will start as superintendent of the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools (APRS) July 1, following contract negotiations. She comes to western Massachusetts by way of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, amidst unrest in APRS and the former superintendent’s resignation.

Amherst-Pelham Regional School District Appoints New Superintendent
Incoming superintendent Dr. E. Xiomara Herman has an ambitious plan: to interview every staff member in the school district’s central office. Photo courtesy of MassLive.

In the face of recent turmoil, the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District has welcomed a new superintendent — Dr. Ericilda Xiomara Herman. Herman’s appointment was announced Monday, April 29, following an extensive selection process that concluded in a unanimous decision by the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee (RSC). Herman, a former superintendent of the school district in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, will succeed Michael Morris ’00, who resigned in August of last year following reports of LGBTQ mistreatment within the school district.

There were 10 total applicants for the position, three of whom were selected to jointly interview with the RSC and Union 26 committee, visit the school area, and talk with community and staff members. The other two finalists were Joanne Menard, an assistant superintendent from Holliston, and Susan Gilson, the King Philip Regional School District assistant superintendent in Wrentham.

As the sole finalist with head superintendent experience, Herman was commended for her extensive leadership background and excellent communication skills, displayed during the interview. “I liked that Dr. Herman was concise; her answers didn’t take too long but were complete, and I think that’s going to be important for communication,” said Margaret Stancer, one of the members of the Union 26 committee at their special selection meeting on Monday, April 29.

During her recorded interview on April 25, Herman opened her remarks by saying that “student voice is very important to me; I am a student-centered and student-focused leader.”

Alongside the other finalists, Herman submitted a 100-day plan for her start as superintendent. “Lead with love; listen, learn, engage, articulate, and deliver — but more so, we need to delve into what we can all do collaboratively to move Amherst-Pelham forward,” she said.

Herman further emphasized that her first steps as superintendent would be to hold meetings with the administration and staff, in addition to listening sessions with the broader Amherst community — including an ambitious plan to interview every staff member in the school district’s central office. “They need to get to know me and I need to get to know them,” Herman said.

Herman’s previous district of 5,200 students  in St. Croix is multilingual and multicultural. According to committee members, her unique experience working in the Virgin Islands gave her a clear advantage over the other Massachusetts-based finalists.

“We have room to invite people from outside of Massachusetts who have less experience with our systems, who could learn these systems and then provide innovative or new ideas that come from [their] different experience,” said committee member Anna Heard during the selection meeting.

Alternatively, other committee members were concerned about whether Herman would be able to navigate a completely different environment. Union 26 Chair Irv Rhodes referenced how a previously hired superintendent from Florida did not last very long.

Nevertheless, Herman received enough support from both the committee and the general public to secure her position. The RSC conducted a public forum to receive responses and opinions from the greater Amherst-Pelham community with regard to the new superintendent. 112 respondents voted for Herman, significantly more than the other potential candidates.

Concerning staff equity and diversity, Herman expressed specific plans to assess potential candidates for hire based on how well they fit into the culture and values of the specific school environment.“The person that I would put at Wildwood [Elementary] I may not put at Crocker Farm [Elementary]” she explained.

Given the district’s most recent controversies, another particularly relevant question asked by the committee was Herman’s experience with ensuring that students of marginalized backgrounds are protected and nurtured in a school setting. In response, Herman referred to herself as data-driven, with a plan to look at academic and social-emotional data to determine which students are being affected. “[We can] start to develop programs, not just based on the thought, but look at what the research says, what’s working, and what is a good fit for what’s happening,” Herman said.

Directly related to the recent controversy, there was concern by some committee members about how Herman would handle LGBTQ issues and how these communities would respond.

Despite this, by the end of their 90-minute discussion, the committee expressed confidence in their selection and Herman’s ability to adapt to the learning curve of the new position. “The fact that Dr. Herman has risen through the ranks in the same district is a huge benefit, it says that people in her district like her and value her leadership,” Heard later said.

Contract negotiations are still ongoing, but Herman is expected to begin her role on July 1.