By DAN TOMASELLO
NORTH READING — The School Committee voted 4–0 to appoint Cynthia Conant as the school department’s next Pupil Personnel Services Director on Monday.
Conant’s appointment is contingent on successful contract negotiations. She is scheduled to take over the PPS department on July 1.
The school department has been searching for a permanent PPS director to lead the special education department since the spring of 2013, when Patricia Bullard announced she was leaving the school system to take over Masconomet’s special education department. The PPS director is in charge of all special education, health/nursing, guidance, homeless and 504 plan services for all North Reading students in pre-kindergarten to grade 12.
After striking out twice in the search for a permanent PPS director, a search committee led by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Patrick Daly launched a third search earlier this winter. The search committee named Conant and the district’s current coordinator of elementary special education, Kristin Burke, as finalists for the PPS director job.
Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard he was “very excited” to introduce Conant to the School Committee. Bernard and Daly conducted a “thorough site visit” in Fitchburg, where they met with Fitchburg school officials, co-workers and parents. Bernard and Daly also conducted an extensive review of Conant’s references.
“I think we found somebody who would be a very good match for our district,” said Bernard.
Conant, who lives in Dracut, said she is looking forward to serving as the school system’s next PPS director.
“I am honored,” said an ecstatic Conant. “I am so excited.”
School Committee Chairman Jerry Venezia said its “great news” the school department was able to find a permanent PPS director after two unsuccessful searches.
“It’s a relief to have you come on board,” said Venezia.
School Committee member Mel Webster asked Conant if she has past experience developing customized programming to address middle school students’ social-emotional issues.
“To me, that middle school area is a good place to catch some of those social-emotional problems,” said Webster.
Conant said it’s important for the school system to develop customized programs to address middle school students’ social-emotional needs, which she noted often “come to the surface” when students enter middle school.
“I think the more that we can support our students in-district, the better we are because we can keep them connected to their home community,” said Conant. “I have a lot of experience designing programming specifically for that population.”
School Committee Vice Chairman Cliff Bowers, who served on the search committee, gave his “seal of approval” of Conant.
In response to a question from School Committee member Janene Imbriano, Bernard said Interim PPS Director Valerie Ardi Flynn and Conant will be working closely together during the transition period before Conant begins leading the PPS department on July 1.
Conant has served as Fitchburg Public Schools’ assistant special education director for the past three years. She previously worked as a program coordinator in a 45-day diagnostic program for the FLLC Collaborative. She also worked as a guidance counselor for Ashland Public Schools.
The new PPS director has prior experience working as a case coordinator for the Family Stabilization Program. She worked as a program physician and as a social worker at the Dr. Franklin Perkins School. She also worked for the Department of Social Services. Conant attended Saint Michael’s College and earned a master of education from Cambridge College.