Andrew O'Leary, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, was named interim superintendent of New Bedford schools at Monday's School Committee meeting. Credit: New Bedford Cable Access Channel 9

NEW BEDFORD — When schools let out this summer and the current superintendent departs, Andrew O’Leary will become the interim head of New Bedford Public Schools. After working for 18 years in the district — starting out as an educator in 2004 — O’Leary will replace Thomas Anderson as the chief executive overseeing the 1,600 staff who transport, feed, and educate over 12,000 New Bedford students. 

On Monday evening the School Committee unanimously approved O’Leary for the interim role beginning on June 30. He will remain for one year while the committee initiates a thorough superintendent search process. 

“This is a great city and a great district, and it has so many great educators,” said O’Leary, who currently oversees finance and operations for the schools, after his appointment.

Committee members, during a round of praise for O’Leary, also said they were hopeful that he might prove himself in the role and take on the position permanently. 

“I know Andrew does an exceptional job,” said School Committee member Ross Grace Jr. “He takes on the nuts and bolts stuff that goes on in the buildings,” and Grace also noted that he was pleased a former New Bedford educator and current New Bedford school parent will serve as the superintendent.

Mayor Jon Mitchell, who serves as the chair of the School Committee, congratulated O’Leary, and said the district is poised for a smooth transition, as Anderson and O’Leary will overlap for several months before the official handoff. “The public should have confidence that this transition will be as seamless as it gets,” he said. 

Mitchell also noted the current state of the district, with its focus on attendance and graduation rates, and the needs of its students after the pandemic, including English learners and special education students. 

“We’ve got to continue to fly this plane,” Mitchell said. “We’re a district still emerging from the pandemic … and the work ahead is considerable.” 

At Monday’s meeting, another unresolved issue was in the spotlight: New Bedford’s union of paraprofessionals was demonstrating again to bring attention to their contract demands. 

The vote to approve O’Leary’s promotion took place directly after a public comment period in which all five participants — including teachers, parents, and paraprofessionals — advocated to pay paraprofessionals a living wage. 

Still, Jill Zangao, the president of the paraprofessional’s union, spoke well of O’Leary, who has been a member of the district’s opposing bargaining team. “I have much respect for Andrew O’Leary. I’d love to see what he can bring to the table,” she said. 

The nomination and approval happened more than two hours into the meeting, during which O’Leary had also presented an overview of next year’s school budget, detailing a second-consecutive historic increase in state funds (a more than 10% increase to a projected $239 million total budget), which he will now oversee as superintendent. 

Mitchell encouraged the School Committee to make a nomination Monday night, and member Colleen Dawicki said she had heard from parents that there was a desire in the community to take decisive action in selecting an interim. 

School Committee members also said that they hope to involve the public as much as possible in their search for the next permanent superintendent. Bruce Oliveira, one of the longer serving members, said he hopes the Committee will be more involved in the search process than in the last cycle, as hiring superintendents is one of the Committee’s primary functions. 

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