SALEM — Stephen Zrike has been selected to be the next leader of Salem Public Schools.
Zrike, one of four finalists subjected to forums and interviews over the past several weeks, was among 31 applicants for the job and nine to proceed to closed-door interviews.
The decision came after a brief discussion from the School Committee. The vote was an invitation to enter contract negotiations, as stipulated by the unanimous motion from the School Committee Thursday night. The hiring would be effective July 1, 2020.
Zrike will take over for interim superintendent Kathleen Smith, who came to the district last year after the abrupt resignation of Superintendent Margarita Ruiz.
Zrike’s career has taken him mostly around Massachusetts with a stint in Chicago, where he was chief of elementary schools for the Chicago public schools from 2011 to 2013. His receivership in Holyoke came via an appointment by the state’s Commissioner of Education in July 2015. He also served two years as superintendent in Wakefield and was a turnaround principal in Boston public schools toward the end of six years in the city.
Zrike has separate master’s and doctorate degrees in administration, planning and social policy from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. He also has a bachelor’s in history from Dartmouth.
The other finalists for the job included Lourenco Garcia from Revere Public Schools, Ben Lummis of the Public Schools of Brookline, and Erin McMahon with the KIPP Foundation in New York City.
Zrike performed well in the interviews, in contrast to two of the finalists — Garcia and Lummis — who occasionally required reminders about remaining time and to try to keep answers shorter. While McMahon had no such reminders, Zrike frequently checked with the interview's timekeeper and also fielded a wide range of follow-up questions to extrapolate on answers, something that wasn't necessarily the case with the other three finalists.
Speaking Thursday night, city Mayor Kim Driscoll — also chairperson of the School Committee — said Zrike is "the right person at the right time to take us from good to great."
"I thought he was spot-on when he talked about areas for improvement, even though he was only here for a short time," Driscoll said. "Wanting to be in a place that wants to be great, and to go deep in that work here... it's just marvelous for us, a huge opportunity."