Superintendent finalist wants all students engaged 

DUSTIN LUCA/Staff PhotoErin McMahon, the second of four superintendent finalists to meet with the city and its school community, shakes hands with one audience member at her forum Tuesday night.

SALEM — The second person to meet with the community in hopes of becoming superintendent has her eyes on 2026, by which time Salem Public Schools will be "beyond all expectations for all students," she said.

Will Erin McMahon make it that far if she lands the job? Salem, since 2010, has had four superintendents, and her resume shows a frequent changing of jobs without setting foot in the Witch City.

"The only reason I've ever left a position is to be more challenged and get a broader range of experience. That's been the progression of my career — my end goal from being a teacher was being a superintendent," McMahon said. "If I get this job, I'm spiking the football."

The school district held its second night of superintendent candidate public forums at Saltonstall School Tuesday night. Members of the community met with Lourenco Garcia, an administrator in Revere Public Schools, Monday night. Like in Garcia's case, McMahon's forum spotlight followed a day of touring the district and meeting with staff and students.

Two more days and nights of candidate tours are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, when parents will meet finalists Stephen Zrike and Ben Lummis. Those events, like Monday and Tuesday, will be covered individually by The Salem News as the district prepares to make a decision on a hire.

McMahon applied to Salem with a career taking her across the country. She has most recently served as the chief academic officer of the KIPP Foundation out of New York City, a position she started in March 2019. She also worked for two years as a chief program officer with the organization, and before that was associate chief of academics and innovation at Denver Public Schools for two years. She also served there as a regional superintendent for three years, presiding over 14 schools serving more than 6,200 students.

She has a master's in science in education leadership from Pace University in New York, and a master's in business administration from Cornell University in Ithaca. She also has a bachelor of arts and history from Yale University.

McMahon's forum felt a little different than Garcia's. Every question from the audience was met by her asking for the person's name, thanking them and repeating the question to the audience. Sometimes, she'd look back at the questioner and ask, "did I get it?"

"I could go for a school district that's probably, in approximation, between 15,000 to 20,000 students — comfortably," McMahon said. "The reason I'm choosing Salem is because we're literally on the cusp of meeting expectations."

But that isn't where McMahon said she wants to land. Her focus, she said, was getting every student engaged — preschool used as a platform to get every student on their way to reading by kindergarten, and every student excited about class. She explained her rationale on engagement by talking about a class she entered Tuesday, where she said she saw 12 students paying attention, eight with their minds in the clouds and one with their head on their desk.

She called it "various levels of engagement" and put it alongside communication as one of her top targets going into the job application.

"Our kids will only go as far as we believe in them, and the parents entrust our kids to Salem Public Schools with the expectation that they'll be cared for and feel belonging every day," McMahon said. "My No. 1 lesson today is that kids — students in the high school, particularly in the lower grades — don't know what's going on. So my No. 1 goal is internal communication, so all the students and people in Salem Public Schools are able to be communicators on what's going on."

That, and working with the mayor — a pitch at collaboration that has been strained in the past with prior superintendents.

"My goal would be to (work) with the mayor — and let's keep electing her — to go through this change over time," McMahon said. "By Salem's 400th birthday, in six years, we'll get to meeting and exceeding expectations... And I'd like to carry that through." 

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

REMAINING CANDIDATE FORUMS

All forums will be held at the Saltonstall School Library, 211 Lafayette St., from 6 to 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 5: Stephen Zrike

Thursday, Feb. 6: Ben Lummis

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