BEVERLY — The search for a new superintendent of schools is officially underway in Beverly.

The School Committee voted Wednesday to start looking for a replacement for Superintendent Steven Hiersche, who will retire when his five-year contract ends on June 30.

The first step in the process will involve conducting a survey and/or holding focus groups to determine what qualities the community would like to see in a new superintendent, School Committee President Kris Silverstein said.

Silverstein said she's hoping a new leader can be hired before Hiersche leaves at the end of June.

"We're hoping to bring somebody in early enough so there can be a little bit of an overlap," she said.

Hiersche, 67, was hired as superintendent in 2013. He has been in education for 45 years, including 23 as a superintendent. He informed the School Committee in June that he intended to retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year, and told teachers and staff on the first day of school.

"I'm at 45 years at this point so it's time," he said. "My time in Beverly has been incredibly rewarding. It's been a really nice fit between what Beverly as a community wants as education for their kids and what my belief system is. It's a great place to finish out my career."

Silverstein said the School Committee is consulting with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, which conducts surveys and focus groups for its members. The committee will then decide whether to limit its search to internal candidates or open it up to candidates from outside the school district.

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said about half of the school districts looking for a superintendent end up hiring an internal candidate.

"Many times committees will make a straight promotion if communities tell them that's what they want," he said. "There's no requirement to do a search."

The cost to hire a search consultant starts at about $9,500 and can go to three or four times that amount, Koocher said. Hiersche's salary is $181,316.

Koocher said there are fewer superintendent candidates than there used to be because administrators don't stay in one district as long as they used to, and more administrators take early retirement.

"It's early in the year, so those districts that are looking have started looking," he said. "This is the time you want to get started."

Masconomet, Stoughton, Fitchburg and Hingham are all currently looking for superintendents, according to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees website.

Silverstein praised the work of Hiersche, saying he has made the curriculum consistent from kindergarten through 12th grade and has encouraged teachers to learn from each other.

"He has opened up the doors of our district for people to feel comfortable about having other people in their classrooms and learning best practices from each other," Silverstein said. "It's been a great experience to have him over these last four-and-a-half years and it will be sad to see him go. Superintendents like him are hard to find."

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com

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