Christopher Maher tapped to lead Providence schools

Chris Maher, interim superintendent of Providence schools. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Christopher N. Maher’s nine-month job interview for Providence school superintendent is over.

The Providence School Board voted 7-0 Monday evening to enter into contract negotiations with Maher, who has served as interim superintendent since July, to become the permanent head of schools.

“This is the job that I wanted,” Maher, 41, said after the vote. “I told everyone I would do the job the way I thought it should be done. I’m very confident that I’m in alignment with the board and the mayor and we’re going to move the school district in the right direction.”

Maher was one of six finalists sent to the school board earlier this year by a search committee comprised of 28 community leaders. One of the finalists withdrew from the search and both the search committee and board signed non-disclosure agreements with the other four. The committee considered the applications of 22 candidates, according to Nick Hemond, who co-chaired the search process and serves as president of the school board. The city paid Illinois-based Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA) $26,500 to assist with the search.

Maher has quickly built far-reaching support from the city’s political establishment, including City Council President Luis Aponte and House Majority Leader John DeSimone. On the school side, he has worked to win the support of the majority of the city’s school principals, in part by advocating for more resources to be devoted to individual schools.

“We’re going to be a district that is trying to move decision-making more and more to the school level and that’s not easy to do,” Maher said. “It takes a lot of conversations and trust.”

A former coordinator of charter schools for the city of Baltimore, Maher earned his bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, and a master’s degree in public administration from New York University. He also holds a graduate certification in school administration and supervision from Johns Hopkins University. He was the founding principal of the Academy for College and Career Exploration in Baltimore.

Prior to becoming the city’s interim superintendent, Maher served as president of Mass Insight Education, a Boston-based consulting firm. Ironically, Mass Insight announced earlier Monday that former Providence Supt. Dr. Susan Lusi would serve as president and CEO of the organization.

“Interim Superintendent Maher has demonstrated that he is an energetic and capable leader, and he shares my vision for moving Providence schools forward,” Mayor Jorge Elorza said in a statement.

Maher, who currently lives in Newton, Massachusetts, said he plans to move his family to Providence. He said his three sons will attend public school in the city.

Maher said his nine-month stint as interim superintendent has allowed him to get to know stakeholders throughout the city. He touted the city’s efforts to restructure the school department’s central office as well as improved attendance and a reduction in out-of-school suspensions as some of his early accomplishments.

Still, Maher acknowledged the district faces real challenges. He said more than 25% of students in Providence are now English language learners (ELL) and the city has to do a better job serving those students.

“We have a population of students that come to the door with lot of needs and we as a district need to restructure ourselves to meet those needs,” Maher said.

Once a contract is negotiated and approved by the school board, it will be sent to the City Council for final approval. As interim superintendent, Maher currently earns $192,000 a year.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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