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Hammond Central School selects new interim superintendent amid controversies


HAMMOND – The Hammond Central School Board of Education decided this week to hire former Lake Placid Superintendent Randy C. Richards as interim superintendent to replace Douglas H. McQueer after the board abruptly reversed course and fired him in July.

The selection came down to two candidates recommended by Thomas R. Burns, superintendent of the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, who acted as a consultant in the hiring process.

After an interview with both candidates Tuesday, the school board unanimously decided to hire Mr. Richards. He is expected to be appointed at a school board meeting Oct. 8, and his salary will be announced then. Mr. McQueer’s last day is Oct. 30.

“We anticipate that it will be a smooth transition,” board President Thomas Pitcher said.

The other candidate was Beverly L. Ouderkirk, shared superintendent of Brushton-Moira and St. Regis Falls central schools.

Mr. Pitcher said Mr. Richards was chosen for his background in education.

“The board was very impressed,” Mr. Pitcher said. “We had excellent candidates to choose from. He’s been superintendent at several different schools over the years and is very well experienced.”

Mr. Richards previously served as a principal in Oswego, Stockbridge Valley and Utica, and as an assistant principal at Camden High School.

“He’s held about every administrative position that you can think of,” Mr. Burns said.

Most recently, he served as superintendent of the Lake Placid Central School District from 2010 until this spring, when that school board declined to renew his contract. Mr. Richards was at the center of controversy there.

He was investigated by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2012 for gender discrimination against middle-high school Principal Katherine Mulderig after he told her he needed someone “bitchier” to manage the “bitchy” teachers at the elementary school, according to articles published in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise newspaper.

The EEOC validated those complaints, and Mr. Richards apologized for the incident. Ms. Mulderig has since accepted a settlement agreement and left her job.

Mr. Richards also was the target of an appeal filed with the state education commissioner by Lake Placid resident Linda Wallace on April 30. The appeal sought his removal as superintendent and accused him of “derogation of responsibility, neglect of duty and deliberate indifference,” according to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise newspaper. The status of that complaint was unclear.

Ms. Wallace said Mr. Richards mismanaged the budget process by providing “misleading, inaccurate and inflated figures” to voters in a news release distributed before the school budget vote.

Mr. Burns and Mr. Pitcher said that Hammond school board members are aware of the controversies, but that they did not affect Mr. Richards’s appointment.

“It’s a non-issue,” Mr. Burns said. “There were charges filed, but those charges were dismissed. He was pretty forthcoming. We have explored all that. We have done the reference checking.”

“He has proven to have had great success at other school districts, especially when it comes to raising schools up to higher standards,” Mr. Pitcher said. “He was upfront about his past experiences and told us about the incidents at Lake Placid.”

Mr. Richards could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Mr. Burns said choosing school superintendents has become a challenge.

“There is definitely a decrease in the superintendent pool,” he said. “Superintendents have to make difficult decisions cutting budgets and eliminating positions. All the while, the state is expecting you to raise standards and student achievements. We’re seeing myriad constituency groups rising up to see students are getting the education they should receive, and we’re seeing more board member turnover. These are all signs of the times.”

Mr. Richards will serve this year as full-time superintendent until a permanent leader is hired. That process will begin in mid-October. The permanent superintendent is expected to begin in July, according to a draft timeline developed by Mr. Burns.

School board members and Mr. McQueer have said that as part of a separation agreement they cannot comment on why his contract was not renewed for an eighth year.

Mr. Pitcher has cited “ongoing issues of job performance, poor evaluation scores and the board’s desire to move in a new direction” as the reasons for Mr. McQueer’s dismissal.

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