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Hanna Interviews N. Andover
Superintendent Harry Harutunian

What is the difference between a teacher, a principal, and a superintendent?

Well, teachers are the most important people in the school district other than the students. Principals and the superintendent are there the whole school system is built around the teachers and the students. The principals are there to support the teachers. The superintendent is there to support the teachers.

Teachers work day in and day out with students in the classroom. When the teachers need something for the students, they go to the building principal. When the principals need something, they come to me.

My job is to make sure that the five elementary schools are providing the same education equally across the district. And to make sure that every dollar of the taxpayers in North Andover is being used the best way possible.

What is your favorite book?

I’ve read a lot of books. But it’s been a while since I’ve read one, because during the school year it’s really hard. I do read a lot of periodicals and newspapers and things like that. My favorite books are baseball books. One of my sons is a college baseball player; he is a senior and the captain of Saint Michael’s baseball team up in Burlington, Vermont this year. My other son is a football player at Endicott College.

What do you think about MCAS?

I believe the MCAS is a very good test. The part I have a major problem with the MCAS is I don’t believe any one test should be used as a single determination for graduation from high school. I think it should be teacher input, teacher recommendations, and the grades you earn during your four years of high school. I think it should be the courses you take in high school and MCAS, but it has always been a rub with me that the MCAS is the final determination as to whether or not you graduate from high school. You could do very well in high school; you could participate in class, do well on the tests, but when you sit down to do a very comprehensive test like the MCAS, you may freeze. And so while the MCAS helps us to determine whether or not North Andover standards are equal to the state, I feel very bad that the test is being used as a determinate for graduation. And in a couple of more years, science will also be required on the test. So it will be math, language arts and then science. You can’t graduate high school unless you pass those three tests.

What is your day like?

My day constitutes coming in every morning at 7 a.m. I go home every night at 10 p.m. and I work most Saturdays and Sundays.

You work too hard!

I probably put in 80 to 90 hours a week. I am out every night at the schools. Last night I was out with the finance committee, the board of selectmen and the school committee. I get here at 7 a.m. and read my emails. I get between 50 and 60 emails per day. I then send emails to people who need a response.

Do you get a lot of junk email?

Maybe 15 or so.

I will have about 10 to 15 meetings a day. This time of the year it is mostly about budget and personnel. Sometimes it is with individual teachers who have a problem, or principals who have issues with the curriculum, parental concerns, or complaints. And I try as much as I can to get to the schools and talk to the students.

Is it hard being in charge of so many schools?

Well, it can be an awesome task but I have 600 employees and each one has a very important function. I have exceptional principals and because of that, every day all the gears kind of mesh together right. The teachers teach, the principals lead, the curriculum people do what they need to do. The school psychologist, the Special Ed teachers, the PE teachers - all those people come in every day and work very hard for 4,700 students.

So while it is not so hard, the responsibility is an awesome task because every day I come in being an advocate for the 4,700 students. My job is to make sure the 4,700 students in our schools are doing the best they possibility can. So I am an advocate.

How old are you, Hanna?

I’m 11 years old.

If you had an issue at the Thomson school, you would want to make sure that no matter what happens, if you didn’t feel like you were being treated fairly for whatever reason, that you could come to me and always be guaranteed that it will be taken care of.

What do you do when teachers are mean to students?

First of all, I don’t tolerate discrimination, mistreatment, talking back, bullying, or picking on students of any kind. I don’t tolerate it for adults and I don’t tolerate it from students. We have one opportunity every year to do a good job for our students and we need to do the very best job we can. We should lead by example in as many cases as we can. We have rules and regulations about the way people should behave. We have incidents all the time where people lose their tempers and we talk to them about it. The North Andover public schools do not tolerate people being mean, bullying, or picking on anyone.

How long have you been the North Andover superintendent?

I am in my third year.

What did you do before coming to North Andover?

I was the superintendent of schools for eight years in Reading, Massachusetts. Prior to that I was the assistant superintendent and interim superintendent in Beverly. Before that I was a high school principal for nine years in Connecticut, in a large urban district.

Do you decide how much teachers get paid and when they get their breaks?

No one person determines how much people get paid. Under Massachusetts law we have to sit down and negotiate. So we sit down with our teachers and we have to negotiate the various salary raises and terms and conditions. Part of those conditions are the breaks.

Do good teachers get paid the same as bad teachers?

The payment of teachers is not based on performance. It is based on certification and doing their job and that sort of thing. If a teacher is not doing a good job, then we have programs, evaluations and professional development that can help him or her. And again, there are all kind of reasons why very good teachers might start doing poorly, or not as well as they used to.

Why did you become a superintendent?

I became a superintendent because I knew people moved me along very quickly. At the age of 30 I was a principal of an urban high school with 1,100 kids down in Connecticut.  I became superintendent at 41 or 42 years old. People felt that I was the kind of person who needed to run and lead school districts. That my ideas and my vision were the kind of thing that education needed. I lost my job once as a teacher and once as an administrator because of budget cuts. Now, being the superintendent in North Andover, I am very sensitive to what people are going through. But I became a superintendent because I always found that there is somebody above me - people that I could go to. I wanted to be in a position so that the things that had happened to me as a teacher, principal, administrator - that I would make sure those things never happened to other people.

Do you like your job?

I love my job.

Do you get along with the school committee?

 I don’t think a superintendent can be successful if he doesn’t have a good working relationship with his school com-mittee. The school committee is like the body of a person. I am just one of the extrem-ities that the board uses. The school com-mittee represents the community. They are the ones who tell me what the community needs and guide me in a way the community would like.

What do you want to accomplish in your time here as superintendent?

I was hired as superintendent two and a half years ago by the North Andover School Committee to raise the standards, raise accountability, streamline the spending of money, and to move North Andover into the top ten percent of all school districts in Massachusetts. I did that in my last job in a very similar community. When I left Reading, it was in the top twenty of 210 K-12 school districts and that means it was in the top ten percent.

I will be in middle school next year. What is middle school like?

Middle school is different from elementary school because you move around and have different teachers, and you are given more responsibility.

Is there more homework?

Well, homework is based on each grade. It is important to know that one of the things we are trying to do in all schools is to raise the standards.

How are you doing now in the fifth grade?


Then you will do fine at the middle school. Mrs. McQuade is a wonderful principal.

I was sad to see the Bradstreet school close. What do you think will happen to it?

I don’t know yet. I’ve had two developers call me and ask if I would sell the property to them. We are keeping the Bradstreet for one more year until we are absolutely certain that we are not going to need it for enrollment. We are also using some creative ideas to use it for an alternative school and things like that.

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The February, 2006 Edition of the Valley Patriot
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