Roderick MacNeal Jr.MacNeal

Cites goal: 'What's best for kids'

UPDATED, June 21: The principal of the John Eliot Elementary School in Needham has been selected as Arlington's next assistant superintendent of schools.

Roderick MacNeal Jr. is the choice for Superintendent Kathleen Bodie, and his name was put before the School Committee meeting at a special meeting Monday, June 19. 

Following a 7-0 vote, he becomes the first top-level town or school administrator in Arlington who is an African-American. He was chosen from among five finalists, who met with residents at a community meeting in May. 

Four Committee members who had met him during the interview process last month spoke highly of MacNeal in his first public appearabnce in Arlington. He gave a short presentation before questions and the vote. Member Paul Schlichtman offered a moment of levity, as well as an illustration of the candidate's playfulness, displaying a photo of MacNeal wearing oversize glasses.

Comfort with capital planning

MacNeal informed the School Committee that central to all his educational initiatives was "doing what was best for the kids."

Questioned by member Len Kardon about his readiness to be part of the Capital Planning Committee, MacNeal cited his experience in working with the rebuild of Needham schools that informed him about the various challenges inherent in these projects. Among these challenges, he reported, was not just cost efficiency "but meeting the needs of the students."

Later in the meeting, after an executive session, the committee voted to authorize the superintendent to negotiate a contract for the assistant superintendent, with a salary between certain parameters set by the committee. 

He is to start the Arlington position July 1. His compensation is undergoing negotiation, Rob Spiegel, the school's human-resources director, wrote June 21.

MacNeal would occupy the position held since 2012 by Dr. Laura L. Chesson, who is leaving this month to become the new superintendent of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District. He said he would have "big shoes to fill."

MacNeal came to John Eliot Elementary in 2013 from Ely Elementary School in West Bloomfield, Mich., where he was also a principal.

Michigan native

Before that, he was an assistant principal in the Southfield Public Schools, which is where he also began his teaching career.

The native of Michigan has a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a master's in education from Wayne State University. He is pursuing a doctorate of education from Boston College. 

In a 2013 interview recorded by the Needham Channel, MacNeal called parent participation "a very big positive" in that town, noting that parents there are invested in the school system.

He called teachers there wonderful and passionate about the students and always trying to improve.

The other finalists for the position were Jeffrey Strasnick, principal of the Wildwood Early Childhood Center and Woburn St. Elementary School in Wilmington; Joann Campbell Kilpatrick, principal of Acton-Boxborough Regional High SchoolMichael Tracy, principal of the Middle School in the Cape Elizabeth School District in Maine; and Thomas Martellone, principal of the Fiske Elementary School in Lexington.

The School Committee was told April 13, about Chesson's move. She was named a week earlier in favor of Jodi Fortuna, the superintendent of Hudson Public Schools. 

The Groton-Dunstable Schoool Committee voted April 26 to accept Chesson as the new superintendent, Arlington's committee learned April 27. She plans to remain in her current position until the end of June.

May 22, 2017: 5 finalists for assistant superintendent visited here

April 13, 2017: Schools' assistant super here until June before leading Groton-Dunstable

 This news summary was published Sunday, June 18, 2017, and updated June 21 with information from freelance writer Jo Anne Preston.